KERALA

Funds crunch hits child welfare programmes

KOZHIKODE Nov. 13. The undue delay in passing the budget of the State Child Welfare Council for 2003-04 has resulted in funds not being made available to the District Child Welfare Council to implement rehabilitation and other welfare activities.

Speaking to The Hindu, the secretary, State Child Welfare Council, Sunil C. Kurien, said the budget should have been passed on June 30. Though the executive committee of the council had met on June 22, with the Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, who is also the chairman of the council, in the chair, it could not pass the budget following differences of opinion on earmarking a sum of Rs. 1.5 lakhs for the medical aid of tribal children who were affected by the police action at Muthanga in August 2002. Except for its day-to-day functioning, all other welfare programmes of the council have been stalled.

The annual budget allocation of the council was for Rs.4.6 crores.

The District Collector, T.O. Sooraj, who is also the Kozhikode District Child Welfare Council chairman, says a sum of Rs. 15,000 has been provided to the council for the year, but this is inadequate to initiate any worthwhile activity for child welfare.

Mr. Kurien says the situation has delayed the rehabilitation programmes and other vocational training programmes. For instance, in Malappuram district, though an adoption centre has been opened, the `Ammathotil' is yet to be installed.

He avers that the Government statistics projecting Kerala as a State free from child labour or child prostitution is not factual. Children are employed in unorganised sectors such as auto workshops, cashew processing units, etc. The Labour Department has no definite data on this and a full-fledged study is yet to be carried out.

The vice-chairperson of the Kozhikode district council, Janamma Kunhunni, laments over the bias the girl child faces at home, school and society, contrary to the State's reported social development.

``When I visited a middle class home recently, I was pained to see that even in matters of diet, boys had an upper hand. Lack of awareness is the main reason. Gender-based discrimination can hurt the psyche of the girl child. This unhealthy trend needs to be curtailed through aggressive campaigns, which the district council plans to organise in near future."

She says that Kerala is not free from cases of molestation of girls. Legislation alone will not suffice. However, more clauses need to be added to the existing laws. Another vital aspect is that adoption of girl babies needs stringent monitoring.

Overburdening the children with academic study is also a matter of concern.

Laws to protect child rights are outdated and have not kept pace with the social changes, says P. Kumarankutty, advocate. Though there are laws, these are observed more in the breach. This can be said of the Child Labour Prevention and Regulation Act 1986 which stipulates punishment for employing child labour, and the Child Marriage Restriction Act 1929 .

Mr. Kurien says a major aspect with regard to child rights is that the State is yet to frame the rules for the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act passed in 2002.