More than a Policy, Children Need Commitment!

Crèches have multiple benefits along with provided proper care to children in the absence of alternate adult care-givers being available at home. Crèches can help in ensuring that every child gets full immunization, growth monitoring and receives age-appropriate nutritious diet. This can help save 200,000 children’s lives in a year and millions of children can realise their cherished dignity.

 
By Sachin Kumar Jain
Published: Monday 30 November -0001

Crèches have multiple benefits along with provided proper care to children in the absence of alternate adult care-givers being available at home. Crèches can help in ensuring that every child gets full immunization, growth monitoring and receives age-appropriate nutritious diet. This can help save 200,000 children’s lives in a year and millions of children can realise their cherished dignity

On June 10 2014, Pawan Korku (4 years) and Durgesh Korku (6 years) climbed into an iron drum in their house along with their toys presumably as part of a game they were playing, in their house in Harrai village, District Betul, a tribal dominant district of Madhya Pradesh The children’s father, Bheem Korku had left for his daily wage work in the morning and their mother, had gone to the market to fetch household items. When the mother got back home, she looked for the children but could not find them. Around the same time, Bheem Korku also returned home. While looking for the children, he opened the lid of the iron drum and was shocked to see the dead bodies of his children, Pawan and Durgesh. They had died due to suffocation. One can only imagine what must have happened!

Pawan was registered in the local Anganwadi Centre, however was left home alone with his brother as the centre was open only for a few hours in the morning.  Clearly, a ghastly crime has occurred. Two innocent lives have been lost for no reason. But, who is to blame? Who is the criminal? 

A study conducted at S. N. Hospital, Agra in the year 1992 found that out of 5031 children  into the hospital in a period of one year, 716 children were there because they had met with some kind of an accident. Amongst these children injured in accidents, a large proportion  were children in the age group of 4 to 5 years. 44.4% children had sustained injuries due to falling! As many as 82 children had burn injuries and 45 children had consumed poisonous substances in their homes. It was observed that about half the accidents (48.9%) occurred during 12 noon and 6 pm, a time when parents are usually at work.   

 A study on childhood injuries based on data from Bangladesh, Columbia, Egypt and Pakistan published in the World Health Organisation (WHO) Bulletin in 2009found that of the 1559 injured children (< =12 years) across all four sites, 56% (941) cases  were below 5 years of age. Further, 872 (63%) injuries took place when the children were at their homes; and did not have anyone’s protection. 

Findings of a study of 788 children in Gujarat published in the Internet Journal of Family Practice points out that 64.1% boys and 54.7% girls of age below 5 years at risk of electric appliances within reach in their home. . As many as 91% children  in the Urban slum area were exposed to fire as it was within reach in their homes and was generally considered safe by the parents. 61% children were at risk of household chemicals being within reach.  

An important report on situation of children brought out by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in year 2007 reports that when women go out for work, they have to leave older girls of the family either at home so that they may look after their younger siblings. With the proportion of women joining the workforce increasing at a steep rate, it becomes crucial to ensure that child protection and ensuring their care and nutritious diet is ensured at every level. 

According to the national commission set up to look in to the situation of those working in unorganised sector, there are 148 million working women in the country out of whom 142 million  are in the unorganised sector. There are 310 million women in India in the age group 15-49 years. Women’s work in the household and in care activities remains largely unorganized. We are all aware that women put in long hours in household work including in childcare, household chores, unpaid work on family farms, animal care and so on. Time use studies report that while men are engaged for 9 to 10 direct work hours daily, women effectively work for as many as 16 hours a day. There are hardly any facilities available for women and families to ensure care for their children while they work. In the instanceof Pawan’s mother, although she had not gone for wage related work, it cannot be negated that she was very much  engaged in household work. Adequate care facilities are essential for children like Pawan and Durgesh.   

Had the Anganwadi Centre at Harrai been working as a crèche, Pawan could have been there under its care and alive today. Scientific evidence shows that children attain 90% of their mental development by the age of 5 years. It is vital that children are provided with care, protection and safety along with nutrition, health care and early learning during these crucial years. This is the time when children start understanding relationships and affiliations and begin trying to learn by themselves. This is the stage when children are so curious that they try to pick up everything, throw them, or try to feel the taste by putting things in their mouth. They may reach any nook and corner or climb somewhere in order to satisfy their curiosity. All these are essential activities of the child. These activities cannot and should not be prevented as child’s development evolves from them. What is needed is an alert and caring attention so that the activities do not harm the child. 

On the one hand, we have to ensure that children under 5 years of age receive adequate nutrition, are able to learn and have access to basic health care in a hygienic setting. On the other hand, it must be ensured that the dignity of woman’s work is  recognised, whether she works for her household as a homemaker or outside for an income. She must not be burdened with triple load, rather she should be facilitated to remain free and active by providing for community crèche services. The studies referred to above clearly show that in the absence of appropriate child care facilities children are exposed to the risks of accidents and injuries, along with missing out care and attention that such young children require. Moreover, we cannot keep our eyes closed to the fact that we have had 387 cases of rape inflicted on children under 5 years of age in the last 14 months!        

Though the Ministry of Women and Child Development has formulated a policy on Early Childhood Care and Education, there have been no proactive measures for putting up an institutional structure for the efficacious implementation of the policy. Anganwadi Centres have been operational in India under the Integrated Child Development Services since 1975. These centres look after children for only a few hours a day and therefore are not in a position to become an allied support mechanism for children’s development and the women. Moreover, these centres are not open for the care of children under three years of age. At present, there are 1.34 million Anganwadi Centres in the country. These centres have registered 84.1 million children under the age of 5 years. 

A scheme known as Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme was designed for children of working women. However, the scheme does not recognise the value of women’s work and labour in their own homes. There are 17603 crèches operational under this scheme serving 387,000 children. In addition, 14700 private crèches are also working. Only 1 million children (1.2%) in the country are receiving any daily care services. Responding intensive efforts, the 12th Five Year Plan recognises the need to establish mandatory crèches for care of children and support to women. Crèches can also help address the challenge of malnutrition by providing appropriate local nutritional diet and an institutional arrangement for securing development of all children. Accordingly, the Plan visualises the transformation of all Anganwadi Centres in to crèches. In practice however, it is being planned to convert only 5% centres, i.e. 70,000 centres into anganwadi cum crèches over the entire Plan period of 5 years. The Plan is also silent on the schedule of providing a crèche in every hamlet. According to the Census 2011, there are 73.7 million children between the ages of 3 and 5 years who are supposed to receive their basic right to preschool and have yet to get the same. Out of these children, 54.5 million children reside in rural areas.  While the high-income group of the country is seeking to access these services through the private sector, 98% children are deprived of the right to basic services, because of caste discrimination, social neglect, and exclusion. 

Most people might dismiss the idea of crèches for all children who require it as being too expensive or a luxury. The fact remains that crèches have multiple benefits along with provided proper care to children in the absence of alternate adult care-givers being available at home. They could help to recognise well in time children’s illnesses and the impediments coming in the way of their development so that the same can be duly addressed. Crèches can help in ensuring that every child gets full immunization, growth monitoring and receives age-appropriate nutritious diet. This can help save 200,000 children’s lives in a year and millions of children can realise their cherished dignity. The ‘strong’ Government of India at present is in the midst of crafting a roadmap on this. Will the roadmap reflect the commitment for basic rights for all children in a non-discriminatory manner?        

                                                        

 

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