Health experts say it has many shortcomings
The Union Cabinet on April 18 approved the National Policy for Children, which will help guide implementation of programmes and schemes for children. The policy gives utmost priority to right to life, health and nutrition and also gives importance to development, education, protection and participation.
While health experts are upbeat about the government move, they have also criticised it for leaving some issues unaddressed. Ishaprasad Bhagwat, national health manager of the non-profit Save the Children, appreciates approval of the policy but has reservations. “In many areas, there will be the policy to look up to while drafting programmes. However, it will not be there for other areas.”
The new child policy will help guide nutrition programmes. But the government also needs to recognise that severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is a big problem in the country. “SAM is a medical emergency. Children are dying because of it. Between six to eight million children in India suffer from this. Government policies do not recognise the scale of this problem," he says.
According to Bhuwan Ribhu, advocate and national secretary of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, the policy was a much-needed document, but it has many shortcomings which will make its implementation and monitoring difficult. “There is no accountability framework. Review will happen every five years, which is a weak mechanism. It also does not address the problem of finances. If a state does not allocate enough funds to meet the needs of children-centric programmes, what will be the response? The policy does not spell that out,” he says.
Though the policy states that any individual below the age of 18 years is a child, different laws with different differentiating age will continue to be implemented as before, says Ribhu. “The age of consuming alcohol is above 25 years, while that of marriage is above 18 for females and above 21 for males. Similarly, for child labour it is 14 years,” he says.
What is most important, however, is the implementation of theoretical formulations, says Ribhu. On January 17, the Supreme Court issued a directive in BBA v/s Union of India case to compulsorily register FIRs for missing children. But the recent rape of a five-year-old in Delhi exemplifies that the directive is not followed. “The child policy in itself will not mean anything unless the government is committed to implementation of the programmes made thereafter,” says Ribhu.
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