National Child Policy: Civil Services Mentor Magazine: January - 2017

National Child Policy

India is a young nation; children constitute 39 per cent of the country's population (Census2011). Recognised by policy-makersas a supreme national asset, childrendeserve the best in nationalinvestment, for their survival, goodheath, development opportunity,security and dignity. What is donefor them today will determine thepace, substance and character ofnational progress, the changesachieved for the benefit of childrenand their effective environment -and the future prospects of thecountry. The status and condition ofchildren is thus the surest indicatorof rights-based development.

The Constitution of India provides that the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring "thatchildren are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditionsof freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation andagainst moral and material abandonment". This directive clearly positions children asdeserving of the highest priority in national realisation of the Fundamental Rights and the specialprovisions for those most vulnerable to discrimination and exclusion. This is India's clearnational mandate for what must be done, through policy, law, planning, and practicalprogramming, with conscious provision of the required resources of knowledge and skills, timeand attention, material and financial support, and dedicated practical effort to reach all children,throughout the period of childhood. The National Policy for Children reaffirms this as a pledgeto every child.

For the welfare of Child Government has legislated various key policies at different times. Important policies among them include National Policy for Children 1974, National policy for education 1986, National Nutrition Policy 1993 etc. List of important policies and legislations and international agreements are given below:

  • National Policy for Children, 1974
  • Promotion and adoption of International Year ofthe Child (IYC), 1979
  • National Policy for Education, 1986
  • Adoption of 1990s' World Child Survival andDevelopment Goals, 1990
  • Accession to UN CRC, 1992
  • National Nutrition Policy 1993
  • National Health Policy, 2002
  • National Charter for Children, 2003
  • National Plan of Action for Children, 2005
  • Adoption of Guidelines for NCPCR, 2011 and2015
  • National Policy for Children 2013
  • National Early Childhood Care and Education(ECCE) Policy 2013
  • India New Born Action Plan 2014
  • National Policy for Children (NPC) in 1974

The National Plan of Action for Children therefore stands as the country's practical expression ofcommitment to national progress. This is a declaration of foundational investment. In setting outgoals, strategies and actions for the coming years, the Government is carrying forward itsdedicated effort to ensure a safe, dignified and fruitful life for all children. The adoption of theNational Policy for Children (NPC) in 1974 was the first such major comprehensive initiativetaken by the government. The policy set out action commitments to address and honour thenational standards and obligations enshrined in the Constitution. It focused on:

  • Provision of care and protection to all children before and after birth and throughout theperiod of childhood.
  • Comprehensive health and nutrition programmes for all children.
  • Free and compulsory education until the age of 14 years (including physical education, andrecreational time).
  • Special attention to children from marginalised backgrounds or children with socialhandicaps.
  • Constitution of a National Children's Board for planning and upholding the rights ofchildren.
  • Protection of children against abuse, neglect, cruelty and exploitation.
  • Existing laws should be amended so that in all legal disputes whether between parents orinstitutions, the interest of children are given paramount consideration

Several significant steps were taken to implement the NPC 1974. These include: implementationof the ICDS programme since 1975 to address the need for early childhood care; implementationof the immunisation programme since 1978 as an essential intervention to protect children fromlife-threatening diseases that are avertable; and the adoption of the Child Labour (Prohibition andRegulation) Act since 1986. National action plans were adopted in 1979, 1992 and 2005.

India has passed various child-centric legislations such as the Juvenile Justice Care andProtection Act (2000) and the new Act of 2015 keeping in line with standards of care andprotection required in present time, establishment of the National Commission for the Protectionof Child Rights (NCPCR) (2005), the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006), the Right ofChildren to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009), and the Protection of Children fromSexual Offences (POCSO) Act (2012). The Government is implementing large number ofschemes and programmes for children. Notable among them are Integrated Child DevelopmentScheme (ICDS, 1975),Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS, 2009), National Skill Development Mission(NSDM, 2015) and many others. The National Nutrition Mission (NNM) is soon to be relaunchedto address key issues of under-nutrition in a comprehensive way. The Government isalso undertaking gender and child budgeting to ensure adequate resource allocation for womenand children.

While some initiatives of the Government, like Mahatma Gandhi NationalEmployment Guarantee Act do not directly relate to children, they significantly affect children'scondition. The benefits of MNREGA are extended to them by developing better infrastructure atcommunity level through convergence, and empowering vulnerable households by providingthem employment in their own village.

In recent years, the most important policy initiative taken by Government of India has beenadoption of the National Policy for Children 2013 which reaffirms commitment to inclusivedevelopment and protection of all children and declares them to be a "unique and supremelyimportant national asset".The National Policy for Children, 2013adheres to the Constitutional mandate and guidingprinciples of UN CRC and reflects a paradigm shift from a "need-based" to a "rights-based"approach. It emphasises that the State is committed to take affirmative measures to promote equal opportunities for all children, and to enable all children in its jurisdiction to exercise all theconstitutional rights.

The National Policy for Children 2013 recognises that:

  • A child is any person below the age of eighteen years;
  • Childhood is an integral part of life with a value of its own;
  • Children are not a homogenous group and their different needs need different responses,especially the multi-dimensional vulnerabilities experienced by children in differentcircumstances;
  • A long term, sustainable, multi-sectoral, integrated and inclusive approach is necessary forthe overall and harmonious development and protection of children

This Policy is meant to guide and inform all laws, policies, plans and programmes affectingchildren. As children's needs are multi-sectoral and interconnected, and require collective action,the Policy aims for purposeful convergence and strong coordination across different sectors andlevels of governance; active engagement and partnerships with all stakeholders; setting up of acomprehensive and reliable knowledge base; provision of adequate resources; and sensitizationand capacity development of all those who work for and with children.

The National Plan of Action for Children2016 succeeds the Plan of Action adopted in 2005. The previous plan had identified 12 keyareas keeping in mind priorities and the intensity of the challenges that require utmost andsustained attention. Some of the important areas are mentioned below:

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