Law Commission of India has released its 259th Report titled, “Early Childhood Development and Legal Entitlements”, highlighting the issues relating to the rights of children under the age of six years. The Commission took up the study on request of some of the representatives of Alliance for Right to Early Childhood Care & Development and Mobile Crèches, who met the Commission in November, 2015.
The Commission focuses its research on the children up to the age of six years as this period is considered as a ‘window of opportunity’, i.e., if the child receives favourable environmental inputs of health, nutrition, learning and psychosocial development, the chances of the child’s brain developing to its full potential are considerably enhanced.
It has further proposed that the Maternity Act be amended in consonance with the forward looking provisions in the CCS Rules, whereby maternity benefits should be increased from twelve weeks to 180 days. This should be made obligatory on the State and not left to the will of the employers and should cover all women, including women working in the unorganized sector. The provision for unconditional right to Crèches and day care has also been made the responsibility of the State and not the employer.
Furthermore, the Commission has advocated for formulation of policy of guidelines laying down minimum specifications of paid maternity leave to women employed in private sector.
Three Constitutional amendments have been recommended by the LCI. A new Article 24A has been suggested to be inserted to Part III of the Constitution of India, to ensure that the child’s right to basic care and assistance becomes an enforceable right. It has also suggested an amendment to Article 21A of the Constitution of India, which deals with the Right to Education. Lastly, the Fundamental duty of the parent or the guardian to provide education has been recommended to be extended to children between the ages of six and fourteen, by amending Article 51 A (k).
Despite 16% of the Indian population being between the ages of 0-6 years, the Commission notes that there is no clear legal articulation of the entitlements of these young children.
It describes as “slow” the response of the Government to the problem of malnutrition and neglect of young children. It was in response to rising voices demanding greater attention from the State on the issue of ‘Early Childhood Development (ECD)’ that the Government came out with a comprehensive ‘Nation Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy, 2013’.
It hence recommends that guidelines be evolved for identification of children suffering from malnutrition and for referring such children to appropriate healthcare providers.
The report hence analysis the elaborate analysis within 7 chapters: Concept and Importance; International Conventions, Treaties and Declarations; Constitutional Context; National Policies and Schemes; Health and Nutrition; Care and Education; and Conclusion and Suggestions.
Besides the Constitutional amendments, it also suggests that Section 11 of the Right to Education Act be made mandatory. This provision would make it mandatory for the Government to make necessary arrangement for providing free pre-school education for all children until they complete the age of six years.
The need for a Council for Early Childhood Development has been emphasized upon, which may be composed of officials from the Ministry of Women & Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Commerce & Industry and representatives from civil society active in the field of early childhood development, and other such members as may be specified.
This Council would be made responsible for laying down minimum universal standards for quality of services, facilities and infrastructure to be put in place across all schemes and provisions relating to early childhood.
The Following are the recommendations;
Read the Law Commission of India 259th Report here.