32 million children in India don’t get early childhood care: Report

By Arun Anand, IANS,

New Delhi : Around 32 million children in India in the 0-6 year age group do not have access to basic education and healthcare services, says a report called “Status of Children in India 2008”.

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“The worst affected children in this age group are those who belong to the marginalised sections of society,” said Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, the NGO that has brought out the report which will be formally released here Friday.

“A vast group of children living in difficult circumstances, such as children of long-term patients, women prisoners and sex workers, children with special needs, riot, militancy and disaster-affected children, refugee and displaced children, and children from orphanages and foundling homes, are not covered by early childhood education,” says the report.

It adds that only 13 percent of the children among other backward classes (OBC) eligible to be covered by the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) are reported to be benefiting from it. The figure is even lower for the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST), 10 percent each.

Around 164 million children in India are in the 0-6 year age group, of whom about 60 million are in the age group of 3-6 years. “Over six million of these children are slum dwellers, where basic services seldom reach,” the report says.

It adds: “34 million children in the 3-6 year age group are covered by pre-schooling initiatives either under ICDS or private initiatives, excluding about 26 million children from any intervention. Uncovered and unreached children are found in both rural and urban areas.”

According to the report, these uncovered and unreached children are from a number of vulnerable and marginalised socio-economic groups, “demonstrating how a programme designed to respond to the needs of poor and marginalised in practice fails to reach many of these target groups”.

“In rural areas, they are located in isolated and remote hamlets, Scheduled Caste/Tribe habitations, settlements of seasonal migrant roadside workers, construction and quarry workers or in fishing hamlets. In urban areas, they are the children of construction workers, temporary/seasonal workers, rural migrants etc., living on pavements, in unauthorised settlements or, at best, small slums.”

Ganguly said: “Without a major policy shake-up and more efficient implementation of the nutrition programmes, India is unlikely to reach the related millennium development goals by 2015.”

Two of the eight goals set up by the UN in 2000 relate to children – to achieve universal primary education and to reduce child mortality. The deadline is supposed to be 2015.

“Instead of boning up on implementation and universal coverage of the ICDS, policymakers are currently engaged in a frivolous debate over serving biscuits to little children as mid-day meal, neglecting the nutrition aspect of hot cooked foods,” Ganguly added.

(Arun Anand can be contacted at [email protected])