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The commission had suo-moto undertaken the study on ‘Early Childhood Development and Legal Entitlements’ considering the importance and relevance of ECD from the perspective of national and human resource development. As per the Commission, “during a time when the world is debating the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which include the guarantee of early childhood development, the time is ripe to position the rights of young children within the development agenda and create appropriate legal entitlements with respect to ECD.”
The 69-page report is based on the opinion that the constitutional framework of fundamental rights and directive principles should reflect the special status and needs of children in the under-6 age group. It further believes that statutory backing should be given to the existing schemes and policies in order to create legal entitlements in favour of children. In its opinion, this should be coupled with an integrated and holistic approach to protecting the interests of the young child, keeping in mind the need for health, nutrition, care and education as the primary inputs for early childhood development. The following recommendations are intended to achieve these ends.
Suggestions of Law Commission:
New Article 24A in the Constitution to foster child right
As per the recommendation of the NCRWC, a new Article 24A be inserted to Part III of the Constitution to ensure that the child’s right to basic care and assistance becomes an enforceable right.
The Article should read as follows:
“24A. Every child shall have the right to care and assistance in basic needs and protection from all forms of neglect, harm and exploitation”
Amendment to Article 21A to provide education to under-6 years old
In order to extend the right to education to children in the under-6 age group as well, Article 21A of the Constitution should be amended to read as follows:
“Article 21A: The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children in such a manner as the State may by law determine.”
Amendment to Fundamental Duties
Similarly, it is recommended that the fundamental duty of the parent or guardian to provide education should not be applicable only to children between the ages of six and fourteen. Article 51 A(k) of the Constitution should be amended so that the duty is placed on every citizen “who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his/her child or, as the case may be, ward under his/her care.”
Amendment to Section 11 of RTE Act
Section 11 of the Right to Education Act should be made mandatory and should read as follows: “with a view to prepare children above the age of three years for elementary education and to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years, the appropriate Government shall make necessary arrangement for providing free pre-school education for such children.”
Amendment to Maternity Benefit Act
It has been suggested that the Maternity Benefit Act be amended in accordance with the forward looking provisions in the CCS Rules, whereby maternity benefits should be increased from twelve weeks to 180 days. Provision of maternity benefits 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.
It has been further suggested that government formulates policy or guidelines laying down minimum specifications of paid maternity leave to women employed in private sector.
Establish Council for Early Childhood Development
In order to ensure proper emphasis on the promotion of early childhood development, especially keeping in view that the current approach towards ECD which is fragmented into different schemes and raises issues of lack universality in standards, monitoring and coordination (as pointed out in Chapter IV), it has been suggested that a statutory authority or Council for Early Childhood Development (“the Council”) be created. The Council 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. The powers and responsibilities of the Council should be specified by law. Similar Councils to be established at State Level as well. The Philippines’ ECCD (Early Childhood Care and Development) Council may be looked at as an example and adapted to the Indian context.
The Council must 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.
Amendment to National Food Security Act
With regard to Section 6 of NFSA, there is need for evolving guidelines or some methods for identification of children suffering from malnutrition and for referring such children to appropriate healthcare providers. It is suggested that some provision be brought so that the nutrition recommendations in Schedule II of the NFSA could be regularly revised in keeping with the latest scientific studies based on calorific value, age, sex and food items. The Council may be empowered to periodically commission such studies from the appropriate research institutes or organisations.
Training to teachers
Provision should be made for the training of teachers to provide pre-school education, and there should be a budgetary allocation to fund training programs for the same to ensure quality standards and a proper implementation of the best methods of promoting play and learning. Teachers imparting pre-school instruction should be considered at par with primary school teachers, and this should reflect in the terms and conditions of their employment. This institutional aspect is essential for ensuring that pre-school education be given sufficient importance.
Right to crèche and day care
It has been suggested that every child under six should have an unconditional right to crèche and day care provided, regulated and operated by the State, as found for example in the Act on Children’s Day Care of 1973, Finland. The provision of crèches should be made the responsibility of the State, not of the employer, especially in the unorganised sector.