Early Scope

Law panel: Give rights to kids under 6 years

Aug 28, 2015 | Age Correspondent | New Delhi

The Law Commission of India on Thursday recommended amending the Constitution to ensure that children under six years of age are protected from “all forms” of neglect, harm and exploitation and also called for their right to basic care and assistance be made an enforceable right.

In its report submitted to the law ministry on Thursday, the commission noted that the current legal framework in India does not place enough emphasis on the rights of young children and said that the early childhood is the phase of “maximum vulnerability” and deprivation can seriously impact a child’s health and learning potential.

The commission also recommended amendments to the Right to Education Act, Maternity Benefit Act and creation of a statutory authority for early childhood development to ensure “proper emphasis” on the promotion of early childhood development.

The report of the commission, whose term is ending on August 31, is the result of demands made by some representatives of Alliance for Right to Early Childhood Care & Development and Mobile Crèches, who highlighted the issue relating to the rights of children under the age of six years.

It said that the protection of early childhood development in India depends on policies and schemes created and run by the Central and state governments.

“The commission is of the view that the constitutional framework of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles should reflect the special status and needs of children below six years. Further, the commission believes that statutory backing should be given to the existing schemes and policies in order to create legal entitlements in favour of children,” said the report.

The law panel suggested that as per the recommendation of the National Commission for Review of Constitution, 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’,” the report said.

To extend the Right to Education to children in the under-6 age group as well, Article 21A of the Constitution should be amended, it said and recommended that the amended Article should read as: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children in such a manner as the State may by law determine.”

It pointed out that as of now, issues relating to interests and welfare of young children “remain locked” in Part IV of the Constitution that incorporates Directive Principles of State Policy.

The panel said that Section 11 of the Right to Education Act should be made mandatory and should ensure that children above the age of three are prepared for elementary education. It should be so worded to ensure that children below the age of six years are provided early childhood care and education.

It also suggested that the Maternity Benefit Act be amended so that maternity benefits are increased from twelve weeks to 180 days and asked government to formulate its policies to lay down minimum specifications of paid maternity leave to women employed in private sector.

“In order to ensure proper emphasis on the promotion of early childhood development (ECD), especially keeping in view that the current approach towards it is fragmented into different schemes and raises issues of lack universality in standards, monitoring and coordination, it is suggested that a statutory authority or Council for Early Childhood Development be created,” the Commission said.

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