Educationists and child rights activists have praised chief minister MK Stalin for releasing the Tamil Nadu State Policy for Children (TNSPC), which, among other things seeks, to protect children from physical abuse, including sexual exploitation.
Child rights activists had been pushing for such a policy in the context of several reports of sexual harassment against children and the accompanying suicides in the state. The TNSPC was in the making for a long time with COVID-19 and the lockdown delaying it further.
Though they have welcomed the move, the activists say the state has a long way to go in ensuring child rights with the implementation of the policy a big challenge. To put the policy into action, the involvement of various government departments and adequate financial assistance are required.
DRAFTING THE POLICY
The TNSPC, published by the Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department, is a combination of existing drafts and other suggestions from child rights networks. Child rights expert Andrew Sesuraj, assistant professor, department of social work, Loyola College, told Newsclick that “after a series of consultations, the Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department drafted a policy in 2017 and another similar draft was submitted to the Commission for the Protection of Children in 2019. These and other suggestions were taken into consideration to draft the policy”.
Under the policy, the state will be committed to the provision of nutrition, education, healthcare and a safe environment to children. These provisions are based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), 1989, the National Policy for Children, 2013, the National Plan of Action for Children, 2016, and Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The policy incorporates the four main pillars of the UNCRC, which are the right to survival, the right to protection, the right to development and the right to participation.
The policy has been drafted to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intended to be achieved by 2030. The TNSPC is also a result of the drifting away from the Millennium Development Goals, which focussed more on reducing child mortality through a partnership between developed and developing nations and could attain only 67% reduction.
K. Shanmugavelayutham of NGO Foundation for Rights of Young Child said, “We have campaigned for this policy for a long time. We built pressure and were able to influence the government. We welcome the policy.”
Sesuraj said that “the policy is a welcome move though it is a late one. The national policy was released in 2013 but the state took seven to eight years to pass this policy. The policy is only a commitment by the state; it is not an action plan. What is now required is a sensible and workable action plan”.
Given that the policy took a long time to be drafted, Sesuraj said, “Implementation should happen without any further delay, and experts should be taken into consideration in this process.”
Shanmugavelayutham seconded Sesuraj: “Any policy is merely guidelines; it only gives directions. We need a targeted action plan for each issue—nutrition, child marriage, etc.”
The government has said that the policy will be put into action by developing a comprehensive plan of action after consulting all the stakeholders, like government agencies, civil society organisations and academic institutions and children.
PLAN OF ACTION
The main question is mostly about the way the policy will be implemented. “The policy should become law with current laws and schemes reviewed in line with it. The implementation of POCSO and other laws should be studied to see whether they fall within the framework and tenets of the policy,” Sesuraj said.
Educationists and social activists point out that the policy is not without limitations with lack of awareness about it as the main drawback. “The policy mentions ‘zero tolerance to any form of violence against children’, ‘strengthening school management committees’, ‘creation of Bala Sabhas in all Gram Panchayats’... all these are welcome steps but unless awareness is created, it would be difficult to implement the policy,” Shanmugavelayutham told Newsclick.
The policy requires several departments to work together—health, education, urban local bodies and others.
Shanmugavelayutham suggested that “forming a state-level committee headed by the chief secretary, along with the department of social welfare to oversee the implementation of the policy.
“Secondly, we need a lot of state investment. No importance is given to the district child protection unit; it functions on an ad hoc basis with only a basic honorarium for the child protection officer. The TNSP Commission is powerless and also functions on an ad hoc basis. In other states like Orissa and Kerala, the commission operates with more powers,” Shanmugavelayutham added.
The policy was criticised for proposing committees under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, commonly referred to as the PoSH Act, at schools. “There are already too many committees at schools, such as the SMC and the PTA. They are not fully functional with teachers overburdened with work. Moreover, 60% of government schools have vacancies. Another committee may not be workable in such a situation,” Shanmugavelayutham said.