Chennai, September 21, 2017 : The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy and UNICEF, Chennai, organised a Round Table consultation of experts, practitioners, policy makers, journalists, and NGOs, on “Public Policy and the Child in Tamil Nadu”. The aim of the Round Table consultations was to discuss and deliberate on how to further state interventions to ensure that Tamil Nadu remains a national leader in providing opportunities for the child, while continuously benchmarking itself against global standards.
The deliberations pointed to the way ahead, conceptually and operationally, and called for updating policies relevant for the child, periodic reviews of status and progress vis-à-vis global benchmarks. It also indicated areas where new policies will enable the State to better cater to the needs of every child, including the vulnerable.
Specific gaps were identified, new steps recommended, and policy suggestions made, based on commissioned papers that were presented and discussed at the Round Table held in early September (September 2, 2017).
Social Spaces for the Child in Tamil Nadu
The Round Table proposed the introduction of the concept of “Social Spaces for the Child” in Tamil Nadu’s policy discourse. Social space has a geographical, a cultural, and a relational dimension, the key determinants being age, sex, caste, and class. Though personal and influenced by psycho-social factors, social spaces can be directed by policy, planning, and good governance.
In managing the exponential urbanisation, including promoting “smart cities”, governments and local bodies can draw upon and customise available guidelines to ensure child-friendly urban areas, infrastructure, and institutions, in consultation with civil society and citizen groups, including children.
The role of the family, beyond providing food and shelter, needs attention in terms of the physical and psychological protection for the child. Alcoholism, aggression, physical and psychological abuse, and neglect often trigger emotional and mental health problems, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence among children. All families do not have all necessary long-term strengths to ensure provisioning of holistic positive development of children. The State and its policies should play their role in supporting families and help them rise above negative coping strategies.
Tamil Nadu maintains a leading position in India in social sector expenditure, which is above all comparable States. With competition and growing demands for allocation from other sub-sectors, the proportionate share of expenditure on health and education sub-sectors recorded a decline over the past three decades. There has been a plateauing of some key metrics in the recent past.
Tamil Nadu’s demographic dividend is an important justification to prioritise spending on children. A note of caution was also raised on dependency ratio, indicating that Tamil Nadu, as in the case of some European countries, would have to address issues relating to a greying population.
With regard to fiscal space, while the share of resources devolved from the Union Government to Tamil Nadu has been steadily coming down, the State currently devolves 10 per cent of its own revenues to its local bodies, which is among the highest in India. The constraint was more in the nature of functioning than in funding. The functional constraints were also identified as those that arise from hierarchical issues: village panchayats, social structures, school management committees, parent teacher associations, and similar groupings. It was also noted that there was a direct coincidence if not causation between schools that were in demand and well-functioning State-run schools.
There are gaps in maintaining the quality of education and the related infrastructure provisions to schools and hostels run by the various departments such as School Education, Adi-Dravidar Welfare, the Backward Classes Welfare, and the Forest Department.
On children in informal housing (slum), coastal areas, and migrant pockets, the discussion identified some lacunae in the policy-making process, inconsistencies in documentation, and the knowledge gaps that are impediments to successful policy interventions.
The overarching constraint with regard to the disabled child, which is equally applicable to other segments, was the non-availability of child-specific data for the State. In addition, the People with Disabilities Act calls upon the State to provide transport to the disabled child to travel to school. Proactive provision of transport to school for children with disabilities would improve general access as well through a reverse inclusion process.
Child labour is a last-mile issue in Tamil Nadu but needs attention. Presently, almost all children go to school but some also work during non-school hours. This considerably reduces time for leisure and play for such children. The recent amendment to the Child Labour Act permitting work in family businesses after school-hours is regressive as it opens up possibilities of the law being circumvented by creating a grey area, and thereby tacitly allowing child employment in the unorganised and home-based sectors.
Child labour is also a second-generation issue in Tamil Nadu and increasing number of children who are secondary school dropouts (late adolescent children in 15-18 age group) are joining the work force without adequate legal protection and social security that needs to be addressed.
Key Policy-related Recommendations
There was consensus on the following points to support the Tamil Nadu government’s efforts in policy articulation:
I. The State Government should expedite the process of formulation of a multi-dimensional Child Policy for Tamil Nadu, addressing the several deprivations that confront the child in manifest and subtle forms.
II. Appropriate agencies in the Government of Tamil Nadu should undertake a systematic and critical review of key existing schemes from a child’s lens for recalibration, bringing in innovations that can improve quality of delivery and efficiency of expenditure and further introduce new initiatives where necessary, that expand the range of child development.
III. As policies, schemes and initiatives impacting a child’s welfare and development are cross-Departmental responsibilities, an appropriate State-level platform, headed at a suitably high level to provide visible political and administrative leadership for regular monitoring and direction, needs to be established.
IV. Wherever feasible, platforms could be facilitated for children to express their views on policies that have a bearing on them.
V. Tamil Nadu should take the lead in creating social spaces for the child, addressing both public and private spaces. It should not be restricted to maintenance of child-friendly public places, but ensure the creation of spaces where every child is able to learn, play, grow, and develop to maximum potential in an uninhibited manner.
VI. The non-homogenous nature of children should be recognised and need-specific policies should be drawn to address the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, and the marginalised child.
VII. Social sector expenditure should be reprioritised to provide for greater allocative and operational efficiency in areas that have a direct bearing on shaping a child’s survival, development, protection, and participation.
Read: The Hindu , 2017 . “ Create social space for children, say experts “, September 23.
Background Note on “ Public Policy and the Child in Tamil Nadu: Papers presented at a Round Table Discussion “ can be accessed here .