Limit nutrition plan to only first 2 kids: Panel -Nitin Sethi

-The Times of India

Should maternity benefits and nutritional support to children under government schemes be restricted to only the first two children in order to "encourage stabilization of population"? Raising a storm among activists, the Parliamentary standing committee has recommended so while assessing the National Food Security Bill. The recommendation has been objected to by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights also.

The other recommendations of the standing committee diluting the existing commitments of the government to provide nutritional security to children, flowing out from various Supreme Court orders, has also drawn criticism from the civil society as well as the commission.

In its report, the standing committee said: "The Committee recommend that the maternity benefit of Rs.1000/- shall be admissible up to the birth of second child only in order to encourage stabilization of population."

It also recommended that pregnant women should be eligible for the maternity benefit of Rs. 1,000 per month after three months into pregnancy and not for six months as is norm now.

The reaction from NCPCR has been strong: "The commission is stunned to see that its submissions to the Standing Committee on critical issues of children's food and nutritional security have not found place in the Report."

Its said, "The universal and unconditional maternal entitlements enabling exclusive breast-feeding to babies for the first six months of life that was provided for in the NFSB is now withdrawn. On the contrary, the Committee imposed the two-child norm denying entitlements to the third born and higher order of babies in order to encourage stabilization of population."

The standing committee report notes that the recommendation to use regulation of nutritional support for population stabilization was made by Congress Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal.

The Commission has criticized the recommendations saying, "The Committee has ignored the importance of exclusive breast-feeding of babies for the first six months of life which is the vital and indispensable factor for survival and growth of children. In would only perpetuate child mortality and malnutrition in the country. This is unjust and violates the fundamental right to equality."

The Right to Food campaign too has severely criticized the recommendation denying the nutritional support to children, "It is now widely recognised that such disincentives do not contribute to population stabilisation and only violate the rights of women and children. India's fertility rate has been steadily declining and anyway approaching the level of population stabilisation."

The campaign added, "It is shocking to learn that the Committee completely obliterated legal guarantees to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and anganwadis on grounds of programmatic and operational gaps in the scheme. This undermines the Supreme Court orders and the advise of hundreds of experts and campaigns that wrote to the Committee on the importance of universalising the ICDS services."

Oddly, it was on the advise of the Union ministry for women and child development that the standing committee decided to keep ICDS out of the list of legal entitlements under the bill. The ministry told the committee, "The scheme is confronted with programmatic and operational gaps which would need to be addressed first. After then only the ICDS scheme would evolve to an acceptable level of performance in terms of delivery of services and outcomes. Therefore, the time is not ripe yet for making the entitlements legal through an Act of Parliament."

The Times of India, 24 January, 2013,

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