T.N. to get ‘bala sabhas’ in all panchayats

Like gram sabhas, they will pass resolutions on matters related to children, says the new State policy

The creation of ‘bala sabhas’ at all village panchayats for children aged 12 to 18, on the lines of gram sabhas, the introduction of a child protection policy at all panchayats and urban bodies and a child safeguarding policy at all schools are among the provisions envisioned in the Tamil Nadu State Policy for Children, 2021, released by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on Saturday.

“Bala sabhas, which will meet at least four times a year like the gram sabhas, will pass resolutions on matters related to children and submit them to gram sabhas to take appropriate action,” the policy said. The policy has also provided for strategic approaches in four specific areas — life, survival, health and nutrition; education; protection, and participation. Though it makes a mention of POSH, it does not mention the POCSO Act.

The policy also notes that the pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequity in education, digital divide, learning crisis, violence against children and poverty, and has further increased the vulnerability of children. Speaking to The Hindu, child rights activist R. Vidyasagar welcomed the government releasing the policy.

“Tamil Nadu has already achieved near universal elementary education, and health indicators for children too are in an advanced stage. It remains a problem only for the last-mile population. But there are some exclusive issues that the children in Tamil Nadu face, which have not yet developed in other States. There is a big gap in secondary education, and there are many pockets of poor enrolment in secondary education within the districts,” he said.

Adolescent children are at crossroads, he said, adding: “They are subjected to hard labour, they face sexual and other abuses, and early marriages and teen pregnancies, substance abuse, trafficking and mental health issues are the other problems that they face. By addressing these specific issues upfront in the policy, Tamil Nadu can show the way for addressing second-generation issues of children for the whole country,” said the former child protection specialist with UNICEF.

“The policy should have paid more attention to providing life skills education and guidance for adolescents, including on reproductive health and other aspects,” he said, adding the two innovative things that could be done were making secondary education free and compulsory for all, and providing specific legal protection to adolescent children, who are treated neither as children nor as adults under most laws.

The policy will be implemented by developing a comprehensive plan of action. An exclusive multi-sectoral advisory group will be constituted at the State level for the implementation of the policy and for further monitoring. The policy said Tamil Nadu would regularly carry out a child budget analysis. To access the policy document, log on to: https://bit.ly/tnchildpolicy2 021

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