ICDS taking care of nutritional needs of children
by V. Mohan Rao,Freelance Journalist
The Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) Scheme providing for supplementary nutrition, immunization and pre-school education to the children is a popular flagship programme of the government. It is one of the world’s largest programs providing for an integrated package of services for the holistic development of the child. As per 2001 Census, there are around 160 million children, constituting 15.42 per cent of the scheme in the country.
The scheme gets a further boost with the Ministry of Women and Child Development deciding to expand and universalize it by increasing the number of Anganwadis to 14 lakhs from the existing 10 lakhs as per the commitment to the National Common Minimum Programme and increasing weightage cost of supplementary nutrition from Rs. 2 to Rs. 4 per child and in the case of severely malnourished children to Rs. 6 per child. Nutritional support and referral medical services are available to pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls also at Anganwadis.
In order to reduce malnutrition among children and the pregnant and lactating mother, the government provides supplementary nutrition through Angawnwadis under the scheme. The government provided around Rs. 3338 crore during 2007-08 to the states. The allocation for the purpose has been increased to Rs.5984.95 crore in the current financial year.
Under the scheme, innovative methods are used to provide pre-school education to the children at Anganwadis. The children feel more comfortable as generally they are accompanied by their mothers and Anganwadi workers from neighbourbood. India is the home to the largest child population in the world. ICDS is the foremost symbol of India’s commitment to its children and it is the response to the challenge of providing pre-school education on one hand and breaking the vicious cycle of malnutrition, morbidity, reduced learning capacity and mortality, on the other. It is an inter-sectoral programme, which seeks to directly reach out to children, below six years, especially from vulnerable and remote areas.
Objectives of ICDS
Laying the foundation for proper psychological development of the child, improving nutritional and health status of children up to the age of six, reducing incidence of mortality, morbidity, malnutrition and school dropouts, enhancing the capability of the mother and family to look after the health, nutritional and development needs of the child and achieving effective coordination of policy and implementation among various departments to promote child development.
The scheme provides an integrated approach for converging basic services through community-based workers and helpers. The services are provided at Anganwadis. The Anganwadi, literally a courtyard play center, is a child-care center located within the village itself.
The services provided under the ICDS scheme are: supplementary nutrition, non-formal pre-school education, immunization, health checkup, referral services and nutrition and health education. The supplementary nutrition includes supplementary feeding and growth monitoring, and prophylaxis against Vitamin A deficiency and control of nutritional anemia. All families in the community are surveyed to identify children below the age of six and pregnant and nursing mothers. They avail of supplementary feeding support for 300 days a year. By providing supplementary feeding, the Anganwadi attempts to bridge the protein energy gap between the recommended dietary allowance and average dietary intake of children and women. Children below the age of three are weighed once a month and children in the age group of 3 to 6 are weighed every quarter. Weight-for-age growth cards are maintained for all children below six years. This helps to detect growth faltering and helps in assessing nutritional status. Besides, severely malnourished children are given special supplementary feeding and referred to health sub-centres, primary health centers as and when required.
Under ICDS scheme, children are provided pre-school education also besides supplementary nutrition, health-checkup and immunization. Around 3.39 crore children are at Anganwadis as on March 31st this year. Innovative methods are used to provide pre-school education to the children in the age group of 3 to 6 at Anganwadis. Moreover, children feel comfortable as their mothers accompany them. This component for the children is directed towards providing and ensuring a natural joyful and stimulating environment with the emphasis on necessary inputs for optimal growth and development. The early learning component of the ICDS is a significant input for providing a sound foundation for cumulative lifelong learning and development. It also contributes to the universalization of primary education by providing to the child the necessary preparation for primary schooling and offering substitute care to younger siblings, thus freeing the older ones, especially girls to attend school. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru said “No subject is of greater importance than that of education. It is the men and women in a country that make and build a nation and it is education that is supposed to build those men and women.”
The health check-up of the children less than 6 years, antenatal care of expectant mothers and postnatal care of nursing mothers are taken care by the medical staff in-charge of Health Sub-Centre and Primary Health Centres under the Reproductive Child Health (RCH) programme of the Health and Family Welfare Ministry. Other health services include immunization, management of malnutrition, treatment of diarrhoea, deworming and distribution of medicines etc.
Immunization of pregnant women and infants protects children from six vaccine-preventable diseases like poliomyelitis, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, tuberculosis and measles. These are the major preventable causes of child mortality, disability, morbidity and related malnutrition. Immunization of pregnant women against tetanus also reduces maternal and neonatal mortality.
ICDS is a centrally-sponsored scheme implemented through the state governments and UT administrations with 100 per cent financial assistance for inputs other than supplementary nutrition, which the states are to provide out of their own resources. However, from 2005-06, the government has decided to share with the 50 per cent cost of supplementary nutrition. Almost three times increase has been made since then. During 2007-08 allocation of Rs. 1800 crore was made for supplementary nutrition which has been increased to Rs. 2261 crore in the current year.
The government has introduced Anganwadi Karyakartri Bima Yojana to Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi helpers with effect from April 2004 under the Life Insurance Corporation’s Social Security Scheme. In order to motivate Anganwadi workers and give recognition to good voluntary work, a scheme of award has been introduced both at the national and state levels. The award comprises of Rs.25,000 cash and a Citation at Central level and Rs.5,000 cash and a Citation at state level. The remuneration of Anganwadi workers has been increased to Rs.1500/- from the existing Rs.700/- and that of the Anganwadi workers to Rs.750 from the existing Rs.500/- with effect from April 2008. The government has also decided to provide uniform to the Anganwadi staff. This will benefit over 18 lakh staff.
As many as 787 lakh beneficiaries — 650 lakh children (0-6 years) and about 137 lakh pregnant and lactating mothers are covered under the scheme through over 10.53 lakh Anganwadi centers across the country. The government had issued instructions to all states to give priority in locating Anganwadi centers in areas predominantly inhabited by Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Minorities. It is significant to note that the number of beneficiaries for supplementary nutrition have registered an increase of 97 per cent during the period from March 2004 to January 2008. Similarly, the number of children (3 – 6 years) attending Anganwadi centers for pre-school education has increased from 204 lakh to 326 lakh, an increase of 60 per cent during the same period.
Considering the importance of ICDS, the government has given very high priority to the scheme.The significant achievements in its implementation will certainly help as an effective tool in the eradication of malnutrition and ensure all round development of the children, who are the national assets of the future.
Disclaimer : The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIB.