The Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) will soon involve the Panchayati Raj system to tackle neglect, exploitation and mental health concerns of children in villages with the help of local leaders and grassroots workers.
The pilot project will be first rolled out in Telangana and Odisha, and will then be expanded to 118 aspirational districts. This integration of child protection and mental health at the community level through the Panchayati Raj institutions is the brainchild of the WCD Minister Smriti Zubin Irani.
“The Panchayat programme is likely to begin in the states of Telangana and Odisha. There are talks with several other states in the country as well to pilot the programme,” said Dr Shekhar Seshadri, an expert adolescent and child psychiatrist at NIMHANS, Bangalore.
The project is being undertaken by SAMVAD (Support, Advocacy and Mental health interventions for children in Vulnerable circumstances And Distress), which is a national initiative and integrated resource for child protection, mental health and psychosocial care established by the ministry.
This idea envisions safety and wellbeing for children in India through standardised training, capacity building initiatives and campaigns while leveraging digital technology supporting efforts towards building a digital India.
Launched in June 2020 SAMVAD, is located in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. One of the mandates of SAMVAD is to work with Panchayati Raj systems and integrate them with child protection schemes and mental health efforts in aspirational districts across the country to facilitate awareness generation and improve service delivery at the grassroot level.
Aspirational districts will be identified in the finalised states and panchayat members will be trained to identify issues like child neglect, abuse, and exploitation not only at home but outside too
“The learning we will get after working in these states would help us further fine-tune the programme. And then we will scale it up in other districts,” said Seshadri.
Under this project, they will not only work with district magistrates but also sensitise and create awareness among the Panchayati raj representatives, primary health care doctors, Asha and Anganwadi workers, teachers, and the sarpanch too. For this, capacity-building exercises will be undertaken among these various grassroots functionaries.
“Just being sensitive to the child-related issues or identifying and recognising the child’s problem is not enough. These functionaries have to respond to a given situation too.”After they identify that a child is undergoing abuse, exploitation or even mental health issues, they will be trained to also respond to the given situation.
“We will be providing them information on what kind of schemes or actions they can take so they as a community can respond immediately. The training will help them respond, refer and alert the authorities in time so that the child is protected from further abuse, neglect and exploitation,” Seshadri added.
This will also help protect the child from being trafficked or forced to work as child labour in other states. The aim is to enhance child and adolescent psychosocial well-being, particularly of children in difficult circumstances, by promoting integrated approaches to mental health and protection, he said.