INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL STUDIES TRUST | NEW DELHI
Pathways to Accessible, Affordable and
Gender-responsive Childcare Provision
for Children under Six
INDIA CASE STUDIES
DRAFT BACKGROUND PAPER FOR THE RESEARCH AND
DATA SECTION, UN WOMEN, NEW YORK
1 Introduction .........................................................................................................................3
2 Overview of the History of Childcare Provision in India ......................................................5
Early Interventions on Maternity Benefits and Crèche Provision .............................................5
National Policy for Children, 1974: Taking Public Provisioning of Childcare Seriously ..........6
Gendering the Provision of Childcare ......................................................................................8
Child Care Provisioning from the Perspective of Women’s Needs .......................................9
Maternity/Parental Benefits Regime .................................................................................. 10
A Rights Based Framework for Childcare Provision and Maternity Entitlements ................... 12
3 Childcare Provisioning in and through the Care Diamond .................................................. 16
State Provisioning of Childcare through the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme 16
Market, Private and Community Provisioning of Childcare ................................................... 18
4 Case Studies: Mobile Crèches and Tamil Nadu ICDS ........................................................ 19
Mobile Crèches ..................................................................................................................... 19
Models of Delivery of Childcare: Financing and Supervision ............................................ 21
Components of Quality Childcare Delivery ....................................................................... 24
Tamil Nadu ICDS ................................................................................................................. 27
Nutrition and a History of Public Provisioning .................................................................. 28
Other Better Functioning Components of Tamil Nadu ICDS ............................................. 30
Equity Focus and Gender Responsiveness of the ICDS ...................................................... 31
Contextualising the Success of TN ICDS ........................................................................... 33
5 Pathways to Accessible, Affordable, Equitable and Gender Responsive Childcare ............. 35
References ................................................................................................................................ 38
Since independence, state policy in India on the provision of childcare has been constituted by
several piecemeal and disjointed laws, policies and programmes broadly targeting two modalities
of childcare provision: laws and policies regulating employer provision of childcare services and
maternity benefits, and the public provisioning of childcare services and maternity benefits. These
policies and programmes have not always emanated from a holistic conception of women’s rights
or even of child rights. In recent years, however, there has been a shift in polices on childcare
(reflecting wider shifts in public policy programming) from a welfarist approach to a more rights
based approach, though these have by no means been wholesale. Further, these shifts in policies
have been the result of hard fought for claims-making by groups and networks working on a range
of issues such as the right to food, social security, maternity entitlements and Early Childhood
Care and Development (ECCD) (Citizens’ Initiative for the Rights of the Child Under Six (CIRCUS)
2006; Mander 2012; Chopra 2014; N. Rao 2017). However, even where claims making by groups
has informed policy-making, the resultant policies have not always reflected the ethos of the
claims making (for instance on maternity benefits). Despite the piecemeal nature of policies on
childcare provisioning in India, there have been several examples of the provision of quality
childcare provisioning by state and non-state actors as well as collaborative efforts by the two.
The aim of this paper is to inform debates of the likely pathways to accessible, affordable,
equitable and gender responsive childcare provision by examining two case studies of quality
childcare provisioning in India: the Tamil Nadu Integrated Child Development Services (TN ICDS)
and Mobile Crèches. These case studies were chosen for several reasons. Given the mandate
by the Supreme Court to ‘universalise childcare services’ through the Integrated Child
Development Services (ICDS) machinery (Citizens' Initiative for the Rights of the Child Under Six
(CIRCUS) 2014), the ICDS has become the primary institution around which much of the policy
focus for children under 6 has centred. In this context, the Tamil Nadu ICDS is one of the
examples of a better functioning ICDS in India based on the ‘constant innovations’ in the services
it provides since the introduction of the Tamil Nadu Integrated Nutrition Programme in the 1970s
(Sinha and Bhatia 2009). Moreover, it has been the focus of studies seeking to understand the
likely pathways for the delivery of quality childcare provision through the ICDS machinery (Lingam
and Yelamanchili 2011; Lingam and Kanchi 2013; Datta and Konantambigi 2007; Sinha and
Bhatia 2009; Shanmugavelayutham 2013). On the other hand, Mobile Crèches has been chosen
as a case study because it is a pioneer in the field of ECCD in India, and its focus on direct delivery
of ‘holistic’ childcare, its diverse models of childcare provision, its training of childcare providers,
and its long history of advocacy on the rights of children under 6 to childcare provision place it in
good stead to inform debates of the likely pathways to accessible, gender responsive and equity
focused childcare provision.
In locating these two case studies therefore, the paper pays attention to the quality of childcare
provision, financing mechanisms, accessibility, equity, and gender responsiveness, including the
measures that have been put in place to reach women in marginalized groups.
See the Suraksha Series (Khalakdina 1995; Pandit 1995; Kashyap 1995) and the UNICEF-ISST project reports on quality
childcare provisioning for children under 3 (Venkateswaran 2013; Balakrishnan 2013a, 2013b; Atkuri 2013;
Shanmugavelayutham 2013; Chigateri 2013).
The paper is based primarily on secondary research, supplemented by qualitative research
conducted in Chennai and Delhi through Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and Key Informant
In order to understand the context for the case studies, the paper locates the broad swathe of
policy on childcare provision, particularly focusing on those policies targeting children under 6.
What is important to note is that many of the policies and programmes that make up the ECCE
framework in India focus on ‘child development’ for children under 6 targeting important concerns
such as nutrition, health, preschool education, food security, etc., rather than a sole focus on the
provision of ‘day care’ for children. Given this context, the paper also locates the care regime, in
and through the care diamond (Razavi 2007) to map how childcare is provided for children under
6 and by whom.
3 focus group discussions were held with men and women users in 3 childcare centres in New Delhi, one of which was a direct
delivery model of Mobile Creches (Bestech Child Creche in Gurgaon Sector 81 on 21 March 2017), a facilitation model at a
construction site (Paras Dew, Gurgaon on 21 March 2017) and a community based childcare centre facilitated by Mobile
Creches (New Seemapuri on 20 March 2017). Semi-structured interviews were held with 3 childcare workers onsite in the 3
centres between 20 – 21 March 2017, and semi-structured interviews were also conducted with senior staff of Mobile Creches:
Devika Singh, Co-Founder; Sudeshna Sengupta, Senior Manager, Advocacy; Bhagyalaxmi Rao, Head, Programs on 21 March
2017 at the Mobile Creches office, New Delhi. In Chennai, 2 focus group discussions were held with women in 2 anganwadi
centres on 27 March 2017, where we also conducted semi-structured interviews with 4 anganwadi workers (2 anganwadi
workers, and 2 anganwadi helpers). The workers and users requested to be anonymous, so we did not voice record the
conversations, and we have not identified the anganwadis we visited. The researchers took notes during the discussions and
interviews (for which we had explicit consent). Semi-structured interviews were also held with a retired anganwadi worker, D
Sukumari who has set up a union for retired angawadi workers on 26 March 2017, and the Convenor of TN FORCES, Prof K
Shanmugavelayutham on 28 March 2017 at For You Child Office, Chennai. The author is grateful to all participants of the
project for giving generously of their time for this paper. The author would like to thank her colleagues at ISST, Anweshaa
Ghosh and Mubashira Zaidi for support rendered in conducting fieldwork. She is also grateful for the incisive comments received
on previous drafts from Shahra Razavi. All errors are the author’s own.
Owing to both ECCD literature, that sees the ages of 0-6/8 as crucial for child development, and the particularity of the legislative
framework in India, the under-6 category has become an important category for policy scrutiny.
2 Overview of the History of Childcare
Provision in India
Feminist scholars, Palriwala and Neetha (2011) argue that the regime of childcare provision in
India is framed by an ideology of ‘gendered familialism’, viz., an ideology that ‘reiterates that care
work is a private responsibility, women’s responsibility, and is embedded in familial relations’
(Palriwala and Neetha 2011: 1066). As we shall see below, since independence, there have been
a range of policies and programming on childcare provision, and for the most part, they are indeed
largely framed by an ideology that sees care as primarily a familial and female responsibility.
However, there have also been several policy and legislative attempts over the years to create
chinks in this ideology, albeit with limited success. The early statutory provisioning of childcare in
the formal sector, the provisioning of crèches at worksites in the informal sector through the
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the universalization of
the ICDS and the new Maternity Benefits regime provide instances where laws and policies have
sought to redistribute (even if partially, and sometimes problematically) care provision to the
employer and the state. In the following sections, the paper maps the broad policy framework of
childcare provisioning in India, with a view to analyse whether and if so how they account for both
children’s rights and women’s rights to accessible, affordable, quality childcare.
Early Interventions on Maternity Benefits and Crèche Provision
In the early years after independence, state policy on childcare provision was largely directed at
the regulation of employer provision of maternity benefits and the provision of crèche facilities in
a limited set of workplaces. The Employees State Insurance Act (ESI Act) 1948 provided for an
insurance based model of maternity benefits with both employee-employer contributions,
whereas the Maternity Benefits Act (MB Act) 1961 focused solely on employer responsibility for
maternity leave and pay. Both Acts were limited in terms of both scope (targeting women in the
formal sector) and coverage (providing only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave).
provision of crèche facilities was mandated through a series of early legislations regulating the
conditions of work in the organized sector at factories, plantations and mines (Factories Act 1948;
Plantation Labour Act 1951, Mines Act 1952), later extending to other workplaces (the Beedi and
Cigar Workers’ Act 1966; Contract Labour Act 1970, Inter-state Migrant Workers Act 1980 and
the Building and Construction Workers 1996).
These legislations mandated employer provision
of crèche facilities in workplaces employing a relatively large number of women. For instance, the
Factories Act 1948 requires a factory that ordinarily employs more than 30 women workers to
provide crèche facilities for children of women workers who are under 6 years of age, and the
Plantations Act 1952 requires crèches in every plantation with 50 or more women workers, or
where the number of children below the age of 6 of the women workers is 20 or more. In some
Lingam and Yalamanchili argue that the ‘considerable presence of women in workers’ movements’ led to the enactment of the
Maternity Benefits Act 1961 (2011: 96). Women’s groups had been lobbying for maternity benefits since the 1920s, which
combined with the ‘active role of the trade union movement’ (Bala 2012: 4), produced pre-independence precursors to maternity
benefits legislation in a few states: Bombay (1929), Madras (1934), Uttar Pradesh (1938), West Bengal (1939) and Assam
(1944). However, these and the debates preceding them were couched in the language of protection rather than women’s rights
(Lingam and Yelamanchili 2011). Women’s groups’ involvement in the enactment of the Maternity Benefits Act 1961 produced
legislation that recognized women’s rights to maternity benefits, but as Lingam and Yelamanchili argue, the legislation was
limited by its link to ‘the regularity of work, the formal nature of employment and the presence of an employer to operationalize
the entitlement’ (Ibid: 97).
Forum for Creches and Childcare Services (FORCES), a network of feminist and childcare organizations formed in 1989, of which
Mobile Creches is a founding member, played a role in pushing through legislation on building and construction workers to make
employers accountable in the provision of childcare at construction sites (interview, Devika Singh, 21 March 2017, Mobile
Creches office, New Delhi).
workplaces, the mandated requirement of crèches is more complex, for instance with mines, the
type of mine determines both the minimum requirement of employed women, and the type of
crèche that is mandated by the law (Mines Rules 1966).
In terms of the public provisioning of childcare in the early post-independence years, the Central
Social Welfare Board (CSWB) which was set up in 1953 with the mandate to promote social
welfare activities and implement welfare programmes for women, children and the ‘handicapped’
through voluntary organizations, set up a small network of child centres (balwadis) across the
country (Department of Women and Child Development 2003; Palriwala and Neetha 2011).
Following the 3rd Five Year Plan, which recognized the importance of preschool education, there
was an expansion in the number of balwadis and training centres were set up to train bal sevikas
(childcare workers). The CSWB also provided a grant-in-aid scheme for voluntary agencies
working in pre-school education (Kaul and Sankar 2009).
The ESI Act, the MB Act and the laws mandating crèches at the workplace continue to inform the
landscape of maternity benefits and employer based childcare provision in India. These provisions
have come under heavy feminist critique for both poor implementation and the lack of coverage
for the vast majority of working women (M. Swaminathan 1985; Datta and Konantambigi 2007;
Lingam and Yelamanchili 2011; Ferus-Comelo 2012). However, both these regimes regulating
childcare provisioning are in the midst of change – the Maternity Benefits Act has been recently
amended in March 2017, and recent labour law reforms seek to overhaul, amalgamate and
rationalise 44 labour laws into four Codes on wages, industrial relations, social security and
occupational safety, health and working conditions in India, including the recently passed
Maternity Benefits Act, as well as the ESI Act (Sinha 2017; Pinto 2017). A repackaged Maternity
Benefits programme targeting the unorganised sector announced in May 2017 completes a
triumvirate ‘overhaul’ of the maternity benefits regime in India, each of which have been heavily
criticised by academics and groups working on social security and maternity entitlements (Sinha
2017; Pinto 2017; Drèze 2017). Further, there have been efforts to expand the provisioning of
crèches at worksites for women workers in both the organized sector (through the 2017
amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act) and the unorganized sector (through the National
Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2008). A National Programme for Crèche and Day Care
Facilities, which proposes the creation of facilities for early childhood care (including custodial
care) across the unorganised sector, including private and public sector organisations, has been
in the offing since last year. We will return to the new regime of maternity entitlements and
childcare provisioning below.
National Policy for Children, 1974: Taking Public Provisioning of
The National Policy for Children of 1974 marked something of a watershed as it provided a clear
policy focus on the rights and needs of children and it recognized the importance of state provision
of services for children. It included recommendations on the health and supplementary nutrition
for mothers and children, and it called for the free and compulsory education for all children up to
the age of 14 years (which already had constitutional sanction through a Directive Principle of
State Policy - Article 45 - of the Constitution). It also called for priority to be given to programmes
targeting ‘crches and other facilities for the care of children of working or ailing mothers’, and
recommended a targeted focus on children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe
communities and ‘mentally retarded’ and ‘physically handicapped’ children (Department of Social
Welfare 1974; also see Law Commission of India 2015, pp. 27, 28).
Very soon after the adoption of this policy, the Government set up the National Children’s Board,
and set in motion a pilot of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme to
implement the vision of providing nutrition and health services for children under 6 and pregnant
and lactating mothers; reducing mortality, morbidity, malnutrition and school drop outs; and laying
the foundation for the proper psychological, physical and social development of the child. Initially
targeted at 33 development blocks, the ICDS focused on the delivery of a comprehensive
package of six services (supplementary nutrition and growth monitoring, immunization, health
check-ups, health and nutrition education, referral services, and non-formal pre-school
, coordinated at the village level through anganwadi centres (AWCs) by local women
workers – anganwadi workers (AWWs) and helpers (AWHs).
The programme saw an
exponential increase reaching 2426 blocks in the 15 years thereafter (Gupta, Gupta, and
Baridalyne 2013) and has since grown even further based on Supreme Court orders in the Right
to Food case mandating the ‘universalization with quality’ of the ICDS. The CIRCUS primer on
ICDS interprets the court orders on ICDS as mandating ‘universalisation with quality and equity’
of the ICDS as the Court has also required the targeting of SC/ST hamlets and slum communities.
These orders, along with the National Food Security Act 2013, have created a legal entitlement
for childcare services for children under 6 (on which more below).
Another modality of public provisioning of childcare services was also an outcome of the 1974
National Policy on Children – the Scheme of Assistance Crèches for Working/Ailing Mothers was
launched in 1974 with the intention of providing day care for children under 6 of women labourers
below the poverty line (M. Swaminathan 1993b). Unlike the ICDS, which was squarely focused
on child nutrition, health and development, this Scheme was envisaged as a day care service for
the children of working and ailing mothers, i.e., with the twin focus on the needs of women as well
as those of children. This Scheme was also the result of the advocacy efforts of Mobile Crèches
who lobbied the Planning Commission for the public provisioning of crèches for working women
(Interview, Devika Singh, MC office, 21 March 2017; also see MC website). Twenty years after its
initiation however, as Mina Swaminathan has noted, only 10,000 crèches were established in the
entire country, mostly concentrated in six or seven states, catering to about 250,000 children
below 6 years, as against the estimated need of the time of childcare provision for 45 million in
the same age-group (Ibid, 21). This scheme and a second crèche scheme (the National Crèche
Fund Scheme, which was set up in 1995) have since been joined together and reformulated as
the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers in 2006 run by the
government in partnership with private sector and non-government organisations with the aim of
targeting ‘backward and remote’ areas (Supath Gramyodyog Sansthan 2013). In 2008-2009,
there were 31,718 crèche centres targeting 792,000 children, once again, a mere drop in the
ocean of the requirement for public provisioning of childcare. Moreover, these centres were beset
by problems of poor infrastructure, lack of age specific interventions, poor training and working
conditions for care workers, amongst other things (Ibid).
The 1980s and 90s saw a slew of policies focusing on children, education, health and nutrition
which expanded the role and coverage of the ICDS such as the National Policy for Education
1986, the National Plan of Action 1992, and the National Nutrition Policy 1993, to name a few.
The National Policy for Education 1986 was a significant step in the recognition of the importance
The programme also targets pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls.
Apart from the AWW and the AWH, other key actors that are involved in the implementation of the ICDS are the Child
Development Project Officer (CDPO), who manages an ICDS ‘project’, which is usually made up of about 100 anganwadis
covering a population of 100,000 (See Citizens Initiative for the Rights of the Child Under Six (CIRCUS) 2014). The CDPO is
assisted by supervisors who are supposed to check the registers, inspect the premises, advise the Anganwandi Worker, enquire
about any problems she may have, and so on (Ibid).
This legal entitlement also extends to the provision of services for pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls (see more
of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) for the wellbeing of children. The policy
recognized the holistic nature of ECCE involving ‘the total development of child, i.e. physical,
motor, cognitive, language, emotional, social and moral’ and by recognizing that the age span
under consideration was from conception to 6 years, it also recognized the interlinkages between
maternal health and well-being during pregnancy, delivery and lactation requiring ‘ante-natal
health check-up, nutritional support, control of anaemia, etc., hygienic and skilled birth
attendance, nutritional care of mother during lactation, correct infant feeding practices,
immunization of infant from communicable diseases, mothers' education in child care, early
childhood stimulation, and health and nutritional support throughout’ (see Department of
Education 1992 p. 8-9). The Plan of Action 1992 ambitiously aimed for providing these ECCE
services to 70% of children under 6 by 2000 and the ICDS was the primary modality through
which these services would be provided.
Under the aegis of the Ministry for Women and Child Development, the National Nutrition Policy
which was adopted in 1993 advocated ‘a comprehensive, integrated and inter-sectoral strategy
for addressing the multi-faceted challenge of malnutrition’ (V. Rao 2016: 1372). Amongst other
things, the policy recognized that ‘children below 6 years are nutritionally vulnerable and
constitute one of the “high-risk” groups, and accorded highest priority to them’ (Sinha and Bhatia
2009). It prescribed the expansion of safety nets for children, and required that mothers be given
the proper information and support to provide for their children by growth monitoring for effective
nutrition and mandated that programmes should attempt to address and prevent nutrient
deficiencies especially among women, expecting and nursing mothers and children (Rao V 2016).
To achieve these aims, the policy called for the expansion of ICDS as well as other programmes
to cover the population of children in India.
While several of these policies on education, nutrition and health were sharpening the conception
and components of ECCD and seeking to deal with the vulnerabilities of women and children
during periods of pregnancy, delivery and lactation, they were not necessarily focused on the
needs of women (or even for that matter the needs of children)
for childcare provision. Neither
were they framed in terms of the language of rights and entitlements. The new millennium was to
usher in significant changes with a series of judicial and legislative interventions focusing on the
right to food, maternity entitlements and the statutory provision of crèches in the unorganized
sector. Before we turn to these, we briefly examine policies that focused specifically on childcare
from the perspective of women’s needs.
Gendering the Provision of Childcare
In terms of articulating the need for childcare facilities, not just from the perspective of children’s
wellbeing and the roles and responsibilities of women as mothers, but from the perspective of the
needs of women, there have been several important interventions seeking to influence policy
particularly since independence. The early legislations on maternity benefits and employer
provision of crèches in the ‘statutory sector’ clearly recognize the needs of working women,
although they are limited in terms of the miniscule number of working women they benefit (only
those in the formal sector), the poor provisions for leave (only 3 months) and the overall poor
functioning of the legislations.
Since the 1970s, there have been many advocacy efforts and
The subsequent National Nutrition Mission was launched to address the issues identified by the policy.
As the recent policy brief prepared by the Alliance for the Right to Early Childhood Development puts it, ‘while health, nutr ition,
education and protection as concepts are understood, “care” appears amorphous and has been overlooked in the various
schemes and programmes for young children. Care, the presence of an informed caregiver is an essential need during early
childhood and in the absence or unavailability of a caregiver, widespread neglect takes place (Sachdeva 2015: 2).
The existing statutory creche sector (which refers to the statutes mandating creches in factors, mines, plantations, etc.) and the
previous and current manifestations of the Maternity Benefits Act, as we have already seen have been heavily criticized (M.
policy pronouncements that have sought to strengthen, widen and clarify maternity entitlements
and childcare provision for both working women and women more broadly.
Child Care Provisioning from the Perspective of Women’s Needs
The Committee on the Status of Women in its landmark report ‘Towards Equality’ (1974)
recommended the provision of ‘crches, nurseries and labour saving devices’ to ‘give women the
opportunity to do [the dual jobs as mothers and workers] efficiently and satisfactorily’ (Committee
on the Status of Women 1974: 91). Soon thereafter, a Report of the Working Group on
Employment of Women by the Planning Commission (1977) recommended the setting up of
childcare centres as part of the Minimum Needs Programme throughout the country (Desai
In 1988, the Report of the National Commission on Self-Employed Women and Women
in the Informal Sector, ‘Shramshakti’, included a key recommendation on recognising the right of
working women to childcare (see N. Rao 2017; Desai 2013). The report recommended the
provision of ‘social support services’ for ‘women workers for assisting them to do their work at
home and outside better and with less worry’ (Government of India 1988: 249-250). The Report
was important for several reasons: it mapped the vast numbers of women in self-employment
while calling for a recognition of and support for women’s unpaid work. Moreover, the Report
proved pivotal in making the case for the lack of provision of childcare support for the vast
numbers of women in the informal economy (M. Swaminathan 1993b). The report was also
instrumental in the formation in 1989 of FORCES (Forum for Crèches and Childcare Services), a
national network of organisations and individuals concerned with issues relating to women
working in the unorganised sector and care of their children. This group, along with others such
as the Right to Food Campaign, the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights
(NAMHHR) and more recently formed Alliance for the Right to Early Childhood Development
(ECD) (of which FORCES is a part) have formed the backbone of mobilisations on maternity
entitlements and childcare provision (Interviews, Devika Singh and Sudeshna Sengupta, Mobile
Crèches Office, 21 March 2017).
Other policy documents focusing on women have also provided recommendations on childcare
provision. The National Perspective Plan for Women, formulated in 1988 recommended the
provision of crèche services universally for all women working in the organized and informal sector
(Desai 2013). Significantly, it also proposed that existing laws stipulating crèches for enterprises
having a certain number of women employees be made gender neutral to prevent the
circumvention of obligations by employers (Ibid). The National Policy for the Empowerment of
Women 2001 went further by proposing the ‘provision of support services for women, like child
care facilities, including crèches at work places and educational institutions, homes for the aged
and the disabled […] to create an enabling environment [for women] and to ensure their full
cooperation in social, political and economic life’ (Ministry of Women and Child Development
2001, thereby disrupting the policy focus of targeting the provision of childcare solely to women
in employment. A new Draft Policy on Women drawn up by the Ministry of Women and Child
Development in 2016 speaks of the need for measures to provide ‘child/parental care services
(crches)’ and ‘child care/parental leave’ thereby widening the policy focus away from mothers,
Swaminathan 1985; Datta and Konantambigi 2007; Lingam and Yelamanchili 2011; Ferus-Comelo 2012; Lingam and Kanchi
2013). Since these legislations cover only the formal sector, they exclude 96 percent of women workers in India (estimated to
amount to 142 million women by the NSS in 2004-05) who work in the informal sector, a huge lacuna indeed.
The provision of childcare centres did not however feature in the 8 point focus of the Minimum Needs Programme which was
introduced in the first year of the Fifth Five Year Plan. The basic needs identified for this programme were Elementary
Education, Adult Education, Rural Health, Rural Roads, Rural Electrification, Rural Housing, Environmental Improvement of
Urban Slums and Nutrition.
but the underlying logic behind the widening continues to centre the need ‘to free woman’s time
for paid work’.
Maternity/Parental Benefits Regime
While several of these policy pronouncements have come close to articulating a woman’s right to
childcare benefits and services, they have not focused sufficiently on parental leave, pay and
flexible working to make policies truly gender responsive. Moreover, concrete proposals to
actualise the policy articulation of women’s rights to childcare benefits and services have been
few and far between. Amendments to laws and rules pertaining to maternity leave and child care
leave, particularly, the provisions of the Central Civil Services (Leave) Rules, 1972 (for civil
servants employed by the central government) which increased maternity leave to 180 days and
provided for paternity leave (albeit only for 15 days) during the confinement of the employee’s
wife for childbirth provide some positive changes to the landscape on childcare provision
(although this affects only miniscule numbers of employees). The fact that the civil service rules
also provide for maternity and paternity leave for adopted children (for the same duration) shows
what is possible in an equity focused and gender responsive maternity/parental entitlements
regime. Interestingly, the civil service rules also provide a period of childcare leave of 2 years
(which can be taken in more than one spell) for mothers with children under 18 years of age.
Although this has come under fire ‘as an unimaginably retrogressive step, since it appears to be
based on the assumption that all parenting responsibilities/tasks are the woman’s sole
responsibility’ (Swaminathan 2009: 23), it marks a serious break from the understanding that
childcare responsibilities of women workers cease to be the concerns of the state and of
employers after the crucial 6 months after birth. The struggle with the civil service rules now lies
in extending childcare leave to both parents, and to extend childcare leave of parents of disabled
children beyond 18 years of age, and to include maternity leave provisions for commissioning
surrogate mothers as well (though on this, the Delhi High Court has recently recognized the right
of maternity leave under the civil services rules for a commissioning surrogate mother of twins in
Rama Pandey vs Union of India & Ors. Delhi HC 17 July 2015).
In recent years, there have been some attempts at reforming the regime of maternity benefits,
first through the extension of maternity benefits to a wider group of women (i.e. beyond those in
formal employment through conditional cash transfers provided by the state, and the recently
amended Maternity Benefits Act. More significantly, maternity entitlements have been recognised
as a justiciable right through the National Food Security Act 2013, though this has since been
sought to be watered down by the government through a Maternity Benefits Programme (on which
more below). In terms of the public provisioning of crèches, there have been efforts to expand the
provisioning of crèches at worksites for women in the unorganized sector under the National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act 2008. Recently, the government has also proposed a National
Programme for Crèche and Day Care Facilities, though at this stage, the details of the programme
are still unclear.
The recent amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act 1961 which were given presidential assent
in March 2017, provides a mixed picture of state intervention in the provision of childcare. While
the Amendment Act significantly extends the period of maternity benefits (of wage replacement
for the period of maternity leave) from 12 to 26 weeks (which is welcome), it restricts this to women
who are pregnant with either the first or their second child. A woman with two or more surviving
children continues to be entitled to only 12 weeks of maternity benefits, which was the entitlement
under the previous iteration of the Act. Further, the Act requires every establishment with 50 or
more employees to provide for crèche facilities within a prescribed distance. While this is to be
welcomed, women’s groups have pointed out that the threshold figure of 50 or more employees
is high. Moreover, and this has formed the most scathing part of the critique proffered by women’s
groups and child rights activities, the amendment continues to cater to the miniscule minority of
women that work in the organized sector of employment, leaving the vast majority (96%) of
women workers outside the purview of its reforming zeal. The Act also missed an opportunity to
provide for even a minimal gender neutral parental leave provision. Further, the proposed Act is
regressive when it comes to adoptive and surrogate parents – it does not recognize a range of
surrogacy arrangements, and it does not recognize the rights of transgender and male adoptive
parents, amongst other things (see for details Raha 2016). This legislation has provided a site for
further mobilisations by women’s rights and child rights groups who have used the opportunity to
call for an expansion of maternity entitlements beyond women working in the formal sector
(Interview, Sudeshna Sengupta, Mobile Crèches Office, 21 March 2017).
In terms of the wider policy landscape on maternity benefits, in the last decade or so, at the central
level, there have been two conditional cash transfer programmes targeted at improving maternal
survival (Janani Suraksha Yojana – JSY, 2005) and compensating women for the loss of wages
(Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana – IGMSY, 2010)
. Under the aegis of the National Rural
Health Mission, which was launched in 2005 to provide health security to women, children and
the poor residing in rural areas, the JSY was launched to reduce neo-natal and maternal mortality
by promoting institutional deliveries amongst poor women. Targeted at poor pregnant women
(validated through Below the Poverty Line – BPL certification) the scheme covers all states but
with a special focus on low performing states.
Although there has been a reduction in infant
mortality and an increase in institutional deliveries, the JSY generally suffers from low coverage
(Institute of Social Studies Trust 2016). Moreover, it restricts coverage based on income, age and
number of children, imposes conditionalities and offers a meagre sum in compensation (Ibid).
Proposed as a pilot project in 52 districts in 2010, the IGMSY (whose implementation is once
again envisaged through the platform of ICDS) offered pregnant women transfers of a total of Rs.
4000 in cash in three instalments (from the second trimester till the child is 6 months) based on
fulfilling specific conditions related to maternal and child health, including registration of
pregnancy within four months, ante-natal check-ups (minimum one), attending counselling
sessions (minimum one), registration of childbirth, immunisations for the child, attending growth
monitoring and counselling sessions, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and the introduction
of complementary feeding (self-certification by the mother)
. However, the scheme was offered
only to women over 19 years of age and for the first two live births only, excluding vulnerable
young mothers and mothers with multiple births (Atmavilas 2016).
The IGMSY has faced serious feminist fire because of the conditionalities imposed on the transfer
of maternity benefits ((Lingam and Yelamanchili 2011; Lingam and Kanchi 2013; Sinha et al.
2016; Atmavilas 2016). Based on the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) – 3 data (2005-06),
The National Maternity Benefit Scheme of 1995, which provided pregnant women from Below the Poverty Line (BPL) families Rs.
500 before delivery provides a precursor at the Central level to the IGMSY and the JSY. However, there were other
programmes at the state level that were begun earlier such as the much lauded Dr. Muthulakshmi Maternity Assistance Scheme
(DMMAS) which was started in 1987 in Tamil Nadu, which in its earlier avatars, focused mainly on wage compensation (Falcao
et al. 2015).
The money offered to women who successfully meet conditionalities is slightly more in low performing states, viz., 1400 in rural
areas and 1000 in urban areas, as opposed to 700 and 600 in high performing states.
The IGMSY conceives of the amount of Rs.4000 as compensation ‘for part wage loss for approximately 40 days @Rs.100 per
day’. This has been since been revised to Rs.6000, post the enactment of NFSA 2013, on which more below. However, as
(Falcao et al. 2015) argue, even the revised amount of 6000 is ‘less than half of the revised minimum wage fixed by the Chief
Labour Commissioner at Rs.204 per day for unskilled agricultural workers. At this rate even the revised provision of Rs.6,000
manages to compensate the poor and vulnerable pregnant and lactating women only for 29 days approximately’ (Ibid: 27).
Lingam and Yelamanchili (2011) show that the conditionalities would exclude 48% of women from
the purview of the scheme.
Worryingly, this number increases when one takes vulnerable and
excluded categories of women such as scheduled caste/scheduled tribe women (56%), economic
status (63%) and as high as 66% if women with no education are taken into consideration (pp.101-
102). Given that the objective of IGMSY is to support women with nutrition and enhance early
infant nutrition and survival through protection and promotion of early breastfeeding to improve
child health and development, this is a vast and inequitable exclusion indeed. In the absence of
universally available quality services for pregnant and lactating women, the imposition of
conditionalities once again serves to exclude the most marginalised women from much needed
The maternity benefits regime was to see significant changes in 2013 with the enactment of the
National Food Security Act with the recognition in law of a right to maternity benefits for a vast
majority of women. Moreover, in 2005, along with a swathe of rights based development focused
legislation that was passed in the decade (see Chopra 2014 for details), the National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was passed which widened the access of women in the
unorganized sector to crèche provision.
A Rights Based Framework for Childcare Provision and Maternity
The new millennium was to usher in significant changes with a series of judicial and legislative
interventions on the right to education, right to information, right to health and the right to work
based on strong mobilisations by civil society actors, bolstered by a more responsive state in the
political context of the formation of a new government in 2004 (Chopra 2014). This brought about
significant changes in the maternity entitlements regime and in the statutory provision of crèches
in the unorganized sector.
In April 2001, ‘a group of activists under the banner of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties
(PUCL), Rajasthan, filed a case in the Supreme Court demanding that the right to food be
recognized as a legal right of every citizen in the country’ (Mander 2012). This petition kicked off
a lengthy process of Supreme Court hearings and interim orders on various aspects of food
security (PUCL vs Union of India and Others, Writ Petition [Civil] 196 of 2001). Importantly, the
writ petition also bolstered the mobilization of a wide number of civil society actors under the
banner of the Right to Food campaign, which took up public campaigning on a range of issues,
many of which were to become the subjects of further legislations and judicial pronouncements.
These included the public provisioning of universal mid-day meals in primary schools, the
universalization of ICDS for children under 6, a national employment guarantee act, universal
maternity entitlements, amongst others (for details see the Right to Food Campaign website).
In 2005, as an outcome of long mobilisations by groups working on the unorganized sector, social
security and the right to food campaigns, the government enacted the Mahatma Gandhi National
Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) guaranteeing 100 days of waged employment to
every household in rural areas of the country. This Act mandated the provision of crèche facilities
in all work sites where 5 or more children under 6 were found to be accompanying the women to
work (see s. 28 under Schedule II of the Act). Although, as we have seen, the Rajiv Gandhi Crèche
Scheme provided crèches to working women outside the formal sector, this was the first time the
provision of crèches was mandated by the law for women working in the unorganized sector.
4% of women below 19 years of age, and 44% of women who had more than 2 children (Lingam and Yelamanchili 2011: 101-
In terms of policy making on ECCE more broadly too, the new millennium proved pivotal.
Mobilisations by civil society actors on the right to education led to the enactment in 2002 of the
landmark 86th Amendment to the Constitution which introduced a new fundamental right into the
Constitution, a fundamental right to education (Art 21A) which mandates the state to provide free
and compulsory education to all children from the age of 6-14. This Constitutional Amendment
also revised Art 45, a directive principle of state policy, urging the state to provide early childhood
care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years. In 2009, the Right of
Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 was enacted to give effect to the Art 21A.
Although the constitutional amendments and subsequent legislation were widely welcomed, as
Nitya Rao has argued, voicing the concerns of the ECCE community, they ‘quietly left the care of
the young child to the family’ (N. Rao 2017).
Mobilisations on the right to food and the right to education were crucial in bringing together child
rights and women’s rights activists over the decade in campaigning to fill the gaps exposed by
the Right to Education Act for children under 6 through campaigns for maternity benefits and
childcare provision with groups such as the Working Group for Children under 6 under the Right
to Food Campaign, NAMHHR and the Alliance for Right to ECD playing key roles in keeping alive
the issues of childcare and maternity benefits. In 2013, on the back of these mobilisations, under
the aegis of the Ministry for Women and Child Development, a National Policy on Early Childhood
Care and Education (ECCE) was adopted to address the gaps in childcare provisioning for
children under 6. Setting out its vision of achieving ‘a holistic development and active learning
capacity of all children below 6 years of age by promoting free, universal, inclusive, equitable,
joyful and contextualized opportunities for laying foundation and attaining full potential’ the policy,
as with many before it, saw the ICDS as one of the primary modalities through which ECCE would
be accessed (‘in convergence with other relevant sectors/programmes in public channel as well
as through other service providers viz., the private and non-governmental’) (Ministry of Women
and Child Development 2013).
Importantly in 2013 again, as a culmination of a 12 year-long civil society mobilisation on the Right
to Food coupled with a lengthy battle in the courts, the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013
was passed. Significantly, this legislation mandated that every pregnant and lactating mother
would be entitled to the provision of a maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6000 (in such
instalments as may be prescribed by the Central Government). The only proviso to this
entitlement was in relation to pregnant women and lactating mothers who were already in regular
employment with the Central Government or State Governments or Public Sector Undertakings
(PSUs) or those who were already in receipt of maternity benefits under another law. This law for
the first time recognized the maternity rights of pregnant and lactating women outside the purview
of employment legislation, viz., women did not need to be working to benefit from state support
during periods of maternity. Concerned with the nutritional well-being of pregnant and lactating
women and their children, the NFSA also recognised in law the entitlement of pregnant and
lactating women to a free meal during the pregnancy and six months after the child birth, through
the local anganwadi (NFSA, s 4). What had been prescribed under the ICDS in many policy
documents and over several iterations was now recognized by the law as an entitlement through
statutory mandate. What was not incorporated in the NFSA however, despite calls from groups
to do so, was the proposal for workplace crèches to fully support the nutrition of the newborn child
through regular breastfeeding (Mander 2015). Harsh Mander argues that this exclusion ‘was
based not on principle but on budgetary calculations’ (2015: 17).
A recent and radical Law Commission of India Report no 259 in 2015 on Early Childhood
Development and Legal Entitlements provides one of the most forceful policy articulations of a
right of every child to the public provisioning of childcare. Drawing on inputs from civil society
networks such as the Alliance for ECD, the report recommends the legal recognition of an
‘unconditional right of every child under 6 to crèche and day care provision provided, regulated
and operated by the state’ through the introduction of fundamental right to care in the Constitution.
It also calls for a universal (and extended) provision of maternity benefits by the state covering all
women, including women working in the unorganized sector (Law Commission of India 2015:
Whilst many of the recent legislative and policy changes have been radical in their conception of
an equitable and gender responsive provision of maternity benefits and childcare, these have
remained far from realisation. Although maternity entitlements are now recognised for all women
(and not just working women), the actualisation of this right recognised by the NFSA has been
poor. The IGMSY (which is the modality through which maternity entitlements under the NFSA
have been sought to be actualised) has not yet been universalised in accordance with the
requirements of the NFSA. Moreover, instead of removing the conditionalities attached to IGMSY,
and increasing the amount received by women to properly reflect wage loss to properly implement
the justiciable maternity entitlement under the NFSA, the government has instead sought to water
down the provisioning by attaching further conditionalities to the release of maternity benefits.
Through the recently announced Maternity Benefits Programme, the provisioning under IGMSY
has been repackaged to provide pregnant women and lactating mothers Rs.6000, with Rs.5000
being provided in instalments conditional upon completion of registration of pregnancy and birth,
the provision of antenatal care and immunisation. Moreover, the scheme is also restricted to the
first live birth, with the remaining cash of Rs 1000 being made conditional on institutional delivery,
thereby subsuming two separate schemes, IGMSY and JSY with additional conditionalities and
reducing the overall amount women receive as maternity benefits (Sinha 2017).
On the public provisioning of crèches, studies have shown that the provisioning of crèches under
NREGA have been abysmal to non-existent (Narayanan 2008; Khera and Nayak 2009; Pankaj
and Tankha 2010; Sudarshan 2011). Older schemes mandating the state provision of crèches
such as the Rajiv Gandhi Crèche Scheme for ‘working and ailing mothers’ have also suffered
from poor coverage and quality (M. Swaminathan 1993a; Supath Gramyodyog Sansthan 2013).
Similarly, studies have shown that the provisioning of crèches by employers under the older
statutory provisions have been observed mainly in the breach and where provided are poor in
quality (M. Swaminathan 1985; Datta and Konantambigi 2007; Ferus-Comelo 2012).
The Ministry of Women and Child Development is currently working on a draft National
Programme for Crèche and Day Care Facilities for which it has set up a working group to formulate
comprehensive guidelines and propose funding mechanisms for the provision of community
crèches ‘in the private, government as well as the unorganised sector’ for children up to the age
of six years (Press Trust of India 2016). Women’s groups have sought to make the ICDS
machinery the basis of any new formulation of publicly provisioned crèches.
In the midst of the changing landscape of policies on childcare, the ICDS has remained the long-
standing lynchpin of public provisioning of early childhood care services, and it is to this that we
now turn, along with other modalities of provisioning of childcare within the care diamond (Razavi
A recently formulated ‘creche policy’ by the National Commission for Women (NCW) seeks to address the vacuum in the public
provisioning of creches by calling for a state financed (with decentralised institutionalisation), gender-neutral provision of
universally available, accessible, non-discriminatory, inclusive and unconditional day care services for children under 6 at either
community level or at worksites. It also sees the universal provision of ‘demand-driven’ anganwadi-cum-creches as the basis of
universal provisioning of creches.
3 Childcare Provisioning in and through
the Care Diamond
In the previous sections, we have seen that there have been attempts to create chinks in the
ideology of gendered familialism of the policy regime on childcare (albeit with limited success);
however, if we were to map actual childcare provisioning in the country in and through the care
diamond (Razavi 2007), in fact it is the family that is the primary institution in which care takes
place, with women and girls being the primary and predominant carers (Palriwala and Neetha,
In terms of state provisioning of childcare, NREGA crèches (for women at work on NREGA sites),
the Rajiv Gandhi Crèche scheme (through public-NGO partnerships) and the ICDS are the three
modalities through which the state currently provides childcare for India’s 158 million children
under the age of 6 (Census of India 2011). As we have already seen, the implementation of
crèches under NREGA has been mainly in the breach. In the year 2014-15, there were 23,293
functioning crèches under the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme, much less than the 31,718
crèche centres in 2008-09 which had provided crèche facilities to a mere 792,000 children.
State Provisioning of Childcare through the Integrated Child
Development Services Scheme
Since its inception in 1975, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme has
become cemented in government policy as the primary modality of public provisioning of childcare
services. Moreover, it has grown exponentially in terms of sheer numbers. While there has been
a steady growth in the number of AWCs since 1975, through a policy push for the ‘universalization
with quality’ of ICDS services based on interim orders of the Supreme Court in the Right to Food
case (see CIRCUS 2014), especially since 2004-05, there has been an over 75% increase in the
number of anganwadis with 1,346,186 operational AWCs/mini-AWCs (as of 31 March 2015),
amounting to 96.6% of the sanctioned number (MWCD website; also see Gupta et al 2016).
According to Ministry of Women and Child Development statistics, in 2015, the ICDS programme
reached 82,899,424 children under 6 years of age, and 19,333,605 pregnant and lactating
mothers for supplementary nutrition and 36,543,996 children between 3-6 years of age for pre-
school education, making it the world’s largest programmes targeting children under 6. However,
given that India has 158 million children under the age of 6 (Census of India, 2011), this is far
from the universal coverage mandated by law (CIRCUS 2014). Moreover, given that it is the
responsibility of the states to implement the programme, these numbers belie the differential
implementation of ICDS across states, including differential investment by states, with some
states investing more from their own funds to provide a better quality supplementary nutrition
and/or increased salaries, better early learning and play facilities, better infrastructure etc. (Sinha
and Bhatia 2009: 13, 14; Accountability Initiative 2016; Citizens Initiative for the Rights of the Child
Under Six (CIRCUS) 2014).
Palriwala and Neetha (2011) substantiate this claim through the data collected by Time Utilisation Survey carried out by the CSO,
Government of India in 1998-99 which shows that women spend a disproportionate time on unpaid care work, especially on
direct childcare, and that this ‘engagement in unpaid care work was significant across all categories of women, whether or not
they participated in paid work’ (Palriwala and Neetha 2011: 1076). Even so, they note that the practice of gendered familialism is
a stratified one – ‘at one end are those who have the possibility to retain familial carers at home and supplement them with paid
and other institutional carers, and at the other are those who are neither able to retain family members at home nor fill the care
gap through formal institutions’ (Ibid: 1072).
There is much that has been written about the ICDS over its 40-year history. Some of this literature
has focused on the poor implementation of the ICDS, in particular, the lack of operationalization
of AWCs in some parts of India, the inadequate provision of infrastructure including the lack of
adequate cooking, storage and toilet facilities in AWCs, gaps in training of anganwadi workers,
the neglect of anganwadi workers and their continued non-recognition as workers, unreliable food
supply, poor integration with food and health services, the neglect of under 3s, neglect of the pre-
school component, etc.
However, activists and scholars working on ICDS caution against
dismissing the programme as hopeless. Pointing to the differential implementation across states,
they urge that ‘with adequate political will, the conditions required for ICDS to work can be created.
These enabling conditions involve, for instance, higher budget allocations, better infrastructure,
enhanced human resources (e.g. better training of anganwadi workers), closer monitoring,
improved accountability, and more active community participation’ (CIRCUS 2014: 28). The ICDS
provisioning in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been particularly lauded (Drèze 2006; Rajivan 2006;
Sinha and Bhatia 2009; Shanmugavelayutham 2013). As an example of a state-implemented
ICDS that goes beyond the basic provisioning, TN ICDS, for instance, has been lauded for the
quality of the provision of ICDS services, including the longer hours that anganwadi centres
remain open, the availability and provision of day-care facilities for children under 3 years, the
decentralized training that is provided to anganwadi workers, the superior quality and variety of
the nutrition that is provided to young children, and the additional state funding that has allowed
for a better quality of ICDS services (Shanmugavelayutham 2013). However, other recent reports
provide a more cautionary tale, pointing to a drop in the standards in the provision of Tamil Nadu
ICDS (Kannan 2013).
One of the more scathing critiques that has been made of the ICDS is that it is gender blind, as it
does not at all account for the provision of childcare from the perspective of women’s needs, or
as Palriwala and Neetha put it, it does not account for ‘women’s rights to crèches’ (Palriwala and
Neetha, 2011). Even so, it is the primary modality of public provisioning of ‘childcare services’ in
India, and since 2012, a ‘strengthened and restructured ICDS in mission mode’ has been
implemented in the country in a phased manner (Ministry of Women and Child Development
2012). One of the components of this strengthened and restructured ICDS is the conversion of 5
per cent of existing anganwadi centres into anganwadis-cum- crèches, with the intent of extending
childcare provision to children under 3, making this an important and crucial modality of public
provisioning of childcare services for very young children as well. Moreover, in the ‘pockets of
excellence’ such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, centres do cater (implicitly) to the needs of women
as mothers through extended opening hours.
In recent years, the ICDS has come under pressure owing to budget cuts, and a change in fund-
share between the central government and the states. In 2015-16, allocation for the ICDS fell by
6.5% and it fell by a further 6.6% in 2016-17. In the recent budget, while funding has risen by
15%, this is only marginally higher than in 2014-15 even before adjusting for inflation (Chaudhuri
2017). Moreover, historically, the ICDS has been a centrally sponsored programme and between
2009-10 to 2015-16, the fund-share between the Government of India and the states for all
components of the programme (except supplementary nutrition) was based on a 90:10 ratio with
supplementary nutrition being funded through a 50:50 ratio. This pattern changed in 2015 with
the new government in the centre calling for a ‘cooperative federalism’ – other components of the
programme are now funded through a 60:40 ratio and the supplementary nutrition component has
retained the 50:50 funding share (Accountability Initiative 2016). Recently, the government has
also sought to impose conditionalities on the use of ICDS centres by making the use of the
For a flavor of the critiques, but also for what value ICDS offers, see for instance Kaul and Sankar 2009, the special issue of the
EPW in August 2006, Palriwala and Neetha 2011, CIRCUS 2014, Gupta et al 2016.
Aadhaar card compulsory for the use of ICDS services (Drèze 2017)
. Further, over the last few
years, the government has made alarming overtures to private organisations for the provision of
components of ICDS in the name of the ‘community participation’ under the ‘ICDS in mission
mode’ (Ghosh 2013).
Market, Private and Community Provisioning of Childcare
In terms of market and private provision of childcare services, there has been an exponential
growth in this sector, particularly fuelled by the growth in paid domestic work (Palriwala and
Neetha 2011). It is, however, very difficult to assess the numbers of children catered to through
this sector, though the government’s Working Group on Development of Children for the Eleventh
Five Year Plan (2007-12) estimates this at 10 million in the age group 3-6 (Ibid). What is worrying
however, is that much of this sector is outside the purview of government regulation, making the
sector largely ‘outside public monitoring and accountability’, with the provisioning itself variable in
quality especially given ‘the paucity of trained crèche workers and pre-school teachers’ (Ibid
1071). The government’s proposed creche policy seeks to address this lacuna and there have
been attempts at the state level to address this gap too.
In terms of community and NGO provisioning, again, the numbers are difficult to estimate with the
Working Group on Development for Children for the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) estimating
the number of children between 3-6 receiving NGO-provided care between 3 to 20 million children
(Palriwala and Neetha 2011), again only a fraction of the number of children requiring childcare.
Moreover, as Palriwala and Neetha (2011) note, ‘it is clearly difficult to maintain crches that are
affordable and yet provide services at the required level without some state support, funds from
employers, or external donations’ (2011: 1071). Even though the numbers may not be significant
for community and NGO provisioning of child care, as several studies have shown, they could
provide innovative models for the provision of childcare.
The Aadhaar card assigns an ‘Aadhaar number’, a Unique Identification Number, to each resident of India by obtaining their
demographic and biometric information. Recently, the government has made the Aadhaar number mandatory for participation in
a range of regulatory and welfare activities including the filing of taxes and obtaining a bank account to receiving a mid-day
meal, in the name of ‘good governance, efficiency, transparency, and the targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services’
(see The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016. The issue of Aadhaar
and its remit is currently the subject of judicial adjudication, with a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court deciding a case on
whether the right to privacy forms a part of the fundamental right to life under the Indian Constitution, and whether there can be
restrictions (such as those imposed by a mandatory Aadhaar) to this right. Rights activists have highlighted the many privacy
concerns with Aadhaar; moreover, as Dreze and others have pointed out, making Aadhar mandatory for accessing entitlements
such as the mid-day meal, or the ICDS services poses an additional barrier and excludes vulnerable communities.
The ‘Regulatory guidelines for creche and daycare services in Maharashra’ has been proposed by the the Maharashtra State
Women Commission in consultation with UNICEF, Child Rights Commission and experts of early child care and education from
SNDT University, TISS and NGOs. These guidelines await Cabinet approval (Srivastava 2017).
4 Case Studies: Mobile Crèches and Tamil
There have been several efforts to mine the provision of quality childcare in a diverse range of
contexts. These have largely focused on mining NGO/community provisioning of childcare to
understand what constitutes quality childcare delivery, but given the scale of public provisioning
by the ICDS, many of these studies also examine the provision of childcare by NGOs in
collaboration with the ICDS.
Mobile Crèches and Tamil Nadu ICDS recur in many of these
studies for two reasons, the provision of quality childcare services to scale in the Tamil Nadu
ICDS and the pioneering efforts of Mobile Crèches to define the components of quality childcare
provision through its own work with children over 50 years, as well as its place as a key actor in
pushing for policy change on childcare provision from a child rights and gender responsive
perspective. In the following section, we examine these two cases to understand the likely
pathways to accessible, equitable and gender responsive childcare provision. In locating these
two case studies therefore, the paper will pay attention to the quality of childcare provision,
financing mechanisms, accessibility, equity consideration, and gender responsiveness, including
the measures that have been put in place to reach women in marginalized groups and remote
In 1969, a few years before the ICDS came into being, Mobile Crèches (MC) was started by
Meena Mahadevan (who was joined by co-founder, Devika Singh, six months later), when she
pitched up a tent and hired a childcare worker at the Gandhi Darshan construction site in Rajghat,
New Delhi, as a direct response to the situation of total neglect of children at the site (Interview,
Devika Singh, MC office, 21 March 2017). From this early beginning, over the last 50 years, MC
has come a long way from an organisation providing an immediate response to the needs of
disadvantaged children at construction sites to a pioneer in the field of early childhood care and
development in India. In the first 5-6 years or so, as co-founder Devika Singh recounts, MC was
involved in the ‘nitty gritty of care provision’ with their ‘heads down finding solutions’ for those
under their direct care. These early years of ‘immersion’ proved to be a time of learning when
they realised the extent of the lack of childcare for young children in the country (Interview, Devika
Singh, MC office, 21 March 2017). After the initial start with the setting up of crèches at
construction sites catering to the children of transient rural migrant workers, MC spread its net to
include children in Delhi’s slums when the first major relocation of unauthorized settlements to
the outskirts of Delhi happened in the mid-1970s (Mobile Crèches 2012). Further, it expanded its
work from one of ‘custodial’ care of children under 6, to include medical check-ups, immunization,
nutrition and environmental hygiene, and it began to cater to women, and older children up to the
age of 12 (MC website).
See Pandit 1995; Khalakdina 1995; Kashyap 1995; Sinha and Bhatia 2009; Venkateswaran 2013; Balakrishnan 2013a, 2013b;
Velayutham 2013; Chigateri 2013.
Even since these early years, there
was an understanding that the work of
MC was not that of a charity; instead
they were ‘developing systems’ of
childcare (Interview, Devika Singh, MC
office, 21 March 2017). Along with
developing systems, MC was also
interested in the scalability and
sustainability of childcare provision,
beyond its own limited provisioning of
childcare. Therefore, from early on,
MC also expanded its in-house skill
building work to incorporate the
provision of formal training in childcare to other NGOs and government functionaries. Further, it
began to actively pursue an agenda of policy change so that the state and employers as ‘duty
bearers’ would be urged to fulfil their responsibilities (Sudeshna Sengupta, MC office, 21 March
2017). In the mid-70s, for instance, it advocated for the public provisioning of crèches with the
The understanding that they were ‘developing systems’ has been a
persistent part of MC’s vision of its work, and it continues to inform their work to this day (Devika
Singh, MC office, 21 March 2017). It can be seen in its three-pronged strategy aimed at
transforming the landscape of childcare provision: focusing on field level interventions in the
delivery of childcare to ‘demonstrate’ the delivery of quality childcare, training personnel on ECCD
provision and advocating for the rights of children under 6 to ECCD with both builders and the
state for the scalability and sustainability of its work on childcare.
MC continues its direct intervention in construction sites and in slum communities which focus on
children belonging to three age categories: 0-3, 3-6 and 6-12. Community involvement in the
provision of care forms the bedrock across all sites where MC operates, forming a key component
of how it delivers care; however, the extent of MC’s involvement in the delivery of care varies
based on the model of delivery (on which more below). In 2015-16, MC reached 10535 children
at construction sites and 1480 children in urban slum settlements and through its community work,
to 30,000 migrants at construction sites in and around New Delhi (Mobile Creches 2016: 8, 18).
Training of childcare workers has been a core component of MC’s work to upscale the delivery of
quality childcare services, and it continues to do this in association with partner organisations who
deliver childcare services in community and construction site settings. MC has also been involved
in training government employees in the provision of childcare, particularly focusing on building
capacities of ICDS creche workers in anganwadi-cum-creche centres in several states (Ibid: 23-
These early forays into advocacy led to the setting up of the National Creche Scheme for Working and Ailing Mothers (see MC
In ‘79, a decade after we started, we had our first
review of ourselves and we took the firm decision that
we are not going to be a supplier of services; we can
be trainers, we can be advocates, we can push the
system. That has driven the MC [strategy]. We were
very clear that the problem is too big and the state
has to be pushed; it’s like we are not going to be
sending doctors all the time; the Public Health
Centres have to work, people have to use those.
Devika Singh, Mobile Creches
Until and unless you get to the state who is the duty bearer, and the child is the right holder,
[you cannot] reach out to the world of children under 6 years of age. And to do that, to reach
out and touch lives you cannot do it as an institution. I believe that is why FORCES [Forum
for Creches and Child Care Services, a network of women’s rights, child rights and labour
rights organisations that came into existence in 1989] came in, which brought in labour
rights, women’s rights, and child rights together.
Sudeshna Sengupta, Mobile Creches
Advocacy is a key component of MC’s work, and
its advocacy on the right to ECD for children under
6 has been strengthened through several
networks such as FORCES, Right to Food
Campaign, NAMHHR and the Alliance for the
Right to ECD. The mobilization efforts of these
networks have, at different points in time, led to
significant gains such as setting up of the National
Crèche Fund in 1995, the passing of legislation on
the Building and Other Construction Workers
(Regulation of Employment and Service
Condition) Act in 1996, and the National Policy on
ECD in 2013. In the last couple of years, MC has
intensified its mobilization work to realise the right
to ECD for children under 6 through the Alliance
for ECD, which approached the Law Commission
to report on the legal entitlements of children
under 6. The Law Commission set up a sub-
committee with representatives from the Alliance,
Delhi Law University, and Jindal Global Law
School. The outcome of this was the Law
Commission Report no 259 on ‘Early Childhood
Development and Legal Entitlements’ (Interviews,
Devika Singh and Sudeshna Sengupta, MC
office, 21 March 2017; also see Mobile Creches
2015, 2016; Law Commission of India 2015). Through the Alliance, it also contributed to the New
Education Policy being drawn up by the government (Mobile Creches 2016). MC has also been
an active part of mobilisations on maternity entitlements as a key component of networks such as
the Alliance, the Right to Food Campaign, NAMHHR, and Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangh,
seizing the window of opportunity presented by the overhaul of the maternity benefits and social
security regimes by the government (Mobile Creches 2016: 34-35).
Models of Delivery of Childcare: Financing and Supervision
MC’s twin focus on demonstration, and scalability and sustainability has shaped both its models
of delivery and its advocacy strategy with the state and employers. The extent of MC’s
involvement in the delivery of care varies based on the model of delivery, which in turn is based
on a complex model of financing and supervision involving MC, the builders, the community, users
At construction sites, MC currently works with 3 models of delivery of childcare services: a direct
delivery model, a facilitation model and a tripartite or an upscale model. In the first model,
which has been its mainstay since the days of its inception, the operation is entirely managed by
MC. In these ‘demonstration models’, MC directly delivers childcare with the idea of demonstrating
by doing to showcase how quality child care maybe delivered to employers, the state and to civil
[MC plays] the role of a catalyst when it
comes to the right of the young child. [It
works] together with the ‘right to
education’ groups when you talk about
their learning and education, with the ‘right
to food’ campaign when it is about
nutrition, and the women’s rights and
labour rights when it is about child care
provision or maternity entitlements, or
social security. It is not that they are
disconnected. […] MC is holding the
domain of the young child’s rights [with] all
these layers and partners, and with this
collective, [we reach] out to the state, to
the civil society and try to make a
difference. I perceive MC to be a
phenomenal catalyst, which runs creches,
which trains to manage and
operationalise creches, and creates that
big collective which will demand the right
Sudeshna Sengupta, Mobile Creches
For nearly 30 years, MC provided direct childcare
services for the children of construction workers
through external funding. However, since 2000, there
was a change in MC policy (post the 1996 law for
Building and other Construction Workers) based on
which financial contribution from builders became a
non-negotiable even for their direct delivery model, with
builders’ contributions increasing from about INR 10
lakh per annum to INR 60 lakh per annum in 2014-15
(Mobile Creches 2015). This accounts for 20-80% of the
cost of delivery of childcare across construction sites
depending on the contributions by builders in each site,
with the rest coming from donors and funders (Ibid). In
2015-16, there were 12 such centres operating which
cater to the needs of 3232 children (Mobile Creches 2016: 11). It is under this model, where MC
directly delivers care and manages the crèches (with part financial support from the builder) that
it has full control over the quality of the services delivered (Venkateswaran 2013).
Since 2010, there has been a further change in the models
of delivery, with MC proactively pursuing the idea of builders
taking on the sole responsibility for the delivery of quality
childcare in their sites as per the law. Under this ‘facilitation
model’, the responsibility of setting up and managing the
crèche is shared, with 90-100% of the running cost covered
by the Builders/Contractors. MC provides the human
resources and technical support, initially through the training
and set-up, and later through monitoring and supervision
(Mobile Creches 2016). In 2015-16, there were 23 centres
run under the facilitation model, 6 of which were outside
Delhi (and the NCR), in Sonipat, Panipat, Neemrana, Bawal
and Mohali. Working with 12 builders at these 23 worksites,
MC was able to reach 3299 children.
Under this model, although all safeguards are in place to ensure supervision over the quality of
provision of services, this is difficult to manage. The supervisor from MC, in sites that are
supported and not run by MC, remains a critical part of the
intervention (Venkateswaran 2013). While most of the
builders meet the expectations of the delivery of quality
childcare, there were also those that fell short, for instance
in the supply of safe drinking water and toys and educational
materials (Mobile Creches 2014). In such contexts, as
Venkateswaran (2013) notes, the role of the supervisor
becomes crucial as the centre staff are unable to deal with
these issues as they are busy with children. However, for the
supervisor too, it is ‘not easy to discuss and negotiate with
the builders for basic infrastructure’ with the supervisor
having to make ‘several rounds to the site office’ to deal with
requests pertaining to facilities for the crèche (Interview,
Bestech Child Creche, Gurgaon, 21 March 2017). Moreover,
the builder is not always willing to pay the salary of the supervisor, and this creates a gap in
We have certain criteria for
setting up creches at
construction sites. Ultimately,
because the builder is getting
profits from these buildings, it
is the builders’ responsibility.
He has the land, he has the
material. MC will not provide
infrastructure. This was
decided from the start.
Bhagyalaxmi Rao, Mobile
The Direct Delivery model was
because you needed somewhere,
… a sector closed, another one
opened. You had staff, […] and we
had standards to set. Because we
started training people for builders
and others, we needed somewhere
to train them, and we believed a lot
in on the job training. We needed a
Devika Singh, Mobile Creches
With the builders, it has been
a very varied experience, from
being treated with respect, to
being treated like interfering
bodies, to being treated as
part of the workforce, so it
wasn’t a very easy
Devika Singh, Mobile Creches
regular supervision. For MC-run centres, the supervisor is responsible for 2–3 centres; for the
MC-supported centres, one supervisor is responsible for 5 centres. The builder can thus provide
a supervisor only where there are 4–5 sites with centres (Venkateswaran 2013).
A third model, a tripartite or upscale model is based on a new strategy adopted by MC in 2014 to
scale up and sustain their work by widening the stakeholders involved in the direct provision of
childcare. Under this model, childcare facilities are provided and run by other NGOs under MC’s
supervision. MC provides the training to the NGOs and helps set up the day care programmes.
In 2015-16, MC reached 2524 children at 22 centres through 8 NGOs (Mobile Creches 2016).
The direct provision of childcare services for slum communities in Delhi has been one of the
mainstays of the strategies that MC has employed to cater to the needs of children from
disadvantaged communities. In 2014, in keeping with their overall change in strategy, this direct
delivery was also revamped into ‘demonstration models’, with the idea of providing ‘demonstrated
results’ to serve as a model for the state government, to feed into MC’s recommendations to the
government, and to serve as ‘demonstration labs for practice training of staff at Anganwadis-cum-
Crèches (AWCCs)’ (Mobile Creches 2015: 13). In 2015-16, MC reached 629 children through four
such centres in Kalyanpuri, Madanpur Khadar and Dakshinpuri in Delhi (Mobile Creches 2016).
Again, under this model, MC has control over the quality of services delivered.
Under a second model, MC partners with slum communities to provide neighborhood crèches
managed by community women. The focus is on community ownership of childcare centres with
support from other stakeholders including MC, the government, community based organisations
and parents. MC provides the space, childcare training and financial support to community women
who run the centres, and it provides oversight to ensure quality. The children are linked to the
neighbouring Primary Health Centre for immunization, and where available, some of the centers
are linked with the ICDS for nutrition. Community based organisations also have a role to play
through monitoring of the crèches, as do parents who contribute both to a nominal fee and the
monitoring of the crèches (Mobile Creches 2016). The pay for use strategy, Venkateswaran
(2013) argues, becomes self-selecting, as the poorer households cannot afford to pay the Rs
150–200 per month charge for the centre. However, women users of the centre found the charge
to be quite nominal for the facilities that were offered (FGD, New Seemapuri, 20 March 2017).
Also, as a significant proportion of the funds required by the creche is contributed by MC (through
donors and external funding), the centre usually waived the fees of families that were not in a
position to pay (Interviews, Creche-in-Charge, New Seemapuri, 20 March 2017; Devika Singh,
MC office, 21 March 2017).
A third model of MC intervention, focused not on the delivery of childcare to slum communities,
but on enabling the family to provide childcare ran between 2009-2014. Through these
interventions, community facilitators visited families with young parents, provided counselling to
parents on the care of the young child, monitored the growth of young children and connected
families to government services (Mobile Creches 2015). However, given the overlap in this work
with government ASHA and anganwadi workers who assay a similar role, in 2014, MC shifted its
strategy from an individual/family based intervention to a community based intervention. The new
Parent Development Programme (PDP) had much the same objective as the family based
interventions, but through a collective process to enable the creation of parent groups through
sessions on various aspects of ECD such as safety, protection, cleanliness, nutrition, etc. The
PDP also targets the involvement of fathers in these groups. From our fieldwork, fathers’
engagement in childcare was observed with many fathers coming to pick up children from the
centres and also through their participation in abhibhavak (parents) meetings (FGDs and
Interviews with Childcare Workers, New Seemapuri and Paras Dew). Moreover, the PDP seeks
to link the community with state programmes, again tying in with MC’s strategy to ‘activate’ state
services, rather than MC providing services directly.
What is clear from the above overview of the models of delivery of childcare is that there has been
a clear shift in MC’s strategies in delivering childcare since 2014 rooted in the twin concerns of
upscaling the provision of childcare services through sustainable models of intervention, and the
consolidation of the strategic position of MC in policy circles as an organization with ECD expertise
with over 4 decades of ground level work, which ‘lends authenticity to its voice’, and through which
it may perform the role of a ‘catalyst in childcare practices of communities and labour welfare
policies of builders’, and ‘strengthen institutional learning for advocacy, research and training’
(Childcare and Development Policy MC). These models demonstrate an inventive use of
resources to widen the sphere of influence of what is a relatively small organization. Overall, the
facilitation and tripartite models provide pathways for ensuring sustainability and scalability in the
provision of care, and the direct delivery model provides an example/demonstration of how quality
childcare can be provided. One of the key components across sites in the delivery of quality
childcare is community involvement, and we now turn to this, along with other components that
are essential to the delivery of quality childcare.
Components of Quality Childcare Delivery
With nearly 50 years of work in the field of childcare provision, MC has much to offer about the
components and pathways for quality childcare provision. An in-house Child Care and
Development Policy frames the understanding of what constitutes quality childcare provision for
MC. Its belief in ‘the integrated nature of development’ encompasses ‘health, nutrition and early
learning and educational interventions’ which is ‘reinforced by a comprehensive communication
engagement with the community’ (MC website). The policy further states that centres run by MC
should ensure ‘the provision of age appropriate learning, care and health services, in a warm,
safe, clean, stimulating and supervised environment, to address the emotional, physical and
educational needs of each child’ (Ibid). Therefore, the provision of age-appropriate nutrition,
immunization and health facilities, play, learning and education in a safe and clean environment
by trained staff with appropriate supervision are crucial components in the provision of care.
Figure 1: Components of Childcare Delivery, taken from Mobile Creches 2014: 7
Further, if we take seriously Mina Swaminthan’s argument that the process of taking care of the
child is central to providing care, then the caregiver, the process of her selection, her ties to the
community, her conditions of work, her training, etc. also become crucial components for the
delivery of quality childcare (M. Swaminathan 1993b; Chigateri 2013). Moreover, if equity
considerations and gender responsiveness are central to the provision of quality childcare, then
additional components such as the accessibility of childcare in terms of timings and location,
flexibility in the delivery of childcare in terms of responding to specific needs, inclusiveness (for
instance with regard to disadvantaged children and children with different abilities) and a rights-
based approach also become important components (Chigateri 2013).
Equity Focus: Strategies of Inclusion
The core work of Mobile Crèches lies in providing services to vulnerable and disadvantaged
migrant communities, especially in contexts where the state has failed in its obligations either to
provide childcare or to adequately regulate its provision. At construction sites, MC focuses on
children of both disadvantaged working mothers/parents, as well as the children of disadvantaged
communities living in the slums of Delhi. The vulnerable and transient rural migrant population of
construction workers are not easy to engage; for a start, the window of opportunity to intervene is
extremely short, ‘as more than 60% children move out within 3 months and 85% within 6 months’
(Mobile Creches 2014). As Venkateswaran (2013) elaborates, some of this population (which
largely comes from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh) stay at
construction sites for as little as 50 days, while others maybe stay at a site through its completion.
The workers using the Paras Dew Creche in a construction site in Gurgaon, run by the company,
for example, were from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Bilaspur (Chattisgarh), and West Bengal and
they had variously been at the construction sites from 5 months to a year (FGD, Paras Dew,
Gurgaon, 21 March 2017).
MC contends with the issue of engaging this transient community in a short window by using a
range of community mobilization techniques (which it also uses in slum communities) including
direct engagements with parents, meetings, focus group discussions, and ‘lokdoot’- street plays,
folk media, health camps; all of these strategies are targeted at building a common understanding
on hygiene, feeding, schooling, childcare and the communities’ right to basic public services
(Mobile Creches 2016). Another feature of interventions at both the construction sites and slum
communities is the Saathi Samuh, a community based group which provides the basis for the
strengthening of community ties for a transient community (Ibid). Given that this group is
composed of community mobilizers from within the community (usually the ones who are vocal
and active in the community), they are better able to engage the community to inform and
persuade the new workers to use the crèche facilities (Interview, Childcare worker, Bestech
Creche, Gurgaon, 21 March 2017). The community mobilizers also help to establish trust between
the new community members who do not speak Hindi and the staff at the crèche. This is because
children come from several linguistic backgrounds, making it difficult initially to communicate with
the child. Eventually a mix of Hindi and the child’s native language is used to communicate with
the child (Ibid).
The Samuh also serves the purpose of enabling a continuity of care for the young child as this is
one of the main challenges that MC faces as children usually lose weight when they return, even
if temporarily, to their villages from the worksite (Interview, Childcare Worker, Paras Dew,
Gurgaon, 21 March 2017). The Samuh members are expected to sensitise other parents about
childcare beyond MC’s intervention (Mobile Creches 2015). MC also counsels community
members before they leave on what they should do so that their child remains healthy and their
growth and development remains unhampered (Supervisor, Bestech, 21 March 2017). MC also
maintains all previous records of children, so that were they to return to their childcare centres,
they are able to work on his/her nutrition and health to bring them back to the normal weight
category (Interview, Childcare Worker, Paras Dew, Gurgaon, 21 March 2017).
Slum communities pose considerable problems for targeting and inclusion, given that they come
from a diverse range of backgrounds. The community of users in the slums is composed of a
range of women workers in vulnerable occupations such as rag-picking, domestic work, home-
based work, vegetable vending etc. Moreover, these women come from a range of diverse
cultural, regional and religious backgrounds. In the New Seemapuri centre for instance, there are
a large number of Muslim women who use the centres (Venkateswaran 2013: 14). Community
mobilization techniques allow MC to engage the community particularly from the perspective of
building a consensus on ECD.
In her study of MC, Venkateswaran also assesses whether and if so how MC deals with
discrimination based on caste, religious and community differences to understand MC’s strategy
of inclusivity. She finds that ‘despite varying backgrounds in terms of geography, language, caste
and religion, there is no significant evidence of conflict in use of the crèche facilities, nor any
differentiation on the part of the centre staff’. However, this was not always so with previous
instances of caste based discrimination by workers before MC intervention. Venkateswaran
argues that what has changed the situation post-MC intervention is ‘considerable sensitization’
(2013: 12,13). Other issues such as ‘the reluctance of Muslim families to send their girls to the
centres’ pose further challenges for MC’s strategy of inclusivity. Similarly, there are structural
constraints, such as the threat of eviction for the JJ settlements, which pose problems for inclusion
in the community based crèches (Ibid).
Gender Responsiveness: Location of Services and Flexibility of Timings
The understanding that childcare needs are best met when services are flexible in terms of both
location and timings of childcare provision are at the heart of MC’s childcare provision. Both
location and timings are key factors that make childcare provisioning gender responsive as they
enable users, particularly women as mothers to use the facilities for their children as they juggle
their dual responsibilities of paid work and unpaid care work. The ‘mobile’ nature of childcare
provision at construction sites epitomizes the value that MC confers on catering to community
needs. For instance, the labour camp for Bestech construction workers is quite far from the main
road and there is almost no public transport in the area. The closest anganwadi centre and
schools are all situated in the neighbouring village and difficult to access, making the MC childcare
centre’s accessibility a crucial component for the use of the centre by children of construction
workers (FGD, Bestech workers, 21 March 2017). In terms of timings of childcare centres, the
childcare centres normally operate for 8 hours, 6 days a week. Flexible timings are sometimes
adopted, depending on the requirement (Venkateswaran 2012). For instance, in the Paras Dew
creche, the usual timings are 9 to 5. However, the helper usually has to wait longer for the parents
to come and pick their children for which she is paid overtime. Because the helper is local, she
can extend her hours till 7(FGD, Paras Dew, 21 March 2017). However, the difficulty of catering
to the needs of women despite the flexibility in provisioning was highlighted by the women in New
Seemapuri who found that balancing their double burden of paid and unpaid work still proved
difficult. There were instances of domestic workers letting go of work opportunities as they could
not match their work timings with that of the crèche timings. Similarly, a factory worker lost her
wages as she had to leave work to pick up her child, pointing to the need for redistribution of
childcare responsibilities within the family (FGD, New Seemapuri, 20 March 2017).
Overall, the experience of users of the MC childcare centres highlights the value of gender
responsive childcare provisioning. In the community creche in New Seemapuri for instance,
women who were in paid work, particularly those that did not have familial support made use of
the crèche as it provided them a clean and safe place for their children. Women who were not in
paid work also found the facility very useful for the respite care that it provided them which enabled
them to complete their unpaid care tasks, and they appreciated, like others, the nutritional and
educational benefits that the child received at the centre. The women also mentioned that besides
this and the other MC crèche in block B of New Seemapuri, there was no other crèche, and the
anganwadis in the area only provided food and did not keep children with them for even the
stipulated time. While this made the presence of the community childcare centre very valuable
indeed, women particularly valued the childcare centre, for its affordability and the quality of care
that MC provided their children. Women spoke of the high quality of care provided in terms of the
safety and cleanliness of the centres, the good and hygienic food provided, the regular monitoring
of children’s physical growth and nutritional needs, the provision of pre-school education which
helped children to be more confident and attain better cognitive skills (which in turn enabled their
children get admitted in better formal schools), and the behavioural aspects engendered by
centre, including toilet training and healthy habits. The users also spoke of the trust they had in
the centre staff, particularly the ‘good nature of the staff’ (FGD, New Seemapuri, 20 March 2017).
This was replicated in the centres at the construction sites too, especially as there were no
childcare centres back in the villages either. Even as women made suggestions for how the
creches could be improved, for instance, through the provision of a decent play area outside the
centre in the surrounding ground, back – up electricity facility especially during summers and
monsoons, they were appreciative of the centres in the crucial role they played in their children’s
overall development (FGDs Paras Dew, Bestech, 21 March 2017, and New Seemapuri, 20 March
2017). ‘Our children grow tall and fat here’ said one of the women whose child used the Bestech
creche (FGD, 21 March 2017).
MC provides an illuminating case study into the provisioning of accessible, equity focused, gender
responsive child care provisioning, which clearly makes a difference to the thousands of children
and parents that it caters to through its various models of delivery every year. However, the scale
of MC’s operations is its biggest limitation as it can only provide a drop in the ocean of the
requirement of childcare in India. It is because MC themselves recognised the issues of scalability
and sustainability early on that they turned their focus not just to the direct delivery of childcare
but also to the training of childcare workers, and advocacy with government and employers so
that the burden of childcare provisioning could shift to those in whom responsibility lies, and who
are more able to provide affordable childcare to scale. In the next section, we turn to the public
provisioning of childcare through the ICDS to understand the pathways to quality childcare
provisioning that is affordable (given that it is free at the point of use) and which can be provided
Tamil Nadu ICDS
Over the last decade, the Tamil Nadu ICDS has been lauded as one of the relatively better
functioning ICDS provisioning in the country (Drze 2006; Rajivan 2006; Citizens’ Initiative for the
Rights of the Child Under Six (CIRCUS) 2006; Sinha and Bhatia 2009; Shanmugavelayutham
2013). Some of the research that makes this case came out of a Focus on Children under Six
(FOCUS) survey conducted in May – June 2004 which found that the Tamil Nadu ICDS was doing
‘very well’: ‘anganwadis are open throughout the year, nutritious food is available there every day,
regular health services are also provided, and even the pre-school education programme is in
good shape’ (CIRCUS 2006: 39).
In terms of child development indicators too, the CIRCUS
report (based on a composite index of selected child development indicators, which they termed
the ‘Achievements of Babies and Children’ (ABC) index), Tamil Nadu did relatively well, ranking
second overall behind Kerala (2006: 22).
The report suggests that the reasons for these
relatively good child development indicators in Tamil Nadu could be the ‘outstanding record of
active state involvement in the provision of health and nutrition services’ (2006: 23). An updated
Child Development Index placed Tamil Nadu at number three among the major Indian states after
Kerala and Himachal Pradesh in 2013-14 (Khera and Drèze 2015).
In making the case for a
well-functioning ICDS in Tamil Nadu, the FOCUS survey, as well as the many studies that have
followed, provide the details of this provisioning, and also locate some of the reasons why the
Tamil Nadu ICDS is a better performing state when it comes to ICDS provisioning.
Nutrition and a History of Public Provisioning
One of the key findings of studies on the Tamil Nadu ICDS is the diverse and nutritious nature of
the food provided at anganwadis in Tamil Nadu, which includes two types of food: ‘(a) a fortified,
pre-cooked “health powder” (to be mixed with boiling water or milk) for children below two years,
and (b) a hot lunch of rice, dal and vegetables freshly cooked with oil, spices and condiments
(with occasional variants such as a weekly egg) for children in the 3-6 age group’ (CIRCUS 2006:
45). Studies also point to the practices on nutrition in relation to Take Home Ration (THR) for
children between 6 months – 1 year of age, as well as the quantity of eggs provided to children
of different ages etc. (Rajivan 2006; Shanmugavelayutham 2013). Further, the government
(through the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation, is involved in the procurement process for
supplies of meals (such as oil, dal, etc). Moreover, the weaning food is largely procured (65%)
through cooperative societies composed of women in 18 districts, which function under the
administrative control and supervision of the Principal Secretary/Special Commissioner, ICDS,
who is also the functional Registrar of these societies. The remainder (35%) is procured through
private tender (Shanmugavelayutham 2013; Ministry of Women and Child Development - MWCD
and National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development - NIPCCD 2013). Importantly,
the FOCUS survey did not find any disruption in the supply of food in Tamil Nadu (CIRCUS 2006:
The reasons for the relatively superior performance of the nutrition component in the Tamil Nadu
ICDS have been traced to the long history of nutrition programmes in the state, which goes back
to the 1920s when elementary school children were provided with noon meals for 200 days of the
year (Shanmugavelayutham 2013). Post-independence, particularly through the 1950s and 60s,
the 1956 Mid-day Meals Scheme (MDMS) which catered to about 200,000 children in elementary
schools was enhanced and streamlined through a combination of increased state contributions,
the establishment of central kitchens for preparing and delivering the food, and through the
involvement of an international NGO CARE that offered food commodity assistance (Rajivan
2004: 4). Significantly, interventions of the 1980s (in a context of poor nutritional outcomes)
provided a major boost to the state’s policy focus on nutrition, when the then Chief Minister, M.
The FOCUS survey examined the provisioning of ICDS services (supplementary nutrition and growth monitoring, immunization,
health check-ups, health and nutrition education, referral services, and non-formal pre-school education) across 3 districts
(randomly selected) of 6 states in the country (Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and
Chattisgarh). It carried out detailed quantitative and qualitative interviews with AWWs, AWHs, women users of anganwadis, and
it also interviewed CDPOs at the block level.
The child development indicators selected for the ABC index are the percentages of children who survive to age 5, percentage of
children that were fully immunised, the percentage of children that were not underweight and the percentage of children who
The Child Development Index has four key indicators for child well-being – proportion of children aged 12-23 months who are fully
immunised, female literacy rate for girls aged 10-14 years, the proportion of births preceded by health check-ups, and proportion
of children below the age of 5 who are not underweight.
G. Ramachandran (MGR), launched one of the largest expansions of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme
(MDMS) through the Chief Minister’s Nutritious Noon Meal Programme (NMP), which was aimed
at combating hunger and getting children to school (Rajivan 2004, Shanmugavelayutham 2013).
Initially targeting pre-school children, there was a gradual expansion of this programme to include
primary school children, rural children up to 15 years of age, old-age pensioners, and from
December 1995, pregnant women as well (Rajivan 2005: 7).
Anuradha Rajivan argues that in Tamil Nadu, ‘feeding programmes’ such as the NMP did not stay
confined to tackling hunger alone and began to make the inter-linkages between nutrition,
immunization, health, growth monitoring and prenatal and postnatal care. This recognition played
out through the serious attempts made by the state to integrate the ICDS (which had begun as a
pilot in TN in 1976) and the Tamil Nadu Integrated Nutrition Project (TINP) with the infrastructure
of the NMP for pre-schoolers. The TINP (a pilot of which was started in 1980 with World Bank
support) was a targeted nutrition programme aimed at improving the nutritional and health status
of preschool children (primarily those between 6 -36 months old) and pregnant and nursing
women through nutrition education, primary health care, and selective supplementation of food
based on the innovative feature of growth monitoring (Rajivan 2004; MWCD and NIPCCD 2013).
This phase of TINP (phase I) focused on ICDS areas, and the subsequent TINP Phase II which
began in 1989 (again with World Bank funding) focused on non-ICDS areas, but through an
extension in its target group to children under 6. The reasons for this shift in focus of
implementation was to avoid ‘duplication (geographic and age-group) of the services of Phase-I
and the Noon-Meal Programme (NMP)’ (MWCD and NIPCCD 2013: 66, 67).
From 1998, TINP was renamed World Bank ICDS III. Until 2006, this was provided simultaneously
with the ‘general ICDS’ with 19,500 AWCs being operationalized in 318 Rural blocks under WB
assisted ICDS III Project and through 23,177 AWCs in 116 Urban and Rural projects under
General ICDS (TN ICDS website). Since 2006, all projects were functioning under the ICDS
scheme and in 2013, the scheme was implemented through 49,499 childcare centres (anganwadi
centres) and 4,940 mini-centres,
amounting to a total of 54,439 centres
functioning under 434 ICDS projects,
covering 4,039,387 children under 6
which constitutes approximately 59.45%
percentage of the 7,423,832 children
under 6 in the state
(Shanmugavelayutham 2013: 6), again far
from the universal coverage mandated by
the law. As Shanmugavelayutham further
notes, as per deliberations of the National
Advisory Council on 28 August 2004, the
total number of centres required for
universalization of AWCs in Tamil Nadu is
94,505 as against the 54,439 centres
presently functioning in Tamil Nadu,
indicating that even where the ICDS
seems to function relatively better, there is
a vast scope for improvement.
Even so, the concerted focus on nutrition,
particularly for the crucial age group of
children under 3 has come in for praise. At
Variety Meal at Anganwadi Centres
The Variety Meal scheme with the following
menu was introduced with effect from 20.03.2013
in one block in each district on a pilot basis,
based on the special nature and nutritional
requirements of the children in the age group of 2
to 5 years attending Anganwadi Centres.
Considering the reception of the scheme in pilot
blocks, the Variety Meal scheme has since been
extended to all Anganwadi Centres with effect
Monday Tomato Rice + Boiled Egg
Tuesday Mixed Rice + Black Bengal Gram/Green
Wednesday Vegetable Pulav + Boiled Egg
Thursday Lemon Rice + Boiled Egg
Friday Dhal Rice + Boiled Potato
Saturday Mixed Rice
Sunday Dry Ration as Take Home Ration (THR)
the heart of this enhanced provisioning is the enhanced involvement of the state government that
is backed by additional state funding with the state’s contribution being 1.5 times the required
funding in some years, and the allocation per beneficiary, per day, also being the highest for all
states (Shanmugavelayutham 2013: 59).
Other Better Functioning Components of Tamil Nadu ICDS
Some of the other better functioning components of the Tamil Nadu ICDS that studies have
pointed to are the close coordination between ICDS and the primary health system, the robust
pre-school education programme that is offered to children above 3, the longer hours that
anganwadi centres remain open, the decentralized training that is provided to AWWs, the
additional benefits that AWWs receive in Tamil Nadu (including old-age pension, monthly medical
reimbursements of Rs 100, the state-run medical insurance scheme and bonuses during Pongal
and other festivals), and the superior quality of the infrastructure that is provided including the
provision of water, cooking and sanitation facilities (see CIRCUS 2006: 104, Programme
Evaluation Office 2011; MWCD and NIPCCD 2013; Shanmugamvelayutham 2013; Social
Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme Department 2016).
The Tamil Nadu FORCES convenor, Prof
Shanmugavelayutham, elaborates on some of
these components. He notes that the
convergence between government bodies
extends beyond health, to include for instance,
the construction of anganwadi structures and
their maintenance. In Chennai alone, there are
1700 centres and almost all have pukka
buildings, because the Corporation of Chennai
puts in the money to build the anganwadis and
it is usually the local bodies that carry out the
maintenance of these anganwadis, which also
provide amenities like fan, electricity, TV,
cooking gas (almost 90 percent of centres have
cooking gas and gas connection) (Interview, For
You Child Office, 28 March 2017, Chennai).
There is also good convergence with the
education department with the ‘anganwadi seen
as the stepping stone to school’ with about 40-
50 percent of anganwadis placed within the
school campus (Ibid).
On the decentralised training of TN ICDS, Prof Shanmugavelayutham notes that except for the
training of the Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), all other training is decentralised with
a mobile team of trainers (consisting of 5-6 government employees) going to different CDPO
offices; however, the training of supervisors is handed over to NGOs and expert resource
persons, such as ICCR Tamil Nadu and Tamil Nadu FORCES (Ibid). Moreover, the structure of
TINP, including the training that was provided to TINP functionaries, and the institutional memory
that this engendered, enabled the ICDS in TN to function better (Ibid).
Further, in terms of the funding of the TN ICDS, Prof Shanmugavelayutham argues that the Tamil
Nadu government puts its money where its mouth is. Its budgets are more than the required state
Both anganwadis visited by the team in
Chennai were pukka structures, and they
had a storage room, a separate kitchen
area and a learning/play area. One of the
anganwadis was next to the Public Health
Centre (which enabled the children to be
monitored and immunised easily), and had
a bit of ground around the area, though
there were no play facilities in the grounds.
With the help of volunteers, the teacher had
set up a vegetable garden in the grounds to
supplement the food provided in the
anganwadi. There was also a toilet in this
anganwadi, but it did not have regular water
supply. The second anganwadi had neither
running water nor a toilet. The anganwadi
helpers fetched water from the public tap
provided close to the anganwadis for use.
Ration was provided regularly, and cooking
gas was used to cook the mid-day meal.
contribution ensuring better salaries for anganwadi workers, supplementary food, and better mid-
day meal provision as well. Moreover, the government does not easily allow for private players
for instance in the delivery of the mid-day meal scheme (Interview, 28 March 2017, Chennai).
Further, he notes that while anganwadi workers and helpers are not adequately paid for the work
that they perform, from the wider perspective, their conditions of work are relatively better ensured
through increased financial allocation, insurance scheme, bonus (during the festival of Pongal).
There are 5-6 anganwadi workers’ unions in the state that are all active which play a role in
enhancing the working conditions of anganwadi workers (Ibid).
Equity Focus and Gender Responsiveness of the ICDS
One of the consistent arguments that groups working for the rights of children under 6 such as
CIRCUS make, especially following on from the Supreme Court orders in the Right to Food case,
is the understanding of ICDS provisioning as an entitlement and a right of children under 6 (and
of pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls). The understanding that services targeting
children ought to be publicly provisioned, universally available and of decent quality is
encapsulated by the Supreme Court’s recognition of the ‘universalization with quality’ of ICDS
provisioning. Some of the literature analysing what works with the Tamil Nadu ICDS, particularly
in the ways in which the state’s nutrition programmes have been rolled out, point to its universal
provisioning. As Reetika Khera puts it, ‘a key factor behind the success of welfare programmes
in Tamil Nadu has been their universal approach, thereby muting the opposition to them and
including those with voices who can put pressure for better implementation’ (Jha 2016).
However, equity and gender considerations do have a role to play in both how the ICDS functions
and how it ought to function. The understanding that there are some populations that are harder
to reach than others provided the impetus for the Supreme Court to suggest targeting of areas
with predominantly dalit and Adivasi communities, along with universal provisioning (also see
CIRCUS 2006). Specifically, the Supreme Court, in its order dated 7 October 2004 in the Right to
Food case mandated that all SC/ST hamlets should have anganwadis, and all hamlets with high
SCT/ST populations should receive priority in the placement of new Anganwadis. Similarly, it
mandated that all slums should have anganwadis. Further, rural communities and urban slums
with at least 40 children under six are entitled to an ‘anganwadi on demand’. The understanding
of ‘universalisation with quality and equity’, as the CIRCUS report (2006) suggests better
encapsulates how the law envisages the provisioning of ICDS.
However, if we were to analyse the access of services provided by TN ICDS from an equity
perspective, although Tamil Nadu has a better nutritional status and better utilization of ICDS
services as compared to all India, and although at both national and state levels, ICDS services
are used more by dalit communities than other communities, there are still some dalit communities
that do not use the ICDS services as much (Diwakar G. 2014). As Diwakar elaborates, ‘unit-level
analysis of SC across wealth quintile shows the utilization of ICDS services by the “poorest”
among the SC is lowest the OBC in the same quintile have better access than the SC. Among all
class and caste groups the “poorest” SC in Tamil Nadu have utilized the ICDS services the least.
Even the middle quintile SC had better utilization than the “poorest”’ (Diwakar G. 2014: 177,78)
pointing to the discrimination and exclusion from public services that the most vulnerable continue
to face. The need for targeting identified by the Supreme Court, therefore seems to bear with the
There are other aspects of Tamil Nadu ICDS that are positive from an equity perspective. For
instance, given the cultural hegemony of vegetarianism, the provisioning of eggs as part of the
items of food supplied under ICDS, as Khera points out, ‘marks an important breakthrough’
(2016). Further, commensality in consumption of food at ICDS centres, as Rajivan (2006) argues
contributes to ‘social equity…especially in rural India’s caste-class conscious context’.
In terms of the gender considerations in the provisioning of ICDS services, the ICDS clearly makes
the linkages between women’s and children’s health, particularly during periods of pregnancy and
lactation. However, as a public provider of childcare services, there is no explicit recognition of
women’s/men’s need for childcare services, either as workers or as mothers/parents. In this
sense, as Palriwala and Neetha (2011) point out ICDS provisioning is largely gender blind.
However, there are some implicit ways in which the ICDS is gender responsive: the recognition
of the need to target the nutrition of adolescent girls, the longer hours that the ICDS functions in
Tamil Nadu (enabling women to either perform paid work or redistribute their unpaid care burdens
to the state) as well as the better conditions of training and work for the army of women that form
the backbone of ICDS provisioning in Tamil Nadu are some of the ways in which the ICDS does
account for gender.
The experiences of women users of anganwadis in Chennai bear out this understanding of the
gender responsiveness of the TN ICDS. Both anganwadis were fully subscribed (with 25 children
registered in each) although in both anganwadis, there were sometimes more than the registered
number as women would sometimes drop their children off. Children as young as 2 years used
the anganwadi for day care facilities, though there was a wide variation in terms of the number of
hours that each child used the services, with some coming just for a couple of hours, to those
who stayed the whole day. It was mainly women (mothers) who used the anganwadis; although
‘parent meetings’ were held regularly with a view to include men in childcare (FGDs in Chennai,
27 March 2017). The opening schedules and timings of the anganwadis were gender responsive
in that they catered to the needs of women – the anganwadis were open throughout the year,
remaining closed only on Sundays and on public holidays. The opening times of one of the
anganwadis was 8.30am-4pm, and the second was 9am-5pm, though in both anganwadis, the
helpers would stay beyond the prescribed time till the last child was picked up which sometimes
was at 7 pm, and the anganwadi helper would drop the children off to their homes if necessary
Again, the location of the anganwadis enabled women to use the services, with both anganwadis
located within a 10-15 bus ride, though most lived in the vicinity of the anganwadi, with one of the
anganwadis located in a dalit basti. Both anganwadis enabled women who were daily wage
labourers, home based workers, and self-employed women (vegetable vendors, fish sellers,
beauticians) to work, especially in the face of a lack of childcare facilities at the workplace.
Moreover, the childcare facilities that did exist in the locality were too expensive for the women to
use (FGDs, Chennai, 27 March 2017). The importance of the availability of accessible, affordable
childcare was highlighted by a domestic worker who said, ‘if there was no centre, I would have to
give up my job’ (Ibid). Other women, who were ‘homemakers’, and mothers with young children
on a break from work also used the anganwadis for respite care. The importance of the availability
of accessible, affordable childcare was highlighted by a domestic worker who said, ‘if there was
no centre, I would have to give up my job’ (Ibid). Women felt enabled to perform both their paid
work (including home based work, particularly where this was hazardous to do around small
children) and unpaid care work (including attending marriages, visiting family, going to the market,
bank, etc.) because they were able to leave their children in a clean, safe and healthy environment
Women also valued the anganwadis because of the quality of care that was provided at the
centres. Women spoke of the anganwadi as a safe, free and protected place, and they
appreciated the various components of care offered there, including pre-school learning,
immunisation, health care, and nutritional inputs. Women also appreciated the fact that children
learn discipline at the centres, and for women with children below 2 (sometimes just a few months
old), the anganwadis provided a space for social activity, for their children to interact with other
children. The meetings conducted in the anganwadi centres enable mothers to discuss issues
relating to their child’s physical and mental growth (FGDs, Chennai, 27 March 2017).
Another interesting feature of the anganwadis visited was the extent of community participation
(mostly by women) in the running of the anganwadis. Women helped with the cooking, cleaning
and looking after children while we interviewed the workers, and from the FGDs and interviews
too, we gleaned that women also chipped in when the anganwadi was short staffed either due to
absence or when the anganwadi staff were busy with home visits. This engendered a sense of
community ownership of the anganwadis, which in turn strengthened the bonds of trust between
the anganwadis workers and women users, with women suggesting that ‘instead of relying on
neighbours for childcare, they rely on anganwadis’ (Ibid).
Contextualising the Success of TN ICDS
One of the themes that emerges from the studies of Tamil Nadu ICDS is that ‘the success of ICDS
in Tamil Nadu is not an accident’ and that ‘it is built on sustained political commitment, reasonable
resources, creative innovation, a conducive social context, and – last but not least – the
remarkable agency of women’ (CIRCUS 2006: 99-100). Another theme is the recognition of the
interlinkages and connections between childcare, health and education in the implementation of
TN ICDS, and the creation of a milieu that has been conducive to the provision of universal welfare
services on health, nutrition, education (Ibid). Further, the social reform movements of the 1930s,
particularly the self-respect movement that continue to inform the competitive politics of the
Dravidian political parties of Tamil Nadu, and the democratic mobilisations, particularly in the 70s
and 80s are some of the recurrent themes in the literature on the reasons for Tamil Nadu’s
‘success story’ (CIRCUS 2006, Rajivan 2006, Khera 2016). As Dreze and Sen put it, during the
70s and 80s, Tamil Nadu ‘initiated bold social programmes such as universal midday meals in
primary schools and started putting in place an extensive social infrastructure – schools, health
centres, roads, public transport, water supply, electricity connections, and much more. This was
not just a reflection of kind-heartedness on the part of the ruling elite, but an outcome of
democratic politics, including organized public pressure. Disadvantaged groups, particularly
Dalits, had to fight for their share at every step’ (Drèze and Sen 2013: 78).
Rajivan terms this the ‘sandwich approach’, ‘a unique combination of pressure from above
through political will, and from below through public expectations’ (2006: 3685). Prof
Shanmugavelayutham echoes this understanding suggesting that ‘strong political will on social
welfare of state Dravidian parties’, which in turn is ‘based on long years of activism and strong
civil society mobilisation in the state’ (Interview, 28 March 2017, Chennai). Similarly, he points to
the role of TN FORCES, which since its inception in the 1990s, has played a ‘watchdog function’,
and like MC in Delhi and the national FORCES, has helped develop systems, whether it be on
training of anganwadi workers, supervisors, CDPOs, or on providing a curriculum for pre-school
education (Ibid). He also talks of the motivation levels of anganwadi workers and the community
support for ICDS as key factors for its relative success in Tamil Nadu (Ibid). From our field visit, it
is clear that despite the relatively poor working conditions, both anganwadi workers and helpers
took pride in their work – ‘if I had all the facilities, I would make this anganwadi super!’, said one
of the anganwadi teachers. ‘They trust us with their children’, said the other. One of the anganwadi
workers, who had been working in the ICDS system since 1982, was proud of the fact that for 35
years, people have believed that she takes good care of their children. She says that she has a
name in the community (FGDs, Chennai, 27 March 2017). Community support for the anganwadi
was also visible in the two anganwadis that were randomly visited by us. Women users of the
anganwadis knew the anganwadi workers well, and they supported the work of the centre,
evidencing a clear investment and ownership in the welfare of the anganwadi.
5 Pathways to Accessible, Affordable,
Equitable and Gender Responsive Childcare
There is a broad swathe of laws, policies and programmes that regulate childcare provisioning in
India. Recent years have seen an expansion in the public provisioning of both maternity benefits
and childcare in terms of an extension of these benefits beyond the formal sector of employment
to a more broad-based provisioning rooted in women’s and children’s rights, albeit partially and
with partial success. The recognition of state responsibility for the provisioning of both childcare
and maternity benefits through the Supreme Court judgement in the Right to Food case, the
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005, and the National Food
Security Act 2013 sit alongside a complex and confused array of maternity and childcare
provisioning (regulated) by the state, including the 2017 Amendment to the Maternity Benefits
Act, maternity benefits schemes such as IGMSY, JSY and the new Maternity Benefits
programme, the Rajiv Gandhi Creche Scheme for Working and Ailing Mothers, as well as
proposals for a new Labour Code on Social Security and Welfare, and a National Programme for
Crèche and Day Care Facilities. Amidst this broad swathe of policies and programmes, the
understanding that services targeting children ought to be publicly provisioned, universally
available and of decent quality as encapsulated by the Supreme Court’s clarion call mandating
‘universalization with quality’ through the ICDS, has enabled groups working on childcare to
coalesce around the institution of the ICDS as the childcare system to build upon to increase
coverage, quality, equity focus and gender responsiveness in childcare provisioning in India.
The two case studies in this report provide distinct examples of the provisioning of quality
childcare, in terms of both nature and scale. MC is a non-governmental organisation that focuses
on ‘developing systems’ for childcare through its long history of both directly providing childcare
and mobilising on childcare in the country. However, in terms of the scale of its direct provisioning,
despite efforts to upscale its provisioning (and shift provisioning from being solely donor and
funder driven) through its facilitation and tripartite models, MC still represents only a small drop in
the ocean of the requirement of childcare in the country. On the other hand, the Tamil Nadu ICDS
provides an example of what is possible to scale, when public provisioning of childcare is taken
seriously by the state. Despite these differences, both case studies provide us with interesting
insights into the pathways to the provision of quality childcare that is accessible, affordable,
equitable and gender responsive.
There are several common threads that run through both the case studies; in both contexts, there
is a key role played by civil society mobilisations in making the state accountable, and in
shaping policy and the agenda on childcare. Advocating for better childcare policies forms a
key component of the work of MC, in conjunction with networks and campaign groups such as
FORCES, the Right to Food Campaign, NAMHHR and the Alliance for the Right to ECD, which
push for policy change on maternity benefits and to make childcare provisioning more rights
based. Similarly, in TN, groups such as TN FORCES have played a watchdog function in making
the state accountable for the provision of quality childcare services. One of the important common
factors in the provisioning of quality childcare, as evidenced by both case studies, therefore, is
the role played by civil society.
In the case of MC, mobilisations for accountability extend to not just the state, but the employer
as well. The facilitation models of MC provide an interesting template for employer
accountability, and ultimately a likely pathway for childcare through employer provisioning. Here
it is important to note, however, that MC’s facilitation model has not been easy to manage, both
in terms of builder/contractor buy-in as well as in terms of funding. Moreover, employer-led
provisioning has been by no means been a resounding success in India. In fact, as we have seen
in this report, the statutory creche sector has a long way to travel in the provisioning of quality
childcare for children of employees in the formal sector. Moreover, employer provisioning has
resulted in a stratification between the formal and informal sector, with some child rights activists
suggesting that our energies are now better spent by shifting the focus of mobilisation efforts to
state provisioning of childcare. However, given that state policies continue to (also) focus on
employer provisioning through amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act, the 'formal sector'
statutes, and in more recent years through MGNREGA for public works, it is useful to think of how
employers can be made to provide quality childcare, while recognising public provisioning of
childcare as a non-negotiable legal entitlement, thereby providing women/parents the option to
decide which works better for them. In this context, MC’s facilitation model provides a pathway
for engaging with employers in the provision of quality childcare.
From both case studies, it is also clear that the engagement of civil society in the provisioning of
quality childcare goes beyond state (and employer) accountability. The involvement of MC and
TN FORCES in developing systems for childcare provision, particularly in terms of what
constitutes quality childcare provisioning, provides an important pathway in the delivery of
quality childcare. The engagement of civil society in developing systems has been through for
instance, the delivery of training for childcare workers, or government employees in anganwadi
centres, providing technical expertise in the piloting of anganwadi-cum-creches, or the use of
demonstration and tripartite models (as in the case of MC).
The role played by community engagement and support for childcare services has proved
pivotal in contributing to the ‘successful’ provisioning of childcare. With both the transient migrant
population at construction sites, and the more settled communities of migrants in slums, MC’s
engagement with the community through the creation of Saathi Samuhs enables it to engender
trust in the centres, and to support the work of childcare. Similarly, in TN ICDS, community
engagement in the local anganwadis enable women users of the centres to engender trust in the
anganwadi workers and to feel a sense of ownership in the anganwadis. The choice of the
childcare worker, and her connections to the community of users, also enable the engagement of
local communities in the work of the centre.
Since the TN ICDS is free at the point of use, the affordability of services is not an issue for users
of the services. For the most part, this is the case with MC too though it charges nominal fees to
users. However, in both cases, adequate funding for childcare is a crucial component in the
delivery of services. The TN ICDS benefits from a political milieu that is receptive to the
provision of universal welfare services on health, nutrition, education, which enables sufficient
spending on infrastructure, nutrition, early learning, etc. In the case of MC, which relies on donors
and funding, the advocacy work with the state and its facilitation and tripartite models are the
ways in which it seeks to spread the net of responsibility for adequate funding to the state,
employers and civil society.
Equitable provisioning of childcare is a feature of both case studies. MC’s core work lies in
providing services to vulnerable and disadvantaged migrant communities at both construction
sites and in slums. The location of MC creches at construction sites and within slum communities
enables MC to properly target its provisioning. However, this is insufficient to ensure
responsiveness to equity considerations. MC contends with the issue of engaging vulnerable
communities by using a range of community mobilization techniques including direct
engagements with parents, meetings, focus group discussions, and ‘lokdoot’- street plays, folk
media, health camps, and by building a Saathi Samuh, a community based group who engage
the community to inform and persuade the new workers to use the crèche facilities. The
community mobilizers also help to establish trust between the new community members who do
not speak Hindi and the staff at the crèche. The Samuh also serves the purpose of enabling a
continuity of care for the young child. MC’s strategy of inclusivity extends to how they deal with
discrimination based on caste, religious and community differences. Here MC uses sensitisation
techniques to counter discrimination.
While MC’s pathway to inclusion is based on a targeting of disadvantaged communities, inclusion
for ICDS is based on ‘universalisation with equity’. The publicly provisioned, universally
available aspect of TN ICDS with the mandate to situate centres based on population density
enables it to be available to everyone, particularly disadvantaged communities, while the location
of anganwadis, particularly, through the mandates to prioritise and situate centres in dalit
and Adivasi hamlets, goes some way in enabling specific targeting and further inclusion of
especially disadvantaged communities.
MC’s gender responsiveness lies in its recognition of the importance of flexible provisioning
of services in terms of both location and timings of childcare centres, enabling women to
receive respite care, or better balance their double burden of paid work and unpaid care work.
The location of childcare centres at worksites, and within slum communities is not only equity
focused, but also gender responsive. The timings of the centres are usually fixed, but with the
flexibility to extend, usually on payment of overtime for workers. Here, what enables flexible
provisioning is the extent of staff involvement in the centre. This is the case with TN ICDS too,
though the gender responsiveness is not an explicit feature of the ICDS. This de facto gender
responsiveness is an outcome of the extension of hours of the anganwadi centre, its location, as
well as again the levels of staff engagement in the programme.
While there are several pathways to the provision of accessible, equitable and gender responsive
childcare, without childcare being of decent quality, all these pathways become meaningless.
This is in fact an important pathway in securing the trust of users of the services. It is also one of
the most important reasons why women users of both these services appreciated and valued the
services offered. MC has been a pioneer in India in the field of the components of quality childcare
provisioning, including nutrition, immunisation, health, early learning with a carer (whose
conditions of work are decent) at the heart of delivering quality services. Similarly, TN ICDS has
been lauded because it does well on most of these components of quality care, including better
conditions of work for anganwadi workers.
TN ICDS, for the most part, provides an example of how a well-functioning ICDS can lead to
decent quality childcare provisioning. However, in recent years, the ICDS has become vulnerable
to budget cuts and to overtures for privatisation. In a context where childcare services that are
privately provisioned are both unaffordable and unregulated (and with much of it not providing
many of the components that constitute decent quality childcare), any move to weaken the ICDS
machinery rather than strengthen it will endanger the right of every child to accessible, affordable
and decent quality childcare.
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