Invisible children : a study of policy exclusion
This research investigated a particular Government of India policy, known as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (or the ICDS). The ICDS operates amongst the poorer sections of the population in India, for pre-school children in the age range of 0-6 years. The IeDS policy, although it states that it is for 'all' children, does not in practice, address the question of disabled children. The research examined why and how such a major social policy in the country has omitted the disabled child from its agenda. It examined the socio-cultural attitudes towards disability in the Indian subcontinent and explored the wider historical, political and ideological framework in which Indian social policy for the disabled exists and within which the IeDS policy and practice may have become embedded. Data collection included exploratory field visits; focus group discussions; triangulations by follow-up interviews; semi-structured interviews; analysis of historical and current documents. The investigation concludes with the finding that various factors have led to disabled children being left out of the IeDS programmes. In the specific context of the IeDS, although it may have been the intention to include disabled children in the term 'all' children, there is a gap between policy stated and policy enacted, as the IeDS does not include them, in practice. The findings indicate that, due to ill-defined policy objectives during the policy formulation stage, policy remains silent on the issue, not clarifying that 'all' means disabled children as well. Implementation strategies for the inclusion of these children therefore are not worked out, which leads to the non-inclusion of disabled children from the programmes. In the wider context, the findings indicate that the national policy concerning disabled children lacks cohesion and does not give clear directives for the implementation of inclusion to take place. The Government's conceptualisation of disabled children is full of ambiguity and confusion: governmental reliance on voluntary organisations to deliver services ensures a micro-level coverage and indicates a lack of philosophical commitment to the integrated education of disabled children. Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and their concentration on the delivery of services move the issue away from 2 a rights approach, leading to a disempowerment and depoliticisation of the disabled group. This takes the matter out of the public domain, making it a politically weak group and placing it within a charity framework. Negative attitudes, ignorance and a lack of awareness that prevails towards disability have also contributed to an overall ideological and cultural entrenchment in the subcontinent, contributing to marginalisation. The absence of a clear policy directive has left this segment of the population at a critical age out of the programmes of the ICDS.