Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Natural Rights of Children to a Healthy Life

Dear Friends,

I had filed a petition with the State Human Rights commission, with the Indian Medical Association and the Ministry of Education, the state of Kerala, as respondents.

I am happy to inform you that the Commission did take up my petition, and I received their report today.

My petition; the responses from The Indian Medical Association (Kerala State Branch) and The Ministry of Education, the State of Kerala; and the recommendations of the State Human Rights Commission are reproduced below for your reading pleasure.

I hope this issue will be of wider interest at the National level. While this petition was focused on the use of elastic in shorts worn by boys, there are other equally important issues relating to footwear (I am more worried on this point after coming across Dr. Liberman's site on barefoot running), design of desks, sitting arrangements and the overall educational experience.

I. Selvaraj


1. My Application

To:                                                                                                                   11 July 2014
The Chairman,
The Human Rights Commission,

Respected Sir,

Sub: The natural rights of children to a healthy life.
Outcome: Changes in the dress code of young children (boys in particular).
Respondents: (1) The Indian Medical Association (2) The Ministry of Education, The State of Kerala.

Children need considerable nurture and care since they cannot fend for themselves. The responsibility for this falls on adults, on parents, educators and society in general. Since they are innocent, not knowledgeable and have no means to distinguish right from wrong, it is generally assumed that adults who look after them will provide them the best care that a modern society with access to the highest standards of knowledge and science can provide.

As parents, educators and members of the human society we do not begrudge our little ones this care and we hold ourselves accountable that the care we give will be of the highest standard.

In this connection I am pained to bring to your attention that the care we give the most vulnerable members of our society is wanting in many respects. While the overall subject is wide and complex, in this application I wish to focus on just one point and seek the aid of The Human Rights Commission in improving the environment for young children in the age group 3 to 5, when they are admitted to Nursery, LKG and UKG classes, so that these young children have the full opportunity to grow up healthy, free of stress and free of physiological and psychological problems ( to the extent that the proposed change on its own can ameliorate an unsatisfactory situation). 

The problem in question is the dress code of young boys, which prescribes shorts to be worn with elastic (usually very tight. Boys in addition are made to wear an underwear with elastic underneath). What I would like to submit to the human rights commission is that this practice is deleterious to their health and well being.

Unfortunately modern science has chosen to studiously ignore the likely fallout from unsuitable clothing in the health of individuals. Even where such literature exists, like in the case of unsuitable footwear, it has been the general practice to turn a nelson’s eye to such fears to feed the insatiable needs of the modern market based economy. One finds a dearth of literature to correlate the likely fallout from wearing elastic or belts around the waist on our general health. If there is a dearth of literature we must urgently set out to scientifically investigate the subject, and till we obtain the required scientific results, we must apply the precautionary principle, especially where children are concerned.

I very respectfully submit that even if we choose to ignore the problem in the rest of the population we need to be especially careful where children are concerned since at this age their nervous system is not fully developed and their brain is developing rapidly. It is the general consensus of scientists that the main function of the human brain is to coordinate movement. By introducing impediments in the natural functioning of the musculoskeletal system we cannot be facilitating the natural physiological and psychological development of the child.

The problem can very easily be solved by changing the dress code for boys so that shorts are worn with suspenders. Suspenders can be worn over the shirt with the shirt tucked in or they can be worn underneath the shirt without tucking in the shirt.

I request that the commission should consider this a human rights problem and facilitate its resolution.

Respectfully yours,

I. Selvaraj

2. The response from the Indian Medical Association:


In response to the notice inviting comments on the above subject based on the petition filed by Sri. Selvaraj, our association is herewith submitting the following facts for your kind consideration.
To the knowledge of the Association so far no study has been conducted on the issue whether the present dress code of students in our educational institutions poses any health problem as alleged by the petitioner. We cannot presume that all students in our educational institutions wear tight shorts and tight underwear as apprehended by the petitioner. Indian Medical Association holds an opinion on this topic that the dress code prescribed for students in Educational Institutions should be suitable to our climate and culture.
3. The response from The Special Secretary to the Government of  Kerala:
Government have examined the above complaint filed before the State Human Rights Commission and the views of Government on the matter is given below:
With regard to boy students in Government/Aided schools they wear pants and shirts/T-shirts as school uniforms. Government have not conducted any study on the issue raised by the complainant regarding the effects of using elastic in dresses. If it is found that there is any harmful effects then avoiding such materials can be thought of.

4. Proceedings of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission, dated 28th Nov 2014:
(Present: Justice J.B. Koshy, Chairperson)

The Secretary to Government, Education Department, Secretariat, Thiruvananthapuram reported that the Government is only insisting that boy students should wear pants and shirts/T-shirts as school uniforms, that the Government is not insisting that students should wear elastic dress, tight shorts or tight under wears and that if there is any harmful effects, instructions can be given for avoiding such materials. The Secretary, Indian Medical Association has filed report to the effect that no study has been conducted on the issue regarding the effects of using elastic dresses, tight shorts, etc. The Indian Medical Association also expressed an opinion that the dress code prescribed for students in Educational Institutions should be suitable to our climate and culture.

The Commission is of the opinion that it is for the Government to prescribe dress code, which is not harmful to the students. It is also worthwhile to conduct a study whether compulsory uniforms prescribed are suitable to our climate and culture. With these observations, this petition is closed.