Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Children at risk

Neelam Raaj[ 14 Jan, 2007 0022hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

The Central Monitoring Commission, which is supposed to monitor crime against children under the Juvenile Justice Act, has not met even once since the Act was amended in 2000.

The sheer scale of Nithari's mass killings is shocking, but almost as chilling as what Noida's sewers turned up are the crime stats of the National Crime Records Bureau: Child rapes went up by a whopping 13.7% in 2005, while crimes against children went up by 3.8%. And that's just those on record. On the streets, at their workplace and even inside their own homes, children though they form 42% of India's population are at risk. Voices that are easily silenced, hands that can be made to work from dawn to dusk for a pittance, they are the invisibles who disappear without causing even a ripple. Nithari's missing children didn't, till their chopped-up bodies turned up. Marginalised migrants What made them especially vulnerable is that they were children of migrant workers, say child rights activists. There has been a 40% increase in intra-state migration in the last 10 years. While migrants do get employment, there is no safety net for their children; they get neither education nor healthcare.

"Single migrant children or children of migrant workers are often not counted anywhere: not in the Census and not in a single government scheme; they are just falling through the net," says Shireen Vakil Miller, head of policy at Save the Children, India. Stop traffic To gauge the magnitude of trafficking, just look at the number of missing children, says P M Nair, project co-ordinator anti-trafficking, for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "As many as 45,000 kids went missing in 2004 according to our survey; of these, 11,000 were not traced. A majority of these are bound to be in exploitative situations like trafficking," he says. According to a study conducted by NGO Shakti Vahini in 2006, 378 of the 593 districts in India are affected by human trafficking. "Children are easy prey for traffickers who lure them from villages with the promise of employment," says Rishikant of Shakti Vahini. Many are forced into prostitution while countless others work as domestic help or in sweat shops.

On the streets

The countless urchins and beggar waifs that live on city streets have their own tales of horror. Perceived as vagrants by the police and with no legal safeguards to protect then, violence and exploitation are a daily ritual for them. At last count, India had the largest number of street children in the world. In 2001, it was estimated that there are 100,000 to 125,000 street children each in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, with 45,000 in Bangalore. No protection Nithari shows there isn't any protective system, says Shireen Miller: "Or how could so many deaths happen without anyone even noticing?" A national commission for child protection on the lines of the NHRC is scheduled to be set up by month-end but activists say much more needs to be done. Says Rajib K Halder, executive director, Prayas Centre for Juvenile Justice: "There is no dearth of laws, but the problem is with implementation. The Central Monitoring Commission, for example, which is supposed to monitor crime against children under the Juvenile Justice Act has not met even once since the Act was amended in 2000. Again, the Act stated that every police station should have a juvenile police unit, but this is still not being followed. If you don't review implementation, can you expect any action?"

Show me the money

In terms of budget allocation, 4.91% of the Union Budget 2006-07 has been allocated for health, education, development and protection of children. The share of resources for child protection is minuscule 0.034%. Child protection has never figured in any planning ocument so far, adds Halder. Laws aplenty? Be it child marriage or child labour in hazardous industries, the country has seen a spate of laws aimed at protecting children. The Offences against Children Bill (2007), which provides protection against sexual abuse, also awaits Cabinet nod. "The laws are there but where is the accountability?" says Enakshi Ganguly Thukral of Haq: Centre for Child Rights. "The policeman in some remote village of MP or Bihar will be the person registering a case and he will not even be aware of every new legislation. Changes have to be made to the IPC and CrPC," she suggests.

With inputs from Bonita Baruah



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