Monday, October 22, 2007

At home or school children remain equally vulnerable

At home or school children remain equally vulnerable


Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

Human trafficking is the world's most lucrative businesses, after smuggling of arms and drugs. A study by Shakti Vahini, an NGO working on anti-trafficking issues, found that 378 of India's 600 districts are affected by human trafficking. India is a major source and destination for trafficked children and by conservative estimates there are about three to five lakh girl children in commercial sex and organised prostitution.

The National Human Rights Commission estimates that around 45,000 children in India go missing every year. Most of them are driven into prostitution, forced to work at homes and factories, pushed into begging, drug peddling and even in illegal organ trade. For those children who have been trafficked and rescued, rehabilitation remains scarce and reintegration arduous.

Children are not even safe in their homes. A study conducted this year by the Ministry of Women and Child Development says two out of every three children in India are physically abused and in most cases parents and members of the family were the main perpetrators. Also around 54 per cent children have faced one or more forms of sexual abuse and states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Delhi are the front runners in child abuse cases.

The study found that children in the age group 5 to 12 reported higher levels of abuse and boys were as much at risk as girls. The high abuse has been attributed to our patriarchal society where parents consider their children as their property and assume the freedom to treat them as they like. Severe physical abuse also takes place outside homes. The most common forms are corporal punishment in schools and physical abuse at work places. The study says 62 per cent of corporal punishment was in government and municipal schools.

The study found that very often crimes against children are not reported, as some crimes are not covered under the existing laws. The National Crime Records Bureau reported 14,975 cases of various crimes against children in 2005 as against 5,972 cases in 2002. But this is only indicative in nature as it is based on reported cases. There is no comprehensive law on human trafficking, covering all its forms and purposes and the existing criminal laws fail to address the situation of child trafficking. In fact, the Goa Children's Act 2003 is the only law that defines child trafficking, but this is just a state law and cannot be enforced countrywide.

Labour law enforcement is lax


Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

AS CHILD LABOUR continues to pose a daunting challenge, there is fresh evidence that a breakthrough could be in the making. Between 1950 to 2000, global child labour participation rates, declined from 27.6 to 11.3 per cent. The ILO reports that if in 2004 there were 218 million children trapped in child labour then their number fell by 11 per cent in the last four years. Encouraged, it believes that a future without child labour is within our grasp.

However, in India such a future remains a distant dream. While, child labour rates have indeed dropped by 22.45 per cent between 1950 to 2000, the country remains home to the world's largest number of child workers. Caught between confusing statistics and a plethora of laws, the country has been making slow progress, but in the right direction. For example, Bihar, where some 24,879 children work in brick kilns, today boasts of the country's first 'child labor free' block. Launched jointly by the district administration and NGOs, the `Happy Hisua' campaign removed all child labourers in Hisua of Nawada district in Bihar in just 100 days, admitting them to schools.

Similarly, Maharashtra became the first state in the country to prepare a state action plan for the elimination of child labour. Its Task Force, set up in 2005 has reduced the number of child labourers in Mumbai from 27,500 to 8,900 in 2006. Raids carried out by Mumbai's Juvenile Aid Police Unit (JAPU) have succeeded in sending 19,000 children home, if not enrolling them in schools. Important as these small victories may be, at the national level we seem to be losing the larger battle. The reason: lax implementation of labour laws. Surveys by the National Human Rights Commission have found that labour inspectors often conduct poor quality inspections, do faulty prosecutions and medical officers often falsify children's ages at the behest of employers.

India could learn a thing or two from Turkey where a strict labour inspection campaign, has in the last two years saved 4,000 children. This coupled with the country's time-bound national policy for the elimination of child labour, has helped reduce the number of its working children by 50 per cent in last five years. Or even from Brazil, whose Programa de Erradica and #231; and #227;o do Trabalho Infantil (PETI) has helped reduce child labour by 40 per cent in the last 12 years. Run by the Ministry of Social Assistance, it offers parents $30 per child per month on the condition that their 7-14 year old children attend school full time.

In fact it's universally accepted, that eliminating child labour simply makes good economic sense. The ILO has calculated that forcing children to work will cost $5.1 trillion from now until 2020, but making them study instead will cost just $760 million. Thus, it's high time the country shifts this fight for child rights into high gear and makes both rescuing and rehabilitating these exploited children a priority.

Everything can not be blamed on poverty


Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

It's official; there is no investment more effective for achieving the millennium development goals than educating girls. So says the World Bank, adding that the more the girls that go to secondary school, the higher the country's per capita income.

Even in the fields, their schooling translates directly to increased agricultural productivity. Yet gender disparities in education remain prevalent in India, where there are 136 out-of-school girls for every 100 boys. But there are good tidings as well, with incentives to the poorest families to send their daughters to school proving to be effective. The Centre for Equity Studies, for example, has attributed impressive surges in female enrolment (17 and 29 per cent in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan) largely to the mid-day meal programme. And across the country, primary enrolment for girls has increased by 31.6 per cent between 1980-2004.

Increasing education has unfortunately failed to check the mutation of traditional gender biases into a noxious new avatar: sex selective abortion. With female foeticide spreading to parts of the country where it was previously unheard of, thanks to modern technologies going where none have gone before, India's child sex ratio has been declining in 80 per cent of its districts since 1991.

For once, the deteriorating social indicator cannot be blamed on poverty. Not only do the two most prosperous communities of Sikhs and Jains record the lowest child sex ratios, urban areas are worse off than rural ones despite boasting higher levels of both affluence and education, and economically booming states like Gujarat are neck-to-neck with sinking ones like Punjab in playing a deadly gender sweepstakes.

Similarly thriving across class lines is the entrenched tradition of child marriage, which also continues to find a following even among affluent and educated people. A Rajasthan situation analysis conducted by the MAMTA institute found that an alarming 96 per cent of the young people in the Jhunjhunu and Sawai Madhopur districts were married off before they were 18. Instead of going to school, the boys were forced to start earning while the girls were pushed into early childbirths. In a vicious cycle, every child out of school is a child ill-prepared to give the next generation a good start in life.

Yet, when a social worker's hand was brutally chopped off for daring to campaign against child marriage in Madhya Pradesh, its Chief Minister reportedly said: "It is not possible to stop it. If Gandhi could not succeed in this, how can Babulal Gaur?" Clearly, important sections of our society remain ready to compromise children's rights in the name of tradition. We need to convince them that a country flourishes only when its children are happy and healthy.

Child's environment


Monday October 22, 12:59 AM

The evidence is compelling. Planners, implementers and academics all agree that the prevalence of malnutrition and child labour seriously obstructs economic growth.Dozens of global studies testify that children's malnutrition upsets their lifelong productivity, disease resistance and cognitive abilities. For low-income countries, the annual cost of malnutrition is three to four per cent of their GDP, cautions an ADB-UNICEF study of seven Asian nations including India.

Let us take a quick look at the child's environment in India. Sixty years after independence, most children lack proper access to safe drinking water, adequate medical care or sanitation. About two third of babies are born anemic and a third stunted, according to National Family Health Survey 2005-06. In six states for which complete data is available, only 60 per cent children are immunized. With 47 per cent of its below-five population malnourished, India tops the ignominious global chart of underweight children.

Those who survive such bleak circumstances grow up as potential victims of human trafficking, child abuse, forced labour, and hazardous work. Seventy five per cent children are physically and 50 per cent are sexually abused, according to a Ministry of Women and Child Development study 2007. Of this about a quarter of all children face severe sexual abuse and 50 per cent work seven days a week. India also leads the world in the prevalence of child labour, despite its official statistics widely believed to be understated.

This month, India's ban on child labour completes one year. Its overall share of children at work has declined from 34 per cent in 1951 to a little over 12 per cent in 2001, but sadly, the absolute numbers may not have come down. Niti Mehta of the Sardar Patel Institute of Economics and Research says in a 2007 paper that a part of the 29 to 34 million 'idlers' (who are neither enrolled in schools nor a part of the official labour statistics as per 2003-04 NSS figures) could indirectly be working.

India recognizes the need for investing in children through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. Various Government ministries have proposed impressive schemes and enabling legislations for child protection but the progress is painfully slow and uneven. For instance, infant mortality is a notable 15/ 1000 in Goa against a pathetic 73/1000 live births in UP. The only way forward is to make the states, districts and panchayats realize that rather than a drain on resources, investment in children means prosperity for all.