'The Children are the World's most valuable resource and the best hope for the future'. Hence safe guarding and promoting the welfare of the children are the bounden duty of the state and the society. Realising that caring and protecting the lives of children needed pivotal priority, the UN had formulated a declaration on the rights of the child. India is a party to the UN declaration. Accordingly it adopted a National Policy on children. The policy reaffirmed the constitutional provisions for adequate services to the children both before and after birth and through the period of growth to ensure their full physical, mental and social development. India is also a signatory to the World declaration on the survival, protection and development of children.
In this context let us examine who is a 'Child'. In common parlance, a child is a human being upto ten or twelve years of age. But according to international law, a child means, every human being below the age of 18 years. This age limit is taken as the person will be immature and his physical and psychological growth may not have attained maturity till then. India has also accepted this concept and formulated enactments on the rights of children – Juvenile Justice (Care and protection of children Act 2000, and child labour (Prohibition and Regulation)Act, 1986. While the states are urgently formulating enactments regarding the rights of children, there are many sceptical persons who doubt whether the children are entitled to any rights when parents or guardians are looking after them.
In this context, Child Rights can be defined as the fundamental, vital freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings below the age of 18. These rights apply to every child irrespective of the child's parents/legal guardian's race, colour, sex, creed or other status.
The convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a treaty that lays out the rights of children and the standards to which all governments must aspire in order to promote these rights. The best interests of the child are always the primary consideration.
The CRC confers the following rights on all children across the world.
-a child should be protected against all forms of discrimination and punishment.
-A child has the right to survival and development.
-A child should be protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
-A child has the right to education, housing, healthcare and all forms of mental and physical well being.
-A child should have the right to participation, to expression, information, thoughts and religion.
-The child should be protected against child labour, drug abuse, sexual exploitation, sale, trafficking and abduction.
-He / she should not be subjected to torture, deprivation of liberty.
-He / she should not be forced to take part or indulge in armed conflicts.
While all children need protection irrespective of their social, economic or even geographical location, some children like the homeless children migrant children, street and runaway children, orphaned or abandoned children, working children, child beggars, disabled children are more vulnerable than others and need special attention.
A recent UNICEF report on the state of the World's children under the title 'Childhood under threat' concerning about India, states that millions of Indian children are equally deprived of their rights to survival, health, nutrition, education and safe drinking water. It is reported that 63% of them got to bed hungry and 53 % suffer from chronic malnutrition.
According to another UN report
-Between 15-20 million children are victims of bonded labour.
-An estimated 2 million children world wide are sexually exploited every year.
-3 lakhs children are actively participating in armed conflicts.
Child labour is quite rampant in India inspite of the Acts prohibiting the social menace. The children from poor families are employed in fire and match factories, glass factories, hotel, etc. The children are being paid meagre wages or at times no payment at all. The unscrupulous employers find this practice very easy to carry on as the children are not capable or collective bargaining and also are not aware of their rights or entitlements. Sometimes they are forced to content with some food. The children will have no will to complain about their condition and the exploitation is carried on. As the years go by the children end up as bonded labourers with nowhere and will to go and seek better employment. The children working in match, fire-works, brick klins industries do not have protection from occupational hazards. Longer periods of work without rest with meagre wages – their health gets ruined from a lustre less childhood, they grow stunted in body and mind.
The enforcement of relevant Act – Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 and provisions under various labour enactments prohibiting employment of children gets defeated when the employers engage them under covert means. In spite of there being acts prohibiting child labour the number of children employed is escalating . In the 1991 census, the number of such workers in India was 11285349 and in the year 2000 it was seen increased to 12666377.
These datas clearly indicate that the enforcing machinery should be much more vigilant. Above all, a social awareness against this social evil is required so as to locate the 'child labourers. Child labour undoubtedly is a form of child abuse and violation of human rights.
Sexual exploitation of children is another evil that is devouring the conscience of the society. According to UN reports an estimated 2 million children are being subjected to sex abuse all over the world. They are exploited in homes, work places and streets. The children are not safe even within the four walls of their homes as incest is widely reported. Most of the cases go unreported and unnoticed. The children who are sexually abused, in most cases are not aware of the fact that they are being ill treated or their human rights are being violated. In Indian social set up, the children are taught to respect their elders. The children look at the elders with reverence. So they think that whatever the elders do are the right things. Even if some of the victims do complain they are left unheeded by the elders. The conservative puritan social set up of India makes the elders reluctant to discuss about sex and they incidence of sexual abuse of children are least discussed in the family or social circles. This attitude too contributes to the increasing number of sexual abuses of the children. The victim's silence encourages the abusers to carry on with their clandestine activities.
Tourists spots like Goa, Kovalam, Puri and other coastal belts are places where sexual abuses of children are increasingly rampant. The parents of children of poor families are lured by tourists with money and they entrust their children to these people. Sexual abuse of the children thrive in the lodges where the tourists stay. It is very difficult to nab the culprits as the parents/guardians of the children or the hotel owners rarely co-operate with the authorities.
Sexual exploitation leaves the children wounded and scarred physically and psychologically. Many of these traumatised children end up as prostitutes later in their life. The violent childhood experiences at a tender age leaves them to juvenile delinquency and serious psychological disorders like depression, suicidal tendencies, etc.
In order to curb this social evil the government is taking efforts to improve the implementation of its Juvenile Justice System through functionaries like the Juvenile Justice Boards, Child Welfare Committees, Police and Caretakers in the various institutions under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
Of course, there are a number of enactments to stop the violence towards the children. But it is a fact that no rule or act can completely eradicate social evils. Only through sustained public awareness or public movement can we bring a drastic change in the condition of these hapless children. As we all know, how public awareness campaigns contributed to the success of Family Planning in India. The awareness of having small family is so welcomed by the people that they look down on persons having a larger family. NGOs, school teachers and other social activists can play a crucial role in bringing light these social evils. A good teacher should be able to identify an abused child when he notices a change in the behavioural pattern of his wards. It is the duty of every individual to try to identify and locate when human rights violation against children are committed. They should also come forward to save these hapless marginalised children and inform the relevant authorities – the CWC members – so that the culprits are punished and the children are rehabilitated in the appropriate care homes.
There are complaints that the children are subjected to different types of abuses even in some Orphanages, where they are supposed to be taken care of. There are orphanages and adoption centres considering children as a commodity to make money by way of accepting charity from philanthropists, grants from government agencies and in some places even collecting huge donations for adoption from parents, misinterpreting certain provisions of J J Act. Many of these institutions are being run not for rescuing the children, but to make money and power using the strength of these poor lives. The children at many orphanages are subjected to cruelty. The law is very much weak in this area due to several reasons. There are no effective inspection machinery to check the activities of orphanages and adoption centres. The authorities of these organisations themselves behave like self governments. Our Laws are quite helpless before these power blocks.
It is not that the children have no rights, but it has turned out that those who are supposed to protect and safeguard the interests and rights and thereby the welfare of the children have become the torturer and tormenters.
[ Paper presented by the author in the National Seminar on HUMAN RIGHTS, held at S N College Kannur on 25th November 2010,sponsored by University Grants Commission, New Delhi.]