Children constitute 39 percent of the total population and majority of the children (72% of the total child population) are in rural parts of the country who are living in an unequal condition compared to their urban brethren. Due to ignorance, lack of facilities, and omission by the duty bearers most of the rights of the rural children are violated. In the best interest of children several meaningful and powerful statutes and systems are created, but fail to reach the poor and rural children resulting in their continued exploitation. There is an urgent need for the concerned statutory body like the District Juvenile Justice System to take note of the real condition of rural children with facts and figures and direct the concerned duty bearers to deliver expected services. If we ignore the rural children today, all the good intended programmes, projects and statutes fail our young citizens.
Till recently, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989 was one of the favourite subjects to discuss at the podiums and seminars. It was also a very good material to quote in judgements and papers. Even after 25 years with Child Rights we are still clueless in many spheres on the application of the same. Child Rights is a subject to be implemented. And implementation of child rights is a serious matter to be reported from every level, every sector to the higher ups till the United Nations. The per-se reporting that was tolerated till recently is now being questioned. Questioned not only by international human rights bodies, but, also our own courts are questioning the Govt on the implementation of child rights. They have made it clear that they cannot tolerate any more nonsense meted out to children due to unequal treatment.
The Indian society is full of unequal strata in terms of rights holders. It is very evident in every sector of our society, be it in terms of religion, or caste or education or place of dwelling or earnings or power or gender or age. Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, while commenting on educational rights had emphasised that ‘...India is the country of diverse castes and tribes, which are unequal in regard to their social status and economic standards. If these (groups) were to be brought on the equal footing then the principle of unequal treatment must be acknowledged and accordingly special facilities must be given to the particular deserving classes’ In the current scenario children belonging to most of the backward classes, castes, regions, ethnic areas and rural parts deserve this kind of special treatment.
India has accepted the UNCRC dictum and has declared in its several documents including NPC-National Policy for Children 2012 that “a child is any person below eighteen years.” Analyses of the Census figures reveal that children constitute almost 39% of population in India.
A close look at the census figures show that around 34 crore children live in rural India [i.e., 72% of the total child population and 28% of the total population from all age groups]. But, without any prejudice towards children in urban areas, any statistical data shows that large number of facilities, be it schools, playgrounds, recreational centres, health facilities, paediatricians, life skill specialists, counsellors, skill training facilities, protection measures, monitoring mechanisms on services to children etc., to specify a few, hover around cities. Consequently, Govt and private investments for children also get pulled into urban areas. Thus, the rural children continue to suffer unequal treatment.
Violation of Rights of Children
Our society is still hesitant to accept the new age definition about children. Several of our national statutes and statutory bodies have varied and countering explanations to recognise children and childhood. While all Acts state that their primary objective is to guarantee justice to their specified groups, they fail to recognise the changes that have been brought into new and progressive Acts. For that matter, a few Acts promulgated post UNCRC 1992 and even post NPC 2013 have turned a blind eye to the age of the child. The much acclaimed RTE Act 2009 and the Vendors Act 2014 still consider persons below 14 as children.
Indian rural parts are still facing numerous issues that include illiteracy, poverty, big families, lack of nutrition, lack of medical facilities, disability, child labour, bonded child labour, school dropouts, missing and run away children, trafficking, lack of basic facilities in schools, lack of transportation, children running around to collect water, fodder and fuel, etc. To this list recent additions are rural children falling prey to addictions. The caste and religious discrimination are still plaguing our children, thus pushing children to be victims of several kinds of exploitation.
To address these, both Central and State Governments have hundreds of projects, programmes and schemes and stipulate crores of rupees in every budget. But, any sample survey raises questions about the feasibility, effectiveness and reach of programmes related to social, survival, health, education and protection rights of rural children while comparing them to the national development indicators. There are two recognised reasons for this.
a. Most of the programmes meant for children are very generic and many a times they fail to address the ‘unequal’ masses
b. Even now planning for rural children do not begin with consultation from grassroots.
The UN CRC 1989 directs the States parties that there should be no discrimination among any (groups of) children. But, as mentioned earlier, as Dr.B.R.Ambedkar recognised long back, the disadvantaged children due to ‘unequal’ treatment continue to suffer discrimination. A basic reason for this is ‘omission’ on the part of the duty bearers who firstly have the responsibility of identifying the problems and addressing them effectively by using the available resources and secondly, reporting to the concerned authorities about the real situations. Problems of all kinds of violations (discrimination, physical, psychological, sexual, and economic); child marriages, infant mortality, devadasi, trafficking of children, etc., are not at all serious matters to most of the duty bearers. Over and above, children in need of care and protection are hardly recognised for any benefit and children in conflict with law are rarely recognised and brought before the corrective system. Apart from this the development thinkers are worried about the problems associated with very high rate of migration to urban areas and the children living in slums without any facilities. With this perspective we are in an emergency situation to redefine and realign all services and protection measures for rural children.
All of us presume that every parent aims to provide basic necessities and protect their children. But, unfortunately this is not a societal or mass stand. Existence of child labour in various forms, including bonded labour, child trafficking, child marriages, physical and sexual harassment of children are just a few testimonies for this. While the Constitution proclaims these as violations and there are strong and stringent Acts that ban or prohibit these, we the citizens of this country still treat them as common, tradition or inevitable. That too, if such violations are in rural parts there is still lack of facilities that monitor and report them.
Some of the most visible offences against children that are in blatant violation of child rights can be perceived by analysing the following sample facts:
Not all the above mentioned categories come directly under the so called definition of ‘CRIME’ as understood in a police station. Most of them are per se omission of duties. And omission of duties is never perceived as harming some body.
Measures to Protect the Rights of Children
Indian society has come a long way, from the age of denial to the period of accepting the fact that children have rights and the adult world has the duty to respect and uphold the rights of the children. This has not happened automatically. Continued public outcry, advocacy by NGOs, legal activism, academic and action researches, advice and pressure by international and UN bodies, etc., have resulted in formulating new legislative instruments or application of the existing statutes effectively. Thus, the inherent right of children as ‘citizens’ is getting recognised. Apart from Constitutional guarantee for rights, there are several statutes pertaining to health and survival; protection; education and development; various policies, programmes also strive for protecting the rights of all children.
Some of the notable measures are:
These and many other programmes and projects with designated official machinery from national level to Grama Panchayat level are striving to uphold the rights of every child. But, the rural children who are victims of unequal treatment even today miss out on many of their legitimate rights due to lack of personnel, information, appropriate channels to approach for justice and timely help from the statutory bodies. Very often, their vulnerability increases multi fold due to either inaction or omission on the part of duty bearers or misinterpretation, inappropriate implementation of the existing statutes or hesitation to apply appropriate measures.
The need of the hour is to activate all the existing statutory bodies at various levels, particularly in rural set up to act as per their objectives and prevent crimes against children at families; homes, hostels and orphanages; implementation of welfare schemes, public places; schools; recreation centres; play grounds; hospitals or any place children frequent or are found in.
Panchayat System a Legitimate Authority to Protect the Rights of Children
The Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act empowers the GP, TP and ZP to be the local Government to take up planning locally to uphold the rights of children through several social programmes. Be it health, nutrition, education, disability development, sharing information, etc. It is expected that GPs take up planning after situational analysis for child development.
In this context, it will be relevant to refer to Pakistani economist Mehboob-ul Haque and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen who changed the world perception about ‘development’ by introducing HDI-Human Development Indicators (1989).
Published on 4 November 2010 (and updated on 10 June 2011), starting with the 2010 Human Development Report, the HDI combines three dimensions:
If such planning and monitoring of all welfare and social programmes are done at the bottom most level, i.e., the Grama Pannchayat level all the rights of the children would be protected.
Recommendations and Conclusions
There is a myth that crimes against children are an urban phenomenon. But, in reality, while the crimes in urban areas are seen, heard and reported, most of the violations of child rights in rural parts are buried or not recognised at all. While many service providers choose to ignore the rights, even the law enforcement authorities turn a blind eye towards them. This has to be addressed by all concerned and activate the district, taluk and Grama Panchayat level machinery to guard and uphold rights of rural children.
N.V. Vasudeva Sharma
Executive Director, CRT-Child Rights Trust
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