“Happy New Year” But the agony remains…..
NewZNew (Chandigarh) : They may be 40% of the population, but they are children and, therefore, no vote bank. Little wonder then that reforms in child rights are moving forward alright, but at snail’s pace. On paper there are policies in place and laws enacted. But on the ground, India is still far from the children-friendly nation it’s committed to be when it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). If money allocated is any yardstick to go by, then the numbers don’t impress: In the 25th year of CRC, child welfare is allocated just 4.64% of the annual budget.
At a time when India projects itself as a global economic power house of the future, can the country achieve its goals by discounting the role this sizeable population could play? In the South Asian Report on Child Friendliness of Governments of 2013, India tops in just one category: legal and policy framework. But overall it scores lower than countries such as Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan and is ranked fourth among eight nations—the other four being Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. India’s gender equality record is particularly dismal; it managed to better only Afghanistan’s score. Mere enactment of laws have also not helped in areas such as education, health and protection.
While there are several laws to deal with protection of child rights, the legal remedies needed to deal with violations of the laws are often not in place. For instance, there is no one law that explicitly bans all forms of corporal punishment across all settings. So, corporal punishment meted out to a child is dealt with in IPC sections that refer to hurt/ grievous hurt of anyone, even an adult.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act does refer to the ban of corporal punishment in schools but does not talk of any mechanism for its implementation across schools.
In June 2014 the CRC committee in its observations on India has “[reiterated] great concern regarding reports of widespread violence, abuse, including sexual abuse, and neglect of children in [India]. This includes family settings, alternative care institutions, schools, and the community.”
The committee recommends that India should “explicitly prohibit” corporal punishment against children and “ensure that legal proceedings are systematically initiated against those responsible for ill-treating children, including that those responsible are duly prosecuted”.
As for the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012—this is a law that’s in fact skewed against children, experts feel. It criminalizes even consensual sex among those below 18 years, leading to a large number of rape cases being filed against boys mostly by the girls’ parents, who take undue advantage of the Act to end a relationship they don’t approve of.
On the other hand, sex forced on married minor girls of ages above 15 by their husbands is condoned. This is because the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013 doesn’t recognize marital rape.
The CRC committee has pointed out that the non-criminalization of sexual abuse of minor married girls above 15 “is inconsistent” with POCSO. It has asked the government to ensure that sexual abuse in such cases are also “fully criminalized”. However, it’s quite apparent that some of the rights that the CRC would like children to enjoy aren’t reflected in these laws.
With reports of sexual abuse of children on the rise in schools and homes across the country, the CRC committee has asked the government to establish mechanisms, procedures and guidelines to ensure mandatory reporting of all cases of child sexual abuse as well as necessary measures to ensure their proper investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators.
With surrogacy on the rise in India, there are also some concerns regarding a child’s rights in a surrogacy arrangement. What if a child is rejected due to issues such as disability, gender or complexion. The CRC committee has asked the government to ensure that the Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill (or any other legislation to be developed) helps regulate surrogacy and prevent its abuse. Legislation criminalizing the sale of children for illegal adoption has been suggested—this law must take action against all those involved in illegal adoptions.
There are concerns about the Child Labour Act, 1986, as well. In the absence of a national database on the types and extent of child labour, which occurs not just in informal sectors such as domestic work, but also in hazardous ones including mining and quarry work, it may be difficult to eliminate this national shame. While thousands of children continue to be employed, there aren’t regular inspections, and so prosecutions and convictions are abysmally low. Only 1061 convictions were reported in 2013 whereas according to census 2011 more than 1crore children (5 to 14 age group) are working as child labour. The rehabilitation of rescued children also lacks any comprehensive strategy or plan.
If child rights is to be given the importance it deserves, the government need to go beyond enacting laws and drive change at the ground level.