By P. V. Swati:
The photo essay depicts the various social, economic and cultural ills which rob young children of their childhoods in India. The images touch upon an array of structural and social constraints that violate the very childhood of the majority of Indian children ranging from the stark poverty, child labor, malnutrition, inaccessibility to education, gender discrimination, sexual exploitation, child marriage, domestic violence and lack of family support. There is also emphasis on the way in which these factors have a gendered influence on young girls for whom the struggle against these social implications is doubled.
An unattended infant who can barely walk, near a community well in Jharkhand. The present crude birthrate in India is 20.97 births per 1,000 of the population every year. With most of the parents not in a position to provide and care for their children, the future of these young ones does not hold much hope.
Two sisters assisting their family while they work for a local contractors in a construction site in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh. The parents prefer them as a helping hand to the family income than having them as a liability if they are educated.
Two siblings playing in rural Tamil Nadu. About 43 percent of the Indian children suffer from malnutrition, ranking only second after Bangladesh as per to the estimates of the World Bank.
Two girls work in a NREGA worksite in Jharkhad as proxy workers to their parents. This not just a breach to a governmental policy which prohibits child labor but the violation of their childhood. An estimated 12 percent of children in India between the age of 5-14 are engaged in child labor activities.
Three boys take a break after working for hours in a minor damn project in rural Chhattisgarh. Working children are denied their right to survival and development, education, leisure and play, adequate standard of living, opportunity for developing personality, talents, mental and physical abilities, and protection from abuse and neglect.
Munnu in Chattarpur district in Madhya Pradesh plays with a catapult while he is helping his father in his agricultural farm, the very purpose fo 50% of children who join up in Class I drop out by Class VIII.
Hari in the Lakhanpur village of Chhattisgarh spends a hot afternoon playing with a wooden toy-cart made by himself, as he is barred from going to schaool due to the extra expenses it imposes on his family.
Hema interacts with her brother Ravi as he returns home from school, a place which is a distant dream to her. While many children lose their childhood too early in India, the situation is made harder for young girls as they have face the day to day gender discrimination both at home and in society which increases their vulnerabilities in an already difficult living condition.
The seven year old Rekha has been instructed by her mother not to step out of the house because she is a girl! Apart from day to dayÂ discriminationÂ faced by girls, their abstinence from the public sphere further stunts their personal growth and their ability to phase the world.
A bunch of girls playing ‘Ghar Ghar’ in rural Bihar. The game basically reflects a playful depiction of a household from a woman’s perspective. But, these little girls and most women don’t see how such social construct further push them to the confines of household and domestic life, keeping them from any literary and practical knowledge which would empower them in the society.
A thirteen year old girl in rural Chhattisgarh who is going to be married in two months as her parents can no more afford a girl. Child marriage might be constitutionally illegal in India, but it still remains the open secret of our society. Young girls are forced into marital relationships even before they mentally and physically develop to understand them.
Two Nepali girls in a village in Arraria district, situated in Bihar-Nepal border. Worst case scenarios exit too. Children trafficked into one form of labor are later sold into another, as with girls from rural Nepal, who are recruited to work in carpet factories but are then trafficked into the sex industry over the border in India.
Girls in a lower caste settlement in the Faridkot district of Punjab. The widespread problem of drug addiction in Punjab has now led to another trend. The addicts belonging to the economically lower strata, in case of lack of resources to pay in cash have started trading the young girls of their family to the drug dealers.
A group of Dalit children in the Mansa district of Punjab who were arrested and imprisoned as their parents were a part of the 2008 peasant unrest in the region. The young children were exposed to the harsh environment and tortures of the jail as their parents without considering the physical and psychological impact of such a measure on them.
An eleven-year old boy who ran way from his home in Jhonpur, UP due to domestic violence now lives and works as a rag picker in the Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi. Its estimated that every other child in India experiences domestic violence on a regular basis.
The nine- year old Shiv in Shillong, Meghalaya assists his mother on this off day from school as she handles customers in her food stall in a local street market. Though most parents still do not see the importance of education in a child’s life in India, there are some who try to strike a balance keeping in mind their economic situation and the important factors for a child’s development.
An eight-year old boy mans the pay weighing machine on a road side market in New Delhi doing his school home work. While there are these rare stories of strive and survival, the hope for most of these children in still bleak.
A mentally unstable boy sits by the roadside in Chandni Chowk while the by passers assume him to be a beggar leaving leftover food and a few coins by his side. Hundreds of such children each day are found in metropolitans like Delhi abandoned by there parents and all of the society.
A five-year old playing with a pup in street which was the hub of the Congress election campaign a few months back in Orcha district of Madhya Pradesh. Though there have been variousÂ legislationÂ like the Child Labor Act, the Right to Education and so on, to improve the condition of Indian children,Â theyÂ have been largely ineffective.
A boy in the classroom of a local NGO called Adharshila located in a slum area of New Delhi. As all the governmental measures taken in this context have largely failed, The civil society has come up with various avenues to address such causes and have been successful to some extent.
While the various ills like poverty, malnutrition, child labor, genderÂ discrimination, domestic violence and all forms of abuses have robbed the children in India of their childhood. Its just a ray of hope and their dreams for the future that keep the young souls going. One could just hope the time to come would hold something better for them.
The pictures are mostly derived from my travel in different parts of the country for various projects. In my observation, the ineffectiveness of the governmental policy to combat these problems has been somewhat compensated by the vigorous attempts of the civil society. But, these children still have a long way to go. The only thing sustaining them are their dreams and hope for a better future.