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From Abuse To Forced Labour, Our Focus Must Be On Protecting Our Children

By Mandvi Singh:

Child rights have been a major concern in our country. The idea of rights for children, apart from the constitutional rights accessible to all citizens of the country, also covers various sensitive issues of physical and sexual abuse of children.

The effect of the law applies only to the unprivileged section which gets exploited in the unorganised sector. People are accustomed to the dependent assistance of domestic help. This culture inadvertently leads to the employment of child labour in households.

The newly amended Child Labour Act with its developments instils some hope and confidence in those vouching for better child protection and a more opportunistic development of children in the country. The supposedly improvised act has classified one lot as ‘children’ for the ones below the age of fourteen and another as ‘adolescents’ for the rest under eighteen but above fourteen. The latter has not been eliminated from all occupations but only the hazardous ones.

The act is crafty in its implication of the work that can be legally undertaken or allocated to the categories within the broader category of juveniles. The ambit of hazardous activities has also been shrunk to include only the extremely hazardous. The act is also lax in permitting child labour in ‘family businesses’ and as an artist in the ‘audio-visual’ arena.

The new law also has no mention of working hours. These provisions seem considerate towards the poverty ridden sections of the society where an extra helping hand may only relieve them of financial problems.

However, the framing of the law leaves space for exploitation of the new provisions by many, leaving the children working and only under a vague protection of the legal system. Even as ‘family business’ has been mentioned, there is no specific explanation of which all relations can be considered family.

The UN Convention on the rights of the child has been ratified by India, Article 32 of the same provides for the child’s protection against economic exploitation and also from any work that hampers or interferes with their education. This, to some extent, gives a lining to the domestic law that needs to be followed.

Another evil that prevails in several households is child abuse. Child abuse when spoken of in general is assumed to be an indication of only sexual abuse.

Physical abuse is another form of it, as it affects the lives of these vulnerable minors. With the plethora of rape cases that have been surfacing in the recent past, more than ever after the infamous December 2012 case and its encouragement in the rise of reporting of cases, numerous have involved the victimisation of minors.

The year following the case mentioned above saw the amendment in criminal law, as the detailed criminalisation of sexual offences. With no surety of the rate of the crime having dropped, there still is an assurance of minors informing their parents or guardians, whoever they are comfortable confiding in, of incidents that lead to the catching and punishing of the perpetrators.

On the 15th of September, waiting at a Metro station platform for an uncongested train to board and lost in thought, I saw one of the trains make its mandatory stop.

As the door in my view opened, a boy not more than 5-6 years of age hopped out. Behind him in a rush exited his parents and a little girl. The man who appeared to be the boy’s father, with no thought given, held the child’s arm, almost as with an intention to detach it, and smacked him on his back hard enough for the boy to be swept off his feet and flung in the air to fall right back on the floor.

What followed were a series of stronger blows all over the child’s body. The actions were too quick for people to come to the child’s rescue and they did only once, enough harm had been done. There were onlookers with no intentions of approaching the ‘Junglee’ (wild) man as they called him.

In my experience with the Metro, I have barely spotted security personnel on the station. For an incident like this one there clearly was no authority to tackle the situation. Metro Stations are equipped with security cameras too. The mother sat on the ground pleading while the child crouched behind her, wanting to be out of his father’s purview.

It was a striking display of the level of domestic violence that must occur in the privacy of their house. The incident initially was enough to leave one stunned, but the reason behind this incident intensified the shock and horror that was freshly witnessed. The man was merely punishing his son for having walked out at the wrong station when they had to take the train and leave at another station of the same line.

Physical abuse comes to light when inflicted outside the homes of these children. What one overlooks and callously disregards is the disturbing treatment of these children in their own homes.

Apart from the Child Labour Law, there are Articles in the Indian Constitution which on being interpreted indicate the environment and treatment that is to be offered as a respect of child rights.

Article 39(e), in the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part-IV of the Constitution, protects the ‘tender age of children’ against the abuse of their health and strength. Article 39(f) of the same part explains the law with wider clarity, the article reads as follows: “that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.”

A family environment that imbibes moral values is indispensable for a holistic development. It also includes the lack of disturbing and violent surroundings and exposure.

Violence while growing up affects a child’s mental state. It’s linked to a child’s poor performance at school, anxiety and depression. This also hampers their social skills while inflating the risk of delinquent behaviour at some point sooner or later in their lives. It may even lead to them developing aggressive attitudes. The effects are long lasting and almost frame a person’s whole life.

With the laws in place, it is an area to be under check by the authorities but the reality is bitter. The system needs more stringent laws with definite wordings to ensure that such violations have punitive consequences. Since most of it is behind closed doors, the violations are silenced within the family and do not reach a level for it to be checked.

It’s a part of families, with no fear of child services that goes unnoticed and is so ingrained in the society that the reputation of normalcy it has gained over time leaves no room for it to become a topic of discussion of a magnitude it ideally should be.


Image source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
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