Culture and tradition have always been cited as the bedrocks on which our superior family values are founded. But like so many elevating qualities that we feel we are endowed with, this too is largely a myth. A recent survey by Child Rights and You found that one-third of Delhi feels that children should work as hard as adults and that they should be paid less. The invisibility of children is seen in the horrific abuses they suffer all around us. In recent days, we should have been shocked by the tales of rampant sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation in juvenile homes in Rohtak and other places. But after the initial expressions of concern, it is back to business as usual. A study across 13 states revealed that 53% of children had suffered some form of sexual abuse. But when the State to whom these children turn for help starts preying on them, it requires more than expressions of concern to save the day.
In the recent Rohtak juvenile home case, young girls were found to have been coerced into prostitution, were used as bonded labour, were gangraped and subjected to other forms of sexual exploitation. It now transpires that this is a pattern in many juvenile homes run both by the State and NGOs. An earlier study in several Karnataka juvenile homes showed that children were put to work in cleaning toilets, were routinely tortured and sexually abused. At least 1,089 children were recorded as having run away from these homes, and several suicides were reported. Aamir Khan in his popular programme 'Satyamev Jayate' took up this issue, a programme which was devastating in its indictment of the manner in which we as a society treat our children.
As usual the laws to prevent such abuse are very much there. The Lok Sabha has passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011, that contains extensive provisions to protect children. From severe penalties to special courts and in-camera trials, the child's rights are legally protected at every step. We were all patriotic and up in arms in the case of the child welfare services in Norway taking custody of two Indian children, invoking the need for them to be in India with its wonderful traditions. But what we seemed to miss is the heartening manner in which the Norwegian state acted in favour of the welfare of the children. There must be far greater scrutiny of NGOs wanting to set up homes for children and certainly there should be periodic inspections and reviews of State-run juvenile institutions. The children affected have absolutely no one to speak for them. This makes the crime of abusing them all the more sordid. Let us stop talking up our culture and tradition so much, this would be credible if it actually meant safer spaces for our children.