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Stop abuse of our children

India is now one of the world's worst places to be a child - yet more evidence of our shameful apathy towards the plight of children. Can we afford to ignore the issue any longer?

india Updated: Oct 21, 2012 01:11 IST
Manjula Narayan

Apart from numerous notices about missing children and the spectacle of kids in gruesome identification-of-body announcements, a casual perusal of newspapers on any given morning throws up at least one case of extreme cruelty against a child.

Take the case of minors raped at a juvenile home in Allahabad in April - an incident uncovered when a recently-adopted six-year-old told her parents about the goings-on; or the three-month-old girl in Bengaluru whose father burnt and bit her, and inflicted so much damage she succumbed to a brain haemorrhage.

There was the child crushed between the folding train berth on the Panchvally Express between Indore and Chindwara; the couple who abandoned their newborn baby girl at a Jodhpur hospital; and the horrifying case of Baby Falak that blew the lid off the flesh trade in girls as young as 13.

Add to this anecdotal evidence of the physical abuse of school children; of well-to-do families employing children to look after their infants, and about problems faced by working children. Just last month, a child working at a dhabha in Delhi was hurled by a drunk into a vat of boiling milk for not serving him.

"While there are fewer child marriages now, crimes against children are rising especially in urban areas," says Rakesh Senger, secretary, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, who says there is a gap between awareness and implementation of laws.

"There is no awareness at the grassroots about child or domestic labour as there is, for example, about Pulse Polio schemes," he says.

Indeed, a Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices study done by CRY (Child Rights and You) inferred that few knew that the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, insists children cannot work for more than three hours at a stretch with breaks that last at least an hour.

One of every two respondents was also ignorant about the Right To Education Act 2009. No wonder then that an SRI-IMRB survey done in 2009 found that around 81.5 lakh children in India were out of school.

A global survey released this July that shows India has fallen on the Child Development Index confirms the suspicion that it is now one of the world's worst places be a child. Of the BRICS nations, India is ranked lowest with China at the top.

China is investing much more in its children. Just 5% of China's children are underweight compared to 40% of Indian children. While India's under-five mortality rate is more than 60 out of 1,000, China's is 20. India fares poorly on child health, education and nutrition too and is ranked at a dismal 112 on a list of 141 countries - it stood at 100 in 1995.

If this wasn't bad enough, figures from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show extreme violence against children has increased: while 1175 children were murdered in 2001, the figure rose to 1451 in 2011. The total number of crimes against kids stands at 33,098.

"We lack a protective environment for children," says Soha Moitra, Regional Director, North, CRY who points out that special juvenile police units and the few existing juvenile justice boards don't function properly.

There are multiple ministries including the health ministry and the women and child ministry looking at child development and since each works in isolation, government funds are not optimally channeled. Moitra believes NGOs cannot effectively map abuse or arrive at the exact number of missing children as different sources provide different information.

Senger reveals that there is no data for habitual offenders against children.

"We need a centralised data bank to apprehend them and reduce crime," he says.

Perhaps the systematic gathering of facts and setting up a national database of crimes against children would be the first step towards making India a safer place. Clearly, though, it will be a while before the benefits reach those who need it most - the nation's abused children.