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Child abuse unpardonable, child care a necessity in Mumbai

Mumbai city news: The abuse of child rights is so commonplace in the city’s slums that few people take note

mumbai Updated: May 24, 2017 18:36 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,child abuse,child care
A network of state-supported child care facilities across the city is an absolute necessity; it must be worked into development plans.(HT File Photo)

The story of the two little boys from Ulhasnagar has gone viral. The video of them being tonsured, slapped, stripped, paraded naked with a garland of slippers around their necks went viral too. There’s no one I know who watched the video and did not respond with shock and sympathy for the boys, and with rage and revulsion at the perpetrators.

All that the boys, aged eight and nine, had done to bring on this “punishment” was to steal chaklis worth two rupees from a neighbourhood shop. Since the horrific abuse they suffered last Saturday, they haven’t been able to sleep, haven’t gone out to play, have barely eaten and, by all accounts, were traumatised enough to be shifted to a children’s centre nearby. Their mothers, both single parents, work as domestic help. Their homes are one-room tenements in Prem Nagar slum, divided along communal lines, marked by squalor and the absence of civic facilities.

The three perpetrators, shop-keeper Mehmood Pathan and his two grown-up sons Irfan and Tawwakal, were arrested and charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Atrocities Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The Maharashtra State Commission for Child Rights member-secretary visited the anguished boys as did the chairperson of the state’s Child Welfare Committee. The establishment stirred perhaps because Union minister Maneka Gandhi was directly addressed on a social media platform about the case.

The children’s rights were outrageously violated, their dignity stolen from them. They were left physically and emotionally scarred. The abuse of child rights is so commonplace in the city’s slums that few people take note. Girls, too young to know gender, are subjected to sexual abuse and violence; boys are exposed to the worst face of society. Activists who work with under-privileged children have horrifying stories to narrate.

The Prem Nagar incident should shake up the child rights protection system but it cannot end there. It has exposed, once again, the abysmal lack of child care facilities available to women – especially poorer women – who must work for a living. Only a few women can afford the luxury of being stay-at-home mothers (this includes Mira Rajput, actor Shahid Kapoor’s wife and new mom, who gave us gyaan on the subject). Even fewer have the privilege to afford excellent child care while they work.

Most women make do with family support, neighbourhood facilities, extended school/class timings and so on. Women who work as daily wage labourers or domestic help do not even have these options. They are, more often than not, single mothers struggling to keep their homes running. Their children grow up in their absence, often out of school, unsupervised and unprotected, left to their own devices at a tender age. Their socialisation is brutal and dystopian in every way.

Studies have shown that such women are acutely aware of the dangers they expose their children to but have little choice. An average of 42% women workers believed that work interfered with child rearing and led to their neglect, according to the volume “Capturing Women’s Work”. Among Mumbai’s women workers, this was an astounding 69%.

The law provides for mandatory child care facilities, but only in formal workplaces with a defined number of employees. That these facilities do not exist is another story. But women at the bottom rungs of the work ladder, in the informal unorganised sectors, do not even have the law on their side. A network of state-supported child care facilities across the city is an absolute necessity; it must be worked into development plans.

That the boys were subjected to such brutality is a sign of how mob violence, uncontrolled rage and vigilante justice have replaced compassion and a sense of proportion in these times. That Pathan’s wife told the media that “it was all done in fun…There was no need to go to the police” shows how lightly child abuse – and child care – is taken.

First Published: May 24, 2017 18:35 IST