The demographic dividend in India is turning into a liability. The proof lies in the horrors happening in the child shelters of Muzaffarpur and Deoria.
Just as the horrors of the children at shelter homes in Muzaffarpur and Deoria swamped our conscience, making us wonder how as a society we got it all wrong and became destroyers rather than protectors of a generation, more chilling statistics ought to get us into action. Around the world, a child dies every five minutes as a result of violence, most of which, hold your breath, is inter-personal abusive. Roughly, a billion children around the world, between two and 17, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect. In India, that figure is about half the child population. And post the crackdown on shelter homes, around 20 girls have been found missing from them over the last two days.
That the excesses took place in Government-protected shelter homes, where they are meant to be safest, points not just to our potential for brutality but about our gross insensitivity towards the children of a lesser God. For who are the inmates? They are certainly not “our children” but those who are orphaned, abandoned, trafficked, lost, vagrants, in short refused rights to exist as unwanted burdens of society. They are “nowhere” and belong to “nobody” and, therefore, their destinies are “tradeable” by their handlers. It’s enough that they are kept alive as part of the Government’s social welfare policy, dictated by meagre funds and intent, and allowed to waste away as a reCourtesy, huddled in a sack of survival. Worse, the keepers who rescued them from their miseries plough them back into the same ordeal of exploitation, trafficking and sexual abuse, feeding off a paedophiliac economy. Imagine the girls at Muzaffarpur cutting themselves up all over with blades, subjecting their bodies to utmost pain and bleeds than risk getting humiliated by the predatory touch of humans. What’s worse is that the offenders are each empowered socially, politically and economically, are parents themselves, but are monstrously rapacious about indulging their baser animal instincts. And while the law books errant shelter home owners, it mysteriously falls short of booking the perpetrator clients in “red, black, white” cars, as recounted by a survivor of the Deoria shelter. No politician or legislator had ever visited a home till this scandal blew up on our faces.
Everybody wants to adopt a model village to contribute to Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan. Everybody wants to adopt a weavers’ cluster to skill them but nobody wants to adopt a children’s shelter to restore their dignity of life and treat them as valuable human reCourtesy. Nobody wants to adopt a child from these homes either. Simply because these children do not fit into any campaign strategy. Or represent a cause worth fighting for. With no seeming Courtesy of solace, the inmates reconcile with the systemic plunder of their innocence, accepting abuse as normal. The social cost of our ignorance of this collective pain will be humungous for us to bear, for we are breeding a deeply disturbed, traumatised and sad people, who may themselves turn to violence, abnormalities and deviant behaviour as a coping or hit-back mechanism. Unable to process extreme behaviour against them, they may become completely disengaged. Can we afford a demographic dividend to turn into a liability? Intense trauma is known to alter cognitive, emotional and behavioural development forever. Psychological studies show that children subjected to chronic violence early on in their lives by their care-givers are primed to focus on survival instead of higher reasoning and learning. The threat perception becomes perennial in their minds and dictates their every move.
Are we willing to pay such a high social cost? Though an audit has been ordered of all 9,000 Government shelter homes and the Women and Child Development Ministry has called for a central, unified facility to ensure better vigilance considering coordination with State Governments was patchy in this respect, there is an urgent need to stringently implement the existing legislative framework first. For if the laws, which are already in place, had been implemented, the children would not have been exposed to vulnerabilities. The Sampurna Behura vs Union of India judgement had acknowledged this need of a robust protective mechanism for children under the Juvenile Justice Act, making it mandatory for all homes to be registered under it.
Behura, who has been working with the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, feels all States must take immediate steps for adequate and effective implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2005. State Governments should ensure that all positions in the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), child welfare committees and juvenile justice boards are filled up expeditiously with the right people and experts independent of political affiliation. There should be no ad hocism. There is also a need for effective monitoring of the management of child care institutions with time-bound inspections.
Technology can be a great monitoring tool as it can be used to collate all data and findings and pool them together in public domain to be accessed by stakeholders. This will ensure a responsive administration and work positively for the inmates. Then comes a rehabilitative model of shelter homes, which should have counselling services, psychiatric follow-ups, health care and skill development modules that would ultimately help the children mainstream themselves and take hold of their scarred lives.
The recommendations have been made over a decade ago but the absence of national will has cost us a Muzaffarpur and Deoria. At the Chief Justices’ Conference held in 2006 (presided by the Chief Justice of India with participation by the Chief Justice of every High Court) a resolution provided for the Chief Justices of High Courts to nominate a judge to make periodical visits to juvenile homes, wherever set up, and suggest remedial measures for the betterment of existing conditions and inmates. It further suggested that Chief Justices ensure that services of such persons, who have been working on ad-hoc basis, are regularised, if necessary, by creation of posts in consultation with State Governments.
In 2015 the issue of strengthening the juvenile justice system was once again discussed at the Chief Justices’ Conference and the following resolution passed: “The High Courts should ensure that juvenile justice boards and child welfare committees are in place, that visits are regularly made to homes and shelters and that such homes are set up wherever they have not already been set up. It shall also be ensured the requisite facilities are provided as per the standards, rules, policies and guidelines in all such homes/centres.”
Finally, in 2016 the Chief Justices’ conference resolved that juvenile justice boards dispose of cases pending for over a year on a priority basis; juvenile justice committees monitor adoption cases and applications for declaring children free for adoption on a priority basis; steps be taken to ensure that every district is equipped with a child protection unit, special juvenile police unit, observation homes and children homes; and pending cases of orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children be monitored by the juvenile justice committees of High Courts.
The panel also highlighted that “unless the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the SCPCRs are given due importance by the Government of India and the State Governments and vacancies are filled up in time, the enforcement of the rights of children will remain on the back burner and any number of welfare schemes formulated by the Government of India or by the State Governments will remain unimplemented or their implementation will remain sketchy and symbolic.” And we cannot afford that any longer.
(The writer is Associate Editor, The Pioneer)
Writer: Rinku Ghosh
Courtesy: The Pioneer