17 million children in India work out of compulsion

Children’s Day under the shadow of the rape of childhood

We observe November 14, the birthday of the first Prime Minister of India, Chacha Nehru as Children’s Day. But a look at the condition of children in India makes one question the significance of November 14?  Do we really cherish our future citizens?

THE DEFINITION OF a ‘child’ in the Indian legal and policy framework is someone below 18 years. Our laws are neither child friendly nor child oriented. Here are few figures:

* Less than half of India’s children between the age of six and 14 go to school.
* Only 38 per cent of children below two years are immunized.
* Over 50 per cent children are malnourished.
* One out of every six girls does not live to see her 15th birthday.
* Of 12 million girls born, one million do not see their first birthday.
* Females are victimized far more than males in their childhood.
* 53 per cent of girls in the age group of five to nine years are illiterate.
* There are two million child commercial sex workers between the age of five and 15 years.
* 17 million children in India work out of compulsion, not out of choice.

The child is the future of a nation. But children are a neglected lot in India, which is evident from the distressing statistics of infant mortality, child morbidity, child malnutrition, childhood disability, child abuse, child labour, child prostitution, street children, child beggary, child marriage, juvenile delinquency, drug addiction and illiteracy.

Trafficking in humans, including children, is a violation of the fundamental rights of human beings. International estimates indicate that at least 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, many of them subjected to prostitution, forced into marriage or unpaid labour, or are recruited into armed groups. Child labour is, generally speaking, work undertaken by children that harm them or exploit them in some way (physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking access to education). 40 per cent of India’s population is below 18 years of age. At 400 million, we have the world’s largest child population. At 17 million, we have the ‘distinction’ of being home to world’s largest population of child labourers. These are official figures; activists say that the real number is even larger.

Constitutions of most countries, including India, have provisions forbidding child labour. Its elimination is one of the millennium development goals adopted unanimously by the United Nations.

Children should not have to work for a living. Childhood is when a person needs nurturing, schooling, time to play and explore, and opportunity to grow, both emotionally and physically. When a child is forced to work, it hampers his growth, stunts his psychological and intellectual development, and prevents him from realising his full potential.

Child labour is an unmitigated evil and any society that suffers from it should be grossly ashamed of that fact. Child labour, trafficking are symptoms, not the problem. The problem lies elsewhere and unless the problem itself is addressed, merely addressing the symptoms makes the situation immensely worse for the victim children.

In India, children’s vulnerabilities and exposure to violations of their protection rights remains spread and multiple in nature. There are a wide range of issues that adversely impact on children in India, making them especially vulnerable. With such future citizens in large numbers, the future of our country is bleak.

Rishabh Srivastava, MeriNews.COM, 13 November 2007, Tuesday

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