Rights-The reason of all the revolutions the world has witnessed so far. But what are Rights? The fact that I am writing this, and that you will ponder upon the same, is our Right to freedom of Thought and Expression. Rights therefore, are indispensable and inalienable by nature. Rights are not privileges. They are something that every individual is born with, and cannot be hampered or infringed upon by another, as long as they are exercised in social harmony.
However, despite the inalienability of Rights, the weaker sections (Women, Children, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes) of society remain disadvantaged, and deprived of their basic rights, due to Inequality, prevalence of social evils, and Unawareness.
This article intends to throw some light on the Rights of Children, and the lack of awareness regarding the same that prevails in our society, the adverse impact that it creates on the life of children, and the legal – remedial measures that exist.
WHO IS A CHILD?
The United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child, 1989 defines Child as “any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier. “
The above definition brings into picture a number of factors that make children one of the most vulnerable sections of our society.
A child is in a continuous phase of growth and development, and hence remains dependent on another for even the basic needs of livelihood such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and so much more. This constant requirement of help, support, and protection, the lack of availability of the same, puts a child to many chronic risks, leaving their whole existence at stake. There is an alarming need of educating the masses about Child Rights, and creating awareness about how fundamental they are for the overall development of a child.
The United Nations Convention on Rights of the Children 1989 states following as the rights of a child:
- Right to Survival: to life, health, nutrition, name, nationality
- Right to Development: to education. Care, leisure, recreation, cultural activities
- Right to Protection: from exploitation, abuse, neglect
- Right to Participation: to expression, information, thought, religion
Every child is entitled to the right to adequate food and nutrition. According to article 24 of the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child: “States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health” and shall take appropriate measures “to combat disease and malnutrition” through the provision of adequate nutritious foods, clean drinking water, and health care. In context of India, Article 39(a) of the Constitution, , requires the State to direct its policies towards securing that all its citizens have the right to an adequate means of livelihood. As per the data of Census 2011, among 472 million children, 97 million children are anaemic and undernourished. Multiple factors such as acute poverty, lack of balanced diet in their growth years, and mainly the lack of breastfeeding to infants (especially during the first 6 months) results in their undernourishment over a long period of time, thus making them weak adolescents in future.
With the incorporation of Article21 A in the Indian Constitution following the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, Education has become a fundamental right, and a subset of Right to Life (Article 21). It emphasises on providing universal elementary education to all children from 6 to 14 years of age. However despite the legal framework and various initiatives by the Government such as Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, there is a huge section of children that remains aloof from exercising this basic fundamental Right. A major obstacle in attaining the goals of maximum literacy is an increasing number of School Drop-Outs. Lack of awareness on the part of parents in poverty stricken families causes children, especially girls, to leave school and stay back at home to look after the household chores and their younger siblings, or go out to earn for the family. They are thus forced into exploitative acts such as child labour, and trafficking.
THE MENACE OF CHILD LABOUR
Article 24 of Indian Constitution strictly prohibits the practice of any form of child labour. It states: No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed, to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any hazardous employment. However, even in the light of pursuance of legal statues such as The Factories Act 1948, The Mines Act of 1952, The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 and the following amendments, Child labour is been widely prevalent in India.
As per the data recorded in Census 2011, the total child population in India in the age group of 5 to 14 years is 259.6 million, and 10.1 million of these children are working. Not only Poverty, but the Unawareness among people regarding the rights of children and the punishments on infringement of these rights, are some of the core issues that have increased the problem manifold. Becoming a part of such exploitation takes a heavy toll on both physical and mental health of the affected child. This might leave him or her traumatised and unproductive in the longer run of life.
THE EVIL OF TRAFFICKING
Amid the global Corona virus Pandemic the already worse issue of child trafficking has aggravated further. With increasing demand for cheap labour, abrupt shutting of schools in remote areas, and the subsequent widening of economic rift in the society, a vast number of children (especially from remote areas ) have been jammed in vehicles and sold to places where they will be forced to toil in the most hazardous and inhuman conditions.
ABOUT CORPORAL PUNISHMENTS
Corporal Punishment implies any punishment that is physical in nature. Since children are perceived to be a segment that can be dominated, a lot of unethical and immoral behaviour is inflicted upon them without holding any sense of answerability. Beating up, subjecting them to intense physical punishments such as running around in the school premises with heavy bags on, standing in scorching sunlight with hands raised are some of patterns followed by schools that the society had easily accepted. These actions have an adverse and prolonged effect on a child’s mental health. In many cases such torture has also resulted in psychological illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Personality Disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and even committing of suicide. What’s worse is, existence of such brutal behaviour beyond schools, like, in homes by the guardians or the parents themselves, at orphanages, and also in juvenile homes.
The Government of India, in the year 2010 has however banned the Corporal Punishment in Schools. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has issued a new set of guidelines that bans physical punishment of students. Spare the rod or end up in jail.
THE ROLE OF MUSKURAHAT FOUNDATION
Awareness about one’s rights, and the freedom of exercising them in the correct space and environment, are necessary for the holistic development of any individual. However, even in the wake of increasing global significance that Child Rights as a concept has gained, there is a stark gap between our goals and reality. This is truly where Not-for-Profit Organizations like Muskurahat Foundation come into picture. The organization plays a key role in bridging the gap between intentions and actions. We work to create a positive, profound, and long lasting impact on the lives of children and young adolescents by initiating programs like Project KEYtaab and Project Saarthi. We thrive to improve the quality of the lives of young and vulnerable children by helping them develop better cognitive and life skills, focusing on their mental health, and thus ensuring an integrated upbringing. Vocational Training is another important aspect that Muskurahat Foundation has lately started working upon. We have created a shining impact on lives of over 600 kids, with more than 150 volunteers investing their wilful effort in making the world a better place to live. Having said all of the above, there isn’t any substitute for our role as a responsible individual, and as a society that is aware and shuns the prevalence of any kind of social injustice. After all, Charity and Change – both begin at home.
If not us, Who?
If not now, When?