Heard about the father who killed his daughter in Murshidabad district? She was ten years old and, according to reports, she was resisting her father's decision to sell her off. This isn't the norm, I know. But some fathers (mothers too) sell children (boys too) or even kill them. Some just give in to a violent impulse. And even if such incidents are not the norm, they happen often enough to make us wonder about India – 'What is wrong with us?' is a question one often hears these days.
In an online chat about helping prevent sexual crimes against children, Anuja Gupta of RAHI, who works with people who have survived incest and child abuse, pointed out that the solution lies in the problem itself. “Abuse thrives in silence, secrecy, ignorance, denial, shame and stigma. In order to stop sexual abuse, you have to remove these conditions... Learn to listen to and respect children.”
It may seem like an ordinary thing to ask – respect children. But one of problems of mainstream cultures in India is that we don't respect children (or women). We idolize them. We fetishize them. But essentially, we think of children as property. We worry about them but we rarely take responsibility for our own behaviour towards them.
In the current psychological atmosphere of fear, we are starting to talk about what to do to save kids from violence. Now might be a good time to remind ourselves of children for whom we are actually responsible collectively, as a society.
There were 48, 338 child rape cases recorded between 2001 and 2011. A significant percentage of these happened in 'observation' homes, special homes, or children’s homes registered under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. A recent study by the Asian Centre for Human Rights highlighted 39 cases of child rape. 11 of them were reported from government-run institutions, 27 from private and NGO-run homes.
There are 733 juvenile justice homes that receive grants from the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD). Thousands of others exist without registration. The report said that the Ministry did raise the issue of non-registration with many states last year. But there is no punitive provision for non-registration of institutions.
Some of these kids are orphans. Many are girls. Some are disabled, perhaps abandoned. Some have been trafficked. Some may have been caught stealing or begging. We're shocked at children being raped inside their own homes but forget about the thousands tortured and raped because we – as a society – put them into 'homes'. We're relieved they're out of sight but unwilling to consider that they're being treated like adult criminals even when they've not done anything to deserve it.
Technically, there are 462 Child Welfare Committees across 23 states but there is very little actual inspection of children's institutions. In fact, some states discourage surprise visits. In 2010, Karnataka appointed a new committee with a warning: “members cannot visit child care institutions (...) without prior permission of the heads of these institutions”. This is the Karnataka where 1,089 children (younger than 14 years) went missing from 34 children’s homes between 2005 and 2011.
We – as a society – are more likely to gather for a satsang or majlis or cricket match than volunteer time to conduct inspections of 'homes' and schools. We are more likely to raise funds for a festival than to adopt. Or donate towards community-run education and counselling programs. And I think now is a good time to think about why we do this. It is part of the answer to 'What is wrong with us?'.
First published herehttp://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/1830791/column-the-kids-aren-t-alright