Adopted children are no different and are entitled to the entire gamut of legal and humanitarian rights as any other children. India is obliged to ensure the full spectrum of rights equally for all children, regardless of religious and social identity, sex or any other factor. With this in mind, organizations like CRY advocate a uniform adoption code that will assure that the wellbeing of the child is kept at the very core of any such adoption decisions
Currently, 2 Acts govern adoptions in India, the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, and the Juvenile Justice Act 2000, duly amended in 2006. The Guardian and Ward Act, 1890 govern guardianships only. Each has its uniqueness and limitations.
In the context of disasters and/ or conflict, CRY's stance is that children should be rehabilitated/ adopted if they are being abandoned or orphaned, as far as possible within their own communities/ geographies to minimize trauma and maximize wellbeing of the child.
Balika Vadhu is a popular TV show, currently being broadcast on Colors TV in India. The serial deals with Child Marriage, a social custom still prevalent in parts of India.
"The serial Balika Vadhu attempts a portrayal of the illegal institution of child marriages in Rajasthan. While we would not like to comment on the creative aspects of programming, if the producers are really wanting to make a dent of the practice of the institution, they need to showcase how child marriages are at the centre of the ills like of poor health, lack of education and child survival that are behind the marginalized state of girls in this country.
The worrying trend that follows in the wake of the serial is its growing popularity. Are viewers truly made aware of the caucus of ills that follows in the wake of child marriages? Or are viewers growing to love the "cuteness" of the child bride?
The media too has a role: to point out that real child brides are often abused, ill-fed, uneducated, and forced into life choices they have no control over.
The question we need to ask is, are the serials portraying social ills in some ways glamourising the idea, making it more acceptable?"
On Child Actors
"Children who are working full time in daily soaps may not have time for studying, playing, rest and relaxation. While parents are in charge of their children's welfare, both parents and serial makers need to be very careful that their guardianship does not treat children as commodities to be profited from. While working in the film and television industry has not been included in the list of hazardous work in the latest Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, if the child is working at the cost of his/her welfare and being denied his/her rights to education, health and participation, we as society need to take a stand to protect, not find loopholes in the law."
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, passed as recently as in 2006, prohibits marriage between any man aged less than 21 years and any woman aged less than 18. the law came about because of a realization that unless such social mores are changed, girls will continue to suffer from the lack of freedom, good health, education and the right to choose their own destinies.
CRY has learnt that children continue to be exploited and abused because the State and people are not addressing the problems of children comprehensively and effectively. The standard response to child labourers in Mumbai, for instance, is one of 'rescue' rather than looking at the poverty that sent children to labour in the first place. Only 'rescuing' children, often will not help. What is needed is proper rehabilitation, including bridge courses for children to make up in years of lost schooling, ensuring good quality free government schools, good backup in health services and adequate employment and housing for the adults.
Children are naturally linked to their families. Thus children's rights are intrinsically linked with the realisation of human rights in general.
The supply chain of cheap child labour can only be eradicated if its root causes are also addressed - causes like social and economic marginalisation, poverty, displacement, migration, lack of a coherent policy towards quality education for all etc. situations that force children into work. Piecemeal efforts will not do.
Children work mainly to help their families because the adults do not have appropriate employment and adequate income. Children also work because there is a demand for cheap labor in the market. Poor and bonded families, succumbing to the demand, often "sell" their children to contractors who promise lucrative jobs in the cities and the children end up being exploited. Many run away and find a life on the streets.
The distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous work in relation to children is spurious because children work out of compulsion - of poverty and adult unemployment. This is why CRY believes that for children, all forms of labour are hazardous.
Unless child labour is banned in agriculture, eradicating it will remain a pipe dream. Agriculture and allied work accounts for as many as nearly 70% of India's 17 million child labourers, but is not included in the list of 16 occupations and 65 processes in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2006.
When children are forced to work long hours in the fields, herding livestock or helping in food production, their ability get adequate nourishment and to attend school is limited, preventing them from gaining education. Girls are particularly disadvantaged as they often undertake household chores following work in the fields.
NDTV Imagine has launched a reality show called "Pati Patni Aur Woh" in September 2009 where celebrities will be handed children in progressive stages of development from infancy through toddlerhood and pre-teen age. The show is based on Baby Borrowers, a series that ran in the UK. It is produced by BBC Worldwide, both in the UK and here in India.
What is CRY's Stance
"The question to be asked is this: is it okay to rent out babies, exposing them to harsh lights and the stresses and strains of shooting, which often takes its toll on fully grown adults as well? There is something inherently wrong with an entertainment format that is based on using children as a "training tool" for adults. Using infants and toddlers who cannot express their point of view on the matter, is completely exploitative and to be condemned."
What CRY will do
"CRY hopes to continue on its mass awareness drives like the campaign we conducted around anti-child labour day, so that both the government as well as the people learn to be more make sure that children anywhere are not exploited, that they are treated as persons with rights and not just as properties of the caregivers."
On International Labour Day, Child Rights and You's CEO, Puja Marwaha, underlines the importance of better policies for the unorganised sector towards stemming Child Labour and promoting childhood welfare.
For most people living and working in cities, Labour Day is just another one of those public holidays that nobody questions and everybody appreciates. On a day designed to give voice to the rights of the Indian work force, perhaps one ought to consider those who have been forced to join their ranks too soon - child labourers.
The Government of India approximates that an astounding 42.02 per cent of the Indian workforce is estimated to be children between the ages of 5 and 14. This is in direct contravention of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. This figure of 42.02 per cent does not factor those who fall outside the purview of the Act - children between 15 and 18 years. In spite of child labour being banned in hazardous industries, 17 million children are engaged in child labour, according to official sources. Unofficially, the numbers are much higher.
So why does this problem persist? Why does India continue to register some of the highest numbers of child labourers in the world, after all the legislations and prohibitions, bans and raids? And above all, what would compel a parent to send their child to work?
At the heart of it all
77% of Indians have less than Rs. 20/- to spend per day. Poverty is too ambiguous a word to truly encompass the utter destitution faced by these families who send their children to work. Survival, perhaps, is more apt.
- 42.02% of India's workforce was estimated to be children between 5 and 14 years of age.
- 68.14% of child labourers were employed in the agriculture sector.
- 16 occupations and 65 processes are included in the list of hazardous work outlawed by the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, updated in 2006. Agriculture is not included in this list.
- Growing rural and urban poverty, combined with a lack of fundamental services such as schools and anganwadis, is pushing children into labour, that may include helping the family, working as goat herds, etc.
Derived from Unit level records of NSS, 2004-2005.
The loss of independent livelihoods in rural India has pushed the marginalised into destitution; the destitute into migratory labour; and the migratory labourers into being trafficked into industries where abuse and mistreatment are the norm, rather than the exception. Underpaid, overworked, starving and oppressed, these families lie trapped within a perpetual loop of poverty. With little or limited access to healthcare, and poor - even exploitative working conditions, sending a child to work is not a choice. It is basic survival.
14-year-old Sambhu from the coal-rich Giridih district of Jharkhand can testify to this. When his father died in a mine accident, Sambhu had to provide for his mother and three younger siblings. The only job available was illegal mining. So Sambhu would descend into a wet, dark pit everyday, and mine coal. Every day he faced the possibility of breaking his neck while descending into the 10-foot pit, of being buried alive, or being hauled into prison for illegally mining coal. The price of survival for Sambhu was Rs. 20/- a day.
A way out
93% of India's workforce is in the unorganised sector. Clearly, given the rise in acute poverty across the country, this situation will only degenerate further unless some action is taken. CRY's work in over 5000 villages across the country has proven that children from families who have access to a livelihood - whether through self-sustainable means or through accessible employment - are less likely to be ensnared in child labour. It has also proven that communities that are aware of their rights and entitlements are less likely to accept exploitation.
Take Sambhu's village for example. Through the initiatives of CRY's on-ground partner, the Jago Foundation, community workers have mobilised children and women into self-help groups and collectives. Together with the community workers, they go door-to-door, convincing people to stand up for their entitlements, and organise demonstrations in front of government officials to demand just wages. The local children's group appoints it's own 'Ministers' in order to understand and imbibe the values of public governance better. Teenage girls have formed groups that keep an eye out for any cases of child marriage, and women's groups have taken on the battle against in alcoholism among the men. Working together, the villagers are developing safer livelihood options that keep people from the open coal pits. Children are now in school and not in labour.
But micro-successes like these will not impact India's staggering poverty statistics, unless backed by a holistic policy.
The Social Security Bill for Unorganised Workers was presented in 2008 with the hopes to provide just that - various social security schemes and suitable welfare schemes that cover the vast unorganised sector in India. If implemented well, it has the potential to provide a safety net to the vast numbers of marginalised families in rural India.
It is a curious condition that pervades the whole country - in spite of an impressive growth in GDP; the benefits are limited to a small section of the population. Those left out share a few common characteristics - socially discriminated, educationally deprived and economically destitute. In addition, their access to viable employment continues to diminish, ultimately leaving them at the mercy of illegal or exploitative labour. In terms of quantity and quality of employment, their options and resources have stagnated, even in this period of accelerated growth.
The government-implemented policies have fallen short of addressing the situation adequately. The implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) has been uneven across the country, and the basic framework of entitlements still needs to be put in place across the country. There have also been massive delays in wage payments in recent months, causing immense hardship to NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) workers. The programme design assures the presence of child care facilities at all sites where more than five children under the age of six are present; however, there are very few on-site child care facilities provided under NREGS work.
Even the Social Security Bill for Unorganised Workers does not clearly specify the ways in which social security will be provided, how an unorganised worker is to be defined to access the benefits of the schemes and whether the new boards that have been set up have powers to make sure that States implement the recommendations.
The NREGS can at best be described as a stop-gap measure, a sort of means to tide-over lean periods in income-generation for the poor and marginalised. However, with the compounded consequences of the agrarian crisis, it has quickly become the only option of a sustainable livelihood. And as such, it fails both the adults and their dependant children, for whom it is the only lifeline.
The limit of 100 days of work per household effectively leaves workers unemployed for 2/3rds of the year. It also restricts employment for other eligible family members who may consequently be forced to find work elsewhere. It leaves the children most vulnerable to the exploitative industries that are usually the only options available.
However, it is clear that while the initiatives implemented still need to be perfected, they are within the vein of improvement. Anecdotal evidence from Rajasthan (Burra, 2006) suggests a 20 per cent reduction in the incidence of migration amongst children and a corresponding increase in school enrolment and retention by 25 percent as an impact of the NREGS. A longitudinal research on childhood poverty (Young Lives) in Andhra Pradesh finds that programme registration reduces the probability of a boy entering child labour by 13.4% points and programme take up reduces it for girls by 8.19% points.
A long way to go
There is clearly an urgent need for a set of additional policies and programmes to help contain the livelihood crisis. In the meantime, a comprehensive expansion plan of the NREGS to include all rural areas of India and the extension of the scheme to urban areas is imperative, and a good place to start, bolstered by a broad Social Security bill that would take care of basic rights such as fair wages and healthcare. The benefits of such an inclusive policy would have far-reaching effects - one that would span generations. This is something we at CRY have seen happening in village after village - when the rights of the parents are guaranteed, the rights and dignity of the child is guaranteed.
The author is CEO of CRY - Child Rights and You.
'The Challenge of Employment in India - An Informal Economy Perspective' - National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector 2009.
Burra, N (2006a) 'NREGA and its impact on child labour: field notes from Dungarpur'. http://www.levy.org/
Vinayak Uppal, 'Is the NREGS a Safety Net for Children?' Young Lives, University of Oxford, 2009