All the child welfare programmes, legal and constitutional provisions are aimed to save children from violence, exploitation, neglect, deprivation and discrimination. As per United Nations Convention on Child Rights (UNCRC) and Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015, any person below the age of 18 is a child. In pursuance to the United Nations Child Rights Convention, of which India is a signatory, it is obligatory for the signatory nations to ensure children have access to a list of child rights. The four important sets of child rights are:
• The Right to Survival: According to the convention, the Right to Survival includes the right to life, the attainable standard of health, nutrition and an adequate standard of living. It also includes the right to a name and nationality.
• The Right to Protection: According to the Convention, this right includes freedom from all forms of exploitation, abuse and inhuman or degrading treatment. This includes the right to special protection in situations of emergency and armed conflict. The aim is simple, to protect vulnerable children from those who would take advantage of them and to safeguard their minds and bodies.
• The Right to Development: This right includes the right o be educated, to receive support for development and care during early childhood and to social security. It also includes the right to leisure, to recreation and to cultural activities.
• Right to freedom of thought and expression: According to the Convention, the Right to Participation accords the child access to appropriate information and the freedom of thought and expression, conscience and religion.
The Constitution of India recognizes children as equal right holder and grants highest priority for their protection and well-being. A strong legal framework has been put in place to protect child rights and safeguard them. The legal provisions include: Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 (JJ Act); the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 (POCSO Act); Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act 1994; the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act 2005 (NCPCR); the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act); Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006; the National Policy for Children, 2013; and Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016.
Every child has the right to protection. This not only includes children who are in different circumstances and those who have suffered violence, abuse and exploitation, but also those who are not in any of these adverse situations and yet need to be protected in order to ensure that they remain within the social security and protection net. Child protection is about protecting children from or against any perceived or real danger/risk to their life, their personhood and childhood. It is about reducing their vulnerability to any kind of harm and in harmful situations.
Child protection is integrally linked to every other right of the child. The failure to ensure children’s right to protection adversely affects all other rights of the child and the development of the full potential of the child. Child protection must relate to children’s capacity for self-reliance, self defence, and to the roles and responsibilities of family, community, society and state. The need to protect some children is certainly greater than others due to their specific socio-economic and political circumstances and geographical location. These are the children who are more vulnerable in terms of the harm/ danger/ risk to their right to survival/ development/ participation.
Children if subjected to abuse can suffer serious effects with regards to their physical growth, mental makeup, social adjustment and psychological development. The state, NGOs, society, institutions and parents need to put their heads together to safeguard child rights. The government has to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that the child rights are not violated and they are given proper environment to live their childhood happily.
The responsibility of disseminating knowledge about the rights and perks that the children are entitled also lies on the government. Programmes of sensitising society in general and parents in particular regarding the proper upbringing of children, rights they are entitled to, and the welfare programmes meant for them lies on the state and the same can be carried out through educational institutions more specifically. In this context, the causes, symptoms and prevention of child abuse, too, need to be brought into limelight so that appropriate steps are taken in case such abuse in any form is witnessed anywhere.
Educational institutions have a great responsibility in relation to safeguarding/ protecting children and promoting the welfare of children, individually and collectively. It is in these institutions where holistic development of the child is envisaged. Children are sensitised about different kinds of abuses and protection thereof, ensuring their wellbeing, proper physical, mental and ethical development, and that they cherish their due rights and live their childhood joyfully.
Equally, promoting child welfare and ensuring upholding of child rights are needed to prevent child abuse. The various kinds of abuses that children are subjected to can be broadly categorized into: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. Children usually manifest their abuse through withdrawal from friends or usual activities, changes in behaviour (such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity) or changes in school performance, depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence, sleep problems and nightmares, rebellious or defiant behavior, mood swings, self-harm or attempts of suicide. Besides short-term effects, child abuse can result in long-term and irreparable mental trauma. Every member of the society has to realize that children are the supremely precious asset of a nation. Their wellbeing, upbringing and development should not be compromised with at any cost.
The child protection policies, child welfare programmes and child safety and safeguarding initiatives need to be given wide publicity besides sensitisation of general public about the various kinds of child abuses, so that on the one hand precautionary steps are taken and on the other hand the abuses, neglect, exploitation, stigmatisation, deprivation, discrimination, abandonment, trafficking of children is avoided to the maximum extent possible. In this regard, Child Rights/ Welfare non government organizations (NGOs) such as Save the Children, Child Rights and You, Smile Foundation, HCL Foundation etc have to shoulder the major responsibility and ensure protection of child rights and their safeguarding. These NGOs play a vital role in mobilising the general public, identifying child abuse cases, reaching out to vulnerable children and rehabilitating the affected children.
The writer is a teacher at GHSS Khag. [email protected]