Protection of Children from Neglect and Abuse in India

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In a country like India, protection of children from abuse and exploitation is a mere exigency owing to the poor socio-economic conditions in a large population base. The provision of child rights has been made to shield safe, protective and caring environment that every child deserves. Child abuse and neglect occur in all types of families, no matter the education, income, race, family size, religion, or any other trait. All states have statutory provisions outlining programs of protective services for children who are neglected and abused. These laws have been made in very important ways by two federal initiatives: The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 and The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980.

The research identifies what population of children is most likely to be effected by abuse and neglect as well as what adults will likely be abusers when they become parents. It also highlights two community intervention efforts for protection of vulnerable children at urban & village levels, New Delhi India. There are many strategies that educators can implement to improve the quality life of the child and ultimately the entire family. In India, the key public health approach should be to avert child maltreatment and to ensure that all children and families have access to school, nutrition, basic health care, besides supportive social welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Introduction

The UN Convention of Rights of Child (UN CRC) (1989) is the most widely endorsed child rights instrument worldwide, which defines children as all persons aged 18 years and under. In the UN CRC, Article 19. 1, Child Protection has been defined as “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to safeguard the child from abuse, negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child. Failure to ensure child right to protection adversely affects all rights. Protection of children is critical to the achievement of Millennium Development goals (MDG). These MDGs can be achieved only if child protection is an integral part of program & strategies to protect children from child labour, child abuse, child marriage, street children, violence in school and various forms of exploitation. Several well developed countries of the world have well developed child protection systems, primarily focused at mandatory reporting, identification and investigations of affected children, and often taking coercive action. The burden of distinctive notifications and investigations is not only on the families, but also on the system, which has to increase it’s resources. In these contexts, the problems of child protection in India, with huge populations, and additional socioeconomic constraints, need serious and wider consideration.

India Country Experiences & Magnitude of Problem

In India, the number of children needing care and protection is huge and increasing. Uncontrolled families, extreme poverty, illiteracy result in provision of very little care to the child during the early formative years. Even services that are freely available are poorly utilized. The urban underprivileged, migrating population (a very sizable number) and rural communities are particularly affected. In large cities, there are serious problems of street children (abandoned and often homeless) and child labourers, employed in menial work. For example in India, there are about 440 million children; about 40% of them are vulnerable or experiencing difficult circumstances. Twenty-seven million babies are born each year. A large majority these births are among the underprivileged section of the population, mostly unplanned and where the parents cannot provide proper care to their children Maternal under nutrition, unsafe deliveries, low birth weight babies and poor newborn care, lack of adequate immunizations, poor nutrition, neglect of early development and education are major issues that need to be appropriately addressed. . As per Government of India (2007) survey, the prevalence of all forms of child abuse are extremely high (physical abuse (66%), sexual abuse (50%) & emotional abuse (50%). In these contexts, India must also seek its own insights and way forward plans to protect their children.

Wider Implications of “Protection”

The term “protection” readily relates to protection from all forms of violence, abuse, and exploitation. However, from India’s perspective, the Indian Child Abuse Neglect & Child Labour (ICANCL) group has strongly propagated the view that “protection” must also include protection from disease, poor nutrition, and illiteracy, in addition to abuse and exploitation. The 9th ISPCAN Asia Pacific Conference of Child Abuse & Neglect (APCCAN 2011) conference outcome document “Delhi declaration” re-confirmed & pledged a resolve to stand against the neglect and abuse of children.

Effective Child Protection Systems

Whose responsibility is it to ensure the safe, caring and protective environment that every child deserves? The UN CRC does not make either family or community or society responsible at large. But it firmly puts the burden on the State. Governments are the ultimate duty bearer. In India, the State should ensure that all vulnerable children have access to school, basic health care, nutrition, besides social welfare and juvenile justice systems. These child protection systems can contribute to break down cycle of inter-generational poverty & exploitation.

Experiment Models of Child Abuse & Neglect

Child Protection for Urban Poor

In India, rapid urbanization is a challenging problem. The present urban population of India is close to 285 million. Preventive social services are abysmal, with high prevalence of abuse & neglect. It is estimated that every year about 2 million children are born amongst urban poor, all needing care and protection. The ICANCL group members volunteer their services for health care & rehabilitation to these vulnerable children at drop in centers (DIC) managed by PCI, a NGO in various slums of the New Delhi. The group also looks after health of street children at one short stay home (Shelter home) in outskirts of the city. The group has served more than 14, 000 street children since year 2000. A shelter home was started in year 2005, where 347 children have been rehabilitated; provided with formal education, vocational skills & job placement. Home repatriation has been achieved in 350 children. The group assists in the following community services to protection of these vulnerable children: (1) Street & Working Children In Urban metropolitan cities, street children are migrants from underserved states and have no formal education or job skills. Moreover, crèche and day care services are provided to these orphan and vulnerable children. (2) Education & Health Services for Urban Poor The group runs an ongoing campaign to put “Every Child in School, ” to promote child protection and optimum development. Advocacy efforts made to retain children in school within the framework of Government programs, such as sarva shiksha abhiyan & Right to Education (RTE).

Protection of Children In Underserved Rural Village

The ICANCL Group has developed a model for protection of children in an underserved village Bhango, district Nuh-Mewat, Haryana, which is primarily focused on provision of primary education and basic health care. Village Bhango is situated about 70 km from New Delhi; has a Population 1, 300. [Adults: 592 (M 311 & F 281) and Children: 708]. Before the group started work, the only Government Primary School had low enrollment rate, high school drop outs, poor infrastructure, no toilets, teacher absenteeism and irregular administration of mid day meals. For the past 6 years, the ICANCL group volunteers have monitored the school program on an ongoing basis with the help of local village panchayat (local self government) education committee, which comprised of sarpanch (head man) and some senior community members. An extra English remedial teacher was hired. Repair of building, safe water and regular mid day meals were administered. The government administration was approached to report teacher absenteeism and effective implementation of their program. In a period of 2 years, the school had enhanced enrollment, no drop outs, and improved school performance. The key to the success of this initiative was due to a clear responsibility and accountability of Panchayat officials, teachers, community ownership and participation.

What We Have Learnt?

In the process of voluntary service in underserved regions of our country, we learnt some important lessons from the vulnerable families and communities. The most important lesson was that public awareness regarding child abuse & neglect has to be raised & attitudes of society have to change. Children should have the basic knowledge regarding life skills and child rights. Moreover, Governments should encourage public discussions on child maltreatment. The media has an important role to play in this regard. Legislation alone will not bring sufficient impact but alongwith it the awareness and public attitudes need to be changed. Nevertheless, the consistent implementation & enforcement of legislative framework is very important. The key challenge in India remains their enforcement and the fact that there is a certain degree of impunity for those violating the law. Thus if one compares the ubiquity of child marriage in India (43% of women aged 20–24 were married before they were 18) and the numbers of people prosecuted for violating the anti-child marriage law (a few hundred per year, at best), it is evident that the law is not enforced.

Child Protection: Assigning Responsibility

Generally, the parents are held responsible for proper care and protection of their child. The birth of Every child should be planned and all births registered. However, the child must not suffer in case the parents can’t provide care and protection. It is the obligation of the proximate community and the Government at to address the issues of care and protection.

Education and Empowerment Of Families

The magnitude and seriousness of the problems of underprivileged children are too great to be tackled through “external” measures. The child must be the responsibility of the parents, the family and the proximate community. The families and the community must be educated and empowered so that they can take the proper care and protection of their children. Parenting skills, alternative forms of discipline and basic support to vulnerable families must be expanded. In India, the Government cannot afford to separate children from their vulnerable families and place them in institutions.

Role of The Community

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Wherever the parents are unable to take care and protect the child, the proximate community and their elected representatives must take up that responsibility. Thus, in the village, panchayat officials (local self government) and in the urban areas, the elected members must ensure that every child is in school, receives basic health care and protection from child abuse & neglect.

Role of Non Government Organization’s (NGO’s)

A large number of NGOs are involved in the field of child welfare and child protection. However, owing to the huge numbers of children requiring protection, their efforts can make only a marginal impact. However, they should coordinate their child welfare activities and need to work together.

Role of Government

The ultimate responsibility to protect its nation’s children lies with the Government. By ratification of International instruments such as UN CRC & UN General comments #13, the Government’s should commit appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to prevent and protect children from maltreatment. In 1992, the obligations of the UN Convention was accepted on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In the last two decades, the government has taken several steps towards publically advance children’s rights. These include the formation of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (2005) and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000 (amended in 2006), Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006), a National Plan of Action for children (2005), Right to Information (RTI) 2005, the Goa Children (amendment) Act 2005, the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 (two notifications in 2006 & 2008), Integrated Child Protection Scheme (2009) and advancing various legislations such as Right to Education Bill (2009) & Prevention of children from Sexual Offences (POCSO Act 2012) to protect, promote and defend child rights in the country. [footnoteRef:15] However still, there is a wide gap between policy & implementation/practice & outcome, and millions of children fall through the gaps.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000 (amended in 2006) was a key step in the right direction by Government of India. It established a framework for both children in need of care and protection and for children in contact with the law. However, further harmonization is needed with other existing laws, such as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act 1986 or the Right to Education Act 2009. Important contradictions exist among these laws, starting with the definition and age of the child. Conflict with personal laws should also be addressed, ensuring universal protection of children, regardless of the community they belong to.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was established by the Government of India in March 2007 by an Act of Parliament, with a wide mandate and considerable powers. The Delhi Commission for protection of child rights was started in July 2008. Similar bodies at State level have been pursuing various matters concerning child rights and protection. Telephonic help lines (CHILDLINE 1098) and Child Welfare Committees (CWC) have been established, where reports of child abuse or a child likely to be threatened to be harmed can be made and help sought.

Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) The Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India has launched an Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) (2009), which is expected to significantly contribute to the realization of State responsibility for creating a system that will efficiently and effectively protect children. It is meant to institutionalize essential services and strengthen structures, enhance capacity at all levels, create database and knowledge base for child protection services, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, specifically strengthen child protection at family and community level and ensure appropriate inter-sectoral response at all levels and raise public awareness.

Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO Act 2012)

Address the issue of sexual offences committed against children, which until now had been tried under laws that did not differentiate between adult and child victims. The punishments provided in the law are also stringent and are commensurate with the gravity of the offence. Under this act, various child friendly procedures are put in place at various stages of the judicial process. Also, the Special Court is to complete the trial within a period of one year, as far as possible. Disclosing the name of the child in the media is a punishable offence, punishable by up to one year. The law provides for relief and rehabilitation of the child, as soon as the complaint is made to the Special Juvenile Police Unit (SJPU) or to the local police. Immediate & adequate care and protection (such as admitting the child into a shelter home or to the nearest hospital within twenty-four hours of the report) are provided. The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) is also required to be notified within 24 hours of recording the complaint. Moreover for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) to monitor the implementation of the Act.

Public Health Approach

Given a large population and socio-economic constraints in developing countries, a public health approach system response to primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of child maltreatment is urgently needed. More vulnerable groups with greater, unemployment, poverty, migr, parents with mental health problems, migrant workers, substance, domestic violence and disabilities are at greater risk. In order to make a social & public health impact, the Government should integrate its social welfare policies and child protection scheme; ensure their proper implementation and effective convergence at the grass root levels. Use of maternal & child health (MCH) services, integrated child development schemes (ICDS) can broaden the pediatric surveillance role of community workers in the community. The children subjected to maltreatment should be quickly assessed and provided treatment and appropriate secure placement to avoid further damage in situation where it is unsafe for children to remain at home. In India, there is also a big need for appropriately trained human resources and adequate child protection budgets. The analysis of Indian child budget data revealed only 0. 3% of child budget is allocated to child protection. The officials should also ensure that Governmental funds are properly utilized.

Role of Professionals, Corporate Sector, Religious Institutions

The professionals, all educated persons, corporate sector and religious institutions must help in child protection and child welfare. There is a need of major attitudinal change in the civil society. The policymakers must heard the child’s voice. Attitudes, Traditions, customs, behavior & Practices refers to social norms and traditions that condemn harmful practices and support those that are protective. There are many protective traditions and practices, such as strong family values that exists in the socciety. However, certain stereotypes, attitudes and social norms that violate the rights of the child also persist, such as the use of corporal punishment as a way to discipline children or the social acceptance of child labour.

Monitoring, Data collection, Research & Evaluation

Monitoring effective systems of data collection, routine monitoring, research and evaluation are necessary to assess progress in the protection of children. In most countries, as well as in India, there is limited data on child protection. We can collect the data from the existing census on birth registration, child marriage, child sex ratio etc. However, Data is difficult to find in many forms of violence, such as sexual abuse, exploitation, trafficking, etc. , which thrive on secrecy. It is important to have reliable data in order to promote inter-sectoral and regional strategies and best practices in child protection and their evolution over time.

Recommendation

In India, child rights, protection and exploitation (street children, child labour, trafficking etc. ) are intimately linked to poor socioeconomic conditions in a large population base. Early child health care, education, survival, nutrition, development and child protection are most important child rights. Illiterate parents are ignorant of their children rights. They must be made aware of child rights, must demand and fight to obtain them. Multidisciplinary child professionals should work together and monitor the government efforts in protection of child rights. They should be able to collate available national child health indicators, address key issues and concerns in their region, involve children in research and facilitate their participation in projects and policy development. There is an urgent need to assign responsibility and accountability to Government, elected representatives, policy makers, proximate community and education and empowerment of families. In any case, a child must not suffer, if the parents can’t provide care and protect.

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