Sep 122012

The Flower Girl

They are nobody’s children.

You see them huddled in little groups at traffic signals. chatting, laughing, occasionally cajoling a motorist for some money. Standing in the rains, on a cold winter’s night, on a scorching hot day. Their presence makes me uncomfortable. At one level it is knowledge that giving money encourages more such behavior. At the other is the knowledge that the will starve if you don’t. So I have come to a compromise with myself – when i travel, it is with little bottles of water (the children have no access to clean portable water on the streets), packets of biscuits. But, it is never enough.

But the question here is why are these children on the streets ? The uncharitable answer is that each of them is an economic unit able to earn money for their ‘family’ unit. There is some vestigal remanents of the “desi ethos’ that says that a woman has a right to her motherhood – and i don’t mean reproductive rights, but the right to bring up a child with mamata. And then there is an overloaded system. In all this the kids are left on the streets to fend for themselves.

There are a plethora of laws that have come into place that may end up  reducing the incidence of children on the streets. The first is The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012It very clearly states that

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 defines a child as any person below the age of 18 years and provides protection to all children under the age of 18 years from the offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography. These offences have been clearly defined for the first time in law.

The second is the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010It provides the

i) Right of children to free and compulsory education till completion of elementary education in a neighborhood school.
(ii) It clarifies that ‘compulsory education’ means obligation of the appropriate government to provide free elementary education and ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education to every child in the six to fourteen age group. ‘Free’ means that no child shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education.
(iii) It makes provisions for a non-admitted child to be admitted to an age appropriate class.
The third is the proposed ammendment to the Child Labour Act
The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved a proposal for amending the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, to ban employment of children aged up to 14 in any form of industry. It will be an offence to employ such children not only in factories or industries but also in homes or on farms, if their labour is meant to serve any commercial interest.
Between these three pieces of legislation it should be theoretically possible to keep children relatively safe. I say relatively, because even the most child friendly laws do not prevent abuse. Children are vulnerable and there will always be people ready to exploit that vulnerability.
There is nothing more dangerous than the streets for a child. The best laws on earth will not help, if the State does not get children off the streets into homes. This cannot be done from Delhi, or indeed from State Capitals. This has to be responsibility of every Corporation, every ward. Children at risk – anyone on the streets – ought to be taken away and placed with foster parents or in children’s homes. The argument is that children’s homes are dens of inequity. Well, the solution is to fix those. Leaving children on the streets at the mercy of the elements, of human predators, of sexual predators needs to stop.
This does not mean bigger government. One is asking for the State to bring up children. Rather, it means the funding of homes run by specialists that keep children safe. It means investing in social workers, teachers, foster parents, so that children most at risk have a better tomorrow. And, the ambit will grow, sooner rather than later, beyond street children.
(first posted on )

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