There are millions of children in India today who spend their childhood on the streets, in railway stations and jail-like shelters, living on the edge and taking each day as it comes. Some have been abandoned; others have chosen to run away from harsher realities at home; yet other have been born on the streets and know no other life.
In Midway Station child-rights activist Lara Shankar records the voices of eleven such children living in shelters in Delhi. We meet, among others, Mohan, who hopped on to a train in Chennai when he was four to escape from his stepmother; Allam, who sends money to his mother whenever he can and visits her in Bihar during id; and Rani, who thinks life in the shelter is too comfortable and looks back with nostalgia on her days as a domestic servant.
What emerges from these narratives is a nightmarish world of poverty and neglect, rape and murder, Mafiosi-like gangs and police brutality. Yet there are redemptive stories of courage too, of friendships made and kindnesses repaid. Poignant and hard-hitting, these real-life stories of homeless children are testimony to their resilience in the face of adversity, their will to carry on and determination to build a life of dignity.
Notions Of Childhood differ within and across cultures. There is no 'One' or 'correct' childhood, but surely there is one ingredient that must be present in all: of being loved and cared for. And so it is that when we think of a child, it is usually in a home within a familial set-up. Apart from providing physical shelter, a home promises care and security. Family members, and their love and support, constitute a home for a child.
The United Nation's Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) recognizes that all children should be able to grow in a happy and loving family environment. When India ratified the UNCRC in 1992, it conferred on India's children rights to survival, development, protection and participation. In addition, one of the guiding principles of the UNCRC, the 'best interest of the child', was to be a primary consideration in all decisions or procedures related to the child.
From the time of Independence, India has shown its commitment against exploitation of children. The Constitution of India enshrines certain rights to a child, based on the premise that a child constitutes the most precious of all human resources. Several laws have been enacted that deal directly or indirectly with the welfare of the child, indicating the conscious efforts of our lawmakers to give special protection to the children in the fields of education, health, labour and so on. For instance, the Factories Act (1948) increased the minimum age for employment in factories from twelve years to fourteen years. Further, the Plantation Labour Act (1951) prohibits employment of children less than twelve years in plantations and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 prohibit the employment of children in 'hazardous' occupations up to the age of fourteen.
Legally, the very definition of who constitutes a child is ambiguous. In India, there was no comprehensive definition of 'who a child is' and the maximum age was set differently in different state and Central acts. However, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000, designed to care for and protect the 'neglected juvenile', defines a child as a person up to eighteen years of age. It applies uniformly to both boys and girls, unlike its predecessor, the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986. the new act is 'more child friendly' and focuses on 'the best interest of the child'. It also seeks to lay down a differential approach towards children in conflict with law and those in need of care and protection, and proposes to provide various alternatives for rehabilitation.
Despite all this, India is home to the largest number of child labourers in the world. In fact child labour has increased from 11.59 million in 1991 to 12.66 million in 2001. and sixty-five million children aged six to fourteen years were not attending any educational institutions in India (Census 2001, releases in 2005). Child labour in our country is a result of complex interrelated economic political, social and cultural factors. The processes of industrialization and urbanization have in turn added to child labour. The prevalence of child labour is often justified by the argument that the child's wages augment the family's income and help to feed their younger siblings. Employers too find it profitable to employ children. Children are more amenable to discipline and cannot organize themselves to fight for their rights. They can also be paid less and be bullied into obedience. Child labour can also be attributed to the lack of awareness among parents of the value and benefits of education. But most significantly, it is poverty that is cited as the main reason for the continuance of child labour. According to the Planning Commission, 260 million people (that is more than one in four people) still live below the poverty line in India. Little wonder then that the number of full-time child labourers runs into the millions thus stating the association between poverty, out-of-school children and child labour.
It is now recognized that domestic child labour is one of the most exploited forms of child labour. Children kept as domestic servants are ill-treated, abused, overworked and underpaid. However, domestic work is not regarded as child Labour (Regulation and Prohibition) Act of 1986 as it comes under the unorganized sector. Those working in the unorganized sector are not protected, and prosecution of the employer is possible only if the age of the child is established, although in poor, illiterate families, to which most child workers children at work makes us equally culpable for the large child labour force in India.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend