By Rama Srinivasan
New Delhi, 11 September 2007: “Every aspect of our lives bears evidence to a child’s exploitation, vulnerability and drudgery. Behind our smug well-being is the loss of childhood for many,” Dr Shantha Sinha, Chairperson of the newly formed National Commission for Protection for Child Rights (NCPCR), said while addressing her first formal meeting with media persons on Tuesday.
Every aspect of our lives bears evidence to a child’s exploitation, vulnerability and drudgery.
This soft-spoken yet forceful Ramon Magsaysay Award winner has just three members on board and a three year mandate to make this country a better place to live for its children but she insists that the team is not overwhelmed.
As she and her team members enumerated the focus areas, strategies and the powers of the Commission, they did not shy away from criticizing the existing structures. “We have one of the largest networks of schools and anganwadis, i.e., the institutional framework for the protection of child rights is in place, but their services are woeful,” says Sinha.
The commission was formed under The Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 but started functioning only in mid-June of this year. Although the structures are still evolving, Dr Sinha insists that during their field visits they came across several committed officials at the ground level and hopes to show results in the three years that the commission has to do the job.
Child labour is naturally high on their priority but the commission believes that without universalisation of education, its abolition would be impossible.
They also intend to target the inadequacy of the law prohibiting child labour, which doesn’t prohibit families engaged in agriculture or other enterprises from engaging their children in work.
The Juvenile Justice Act is also under scrutiny of this four member committee.
Criticizing the policy of focusing on the protection of rights of children in the age group of 6-14, the commission seeks to address the concerns of 0-6, including malnourishment and the Infant Mortality Rate.
Dr Sinha in fact proposes different parameters for all age groups of children, including pre-zero in India’s case, given the widespread prevalence of infanticide.
Describing the powers of the commission, Ms. Dipa Dixit, another NCPCR member said that the commission is also empowered to give recommendations to state and central government and carry out independent investigations.
The members can make recommendations to the Planning Commission on policies and their implementation. It can also take suo moto action on the basis of media reports and move civil courts seeking directives on the basis of their findings.
The Commission’s priorities are to conduct more research and collect data on trafficking, children forced into the sex trade and child labour.
The members asked media to bring forward more stories of violation of child rights, which can then be tackled by the commission through summons and filing of affidavits.
The commission believes that awareness is the key to protection of child rights and hence the members want to educate the public through the media on discouraging domestic labour and urge the corporate sector to check the use of child labour in their supply chain.
“A society that doesn’t employ child labour ensures higher wages for the adults and hence, is key to the well-being of parents as well as children. Children are not food security providers and the society needs to realise this,” said Dr Sinha, who has a mammoth task ahead of her.