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Bangalore, November 2006

Conference Report. Child Rights situation today

Dileep Kamats experience at Belgaum.

Speaker : Ashok Mathew Philip

Chairperson : Baby Paul

According to Ashok Mathew Philip, ‘child rights’ is becoming a popular idea in the country since it is less controversial and a soft human rights issue. In India the worse form of child rights violation is in the form of child labour.

Mathew Philip explained about a situation which led them to the idea of starting non-formal education centers for children who are working in Sericulture Units. Though they were getting education these children are continued as child labourers. To most of the children it became an overburden. Later they understood that this will not make much difference in the life of these children.

So they decided to move to the policy level. They met the labour commissioner and made him to visit the place where children are working. And immediately after this organized a public hearing in Margadi town under the banner of Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL), where 25 child labourers participated. This programme grabbed attention of the Media. And as follow up of this, Advocate Ram Babu submitted a PIL in the High Court of Karnataka on this issue. On this PIL a historical judgment has come out to prohibit and regulate child labour and the Court asked the department to release all the child labourers. At the very same time UNICEF started a project for running four bridge schools for child labourers.

He opined that the problem with the education system is the important cause for increasing child labour in the country and hence education is the only alternative to child labour. But unfortunately there is no legal backing for this. Education is in the directive principles of the state policy till the 86th Constitutional amendment. So it will never be a priority to the state.

Educational activists and movements like CACL campaigned for the constitutional amendment to include education as a fundamental right and for this organised several programmes including round table discussion in the Parliament.

The constitution has amended three years before and this 86th amendment of the constitution included education as a fundamental right and as part of the Right to Live. Now there is a hope for educational activists since it offer right to free and compulsory education to all the children.

But the right is only to children who are in the age group of 6 to 14. But what about the children in the age group of 0 to 6. If an Anganwadi is closed down there is no remedy at all. There is no legal backing to advocate for this.

Even though India has adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children in 1992 definition of children under various laws differs. The only law which adopts the same definition as CRC is the Juvenile Justice Act 2002. Most of the laws define children as those who belong to the age group under 14. This reflects in the survey figures also.

In Uduppi district one school denied admission to a child belong to Scheduled Caste. On this issue a WRIT Petition filed saying that Article 21A is violated in the case of this child. When the teachers came to know about this they themselves approached the parents of the student and requested them to withdraw the petition.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Children every child has right to survival, protection, development and participation. If a school denies admission to a child it is denial of their right to development.

Among all form of the employment the domestic work seems to be the worst form since the children are more vulnerable to physical, mental and verbal abuse and exploitation. Recently Article 24 of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 has amended by including domestic work and work in hotels, restaurants and dabbas under the category of hazardous employment.

Even before this amendment Karnataka government has released a GO prohibiting the employment of children as domestic workers by government employees. Also some of the corporate sectors included this as a norm in their policy.

Under the minimum wages notification also child labour has banned. But there is no penalty for those who are employing children.

Child Labour (Prohibition and regulation) Act, 1986 gives a penalty of Rs. 25,000 for those who are employing children. This amount is a corpus fund to be ministered by the District Collector and this amount to be utilized for generating employment to the parents of the child labourers. Studies show that there is a large amount of money in this account; but not using for the purpose.

As per the Right to Education Bill, which is drafted by centre and send to each states as a model to draft its own, make education a compulsory one. It is the responsibility of the parents and local civil society groups to see the children are getting quality education. By ensuring that the committees like SDMC – School Development Monitoring Committee - are working properly the work can be started in a village. Enrollment campaigns can make a remarkable difference in ensuring that each child in the village is enrolled in schools.

Any child who is out of school is a child labourer. Poverty can be seen as a major problem and food security is the need of the country. By withdrawing children from employment it is possible to generate more employment chances to adults.

Child Rights in the context of Tribal Children : Baby Paul

The historical deprivation of access to resources and opportunities to the Tribals of India is very evident also in the educational status of the Tribals. There is a growing gap between literacy rates of ST communities and general population (29.60% as against the national average of 52.21 %).

The Right to Education Bill (2005) makes Education compulsory and free for children within the age group of 6 to 14. But what about the children who die out of poverty and illness related to malnutrition, even before the age of 6 ? Is it their fault they died when they were not even 6? Did we look in to the matter whether there are some ICDS centers around their habitat?

When coming to enrollment, the campaign for enrollment is ok, but what about after that ?

The child enrolled in to the 1st standard, for the first time hears an alien language. The medium of instruction is not in their mother tongue. The teachers generally do not want to entertain children who have come in a shabby appearance. They love to be with the butterfly children. The Tribal children are always subjected to verbal abuse. From the very beginning the children are cornered; never attended. They are considered to be children coming for the noon meals.

They continue to be in school for one or two years out of the fear towards their parents. A large number of ST students drop-out at lower levels of school education. From 3rd standard onwards they refuse to go to school. They go to Kodagu for ginger and the like cultivations along with their parents.

There is no tribal representation in PTA, MPTA or VECs etc. What is the meaning of punishing a tribal parent (The Right to Education Bill, 2005) who has failed in sending his child to school ; he himself does not know where to go.

The ban on child labour in eateries and households may not become effective in the absence of adequate rehabilitation mechanisms

Elimination of child labour and poverty and retention of children in schools are linked intrinsically. The failure to implement the statute change making education a fundamental right is proof of the government’s apathy. According to figures from the office of the Registrar-General of India, in 2001 there were 1.26 crore working children in the 5-14 age group as compared to 1.13 crore in 1991. The country is nowhere near the elimination or even the mitigation of child labour.

In this context it should be noted that recognition of the rights of the tribal communities is the only to realize the rights of tribal children.

Discussions :

Simon Joseph : The greatest hurdle for the poor is livelihood. With the poor economy it is very difficult for them to meet the expensive education. The schemes like SGRY (Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojna) and the Acts NREGA & RTI give hope to the rural poor. Instead of making education common to all government is trying to satisfy the poor with some cheaper alternatives like bridge education. By doing so the government is dividing the citizens of India as rich and poor. Enhancing the quality of education is the need of the hour. Common school system can be an alternative to reduce this widening gap.

Baby Paul : Government is happy to close down schools and they are asking private sector to control the sector. We need to see that the government schools are functioning properly. The quality of education is a question of local governance.

Shiju : It has been noted while working with the local PRIs that they are more interested in the infrastructure facility of the school than the quality. The schools except those run under SSA are not at all child friendly.

Mathew Philip : Even though there is a GO banning corporal punishment in schools it continues in several schools. Without legislative support which prohibit corporal punishment and humiliation the GO can not be implemented. SICHREM is closely working with 64 schools in Kerala and Karnataka and trying to incorporate human rights education as part of the syllabus. To an extend we are successful in making the teachers aware about the consequences of corporal punishment. The Kerala High Court is permitting corporal punishment if it is done in good faith.

Raghavendra : In Tribal residential schools the teachers are not from the tribal community and they are insensitive to the need of the tribal children where majority are first time learners. The retention rate is very low even in these schools. It is not because the children are not interested in education it is because of the school atmosphere there is a large number of drop-out among tribal children.

Ram : By responding to the statement of Raghavendra he suggested that there should be an equal proportion of tribal teachers to the tribal children.

Towfeeq : By using the RTI Act we collected data on the mid-day meal schemes in schools from the government and we were able to make it sure that it is implementing in schools around us.

Ram : Tribals always find it difficult to survive during the month of April and May. These are the same months schools are also closing for summer vacation. Most of the tribal hamlets will be under extreme poverty. There should be a provision to supply mid-day meals to children throughout the year.

Mathew Philip : It is a fact that there are a lot of brain wash on children from their parents due to their ignorance on the importance of education. Parents consider them as a support in earning. So they encourage children to work with them. Children also find it comfortable because they will get some pocket money and they have freedom. They pick up all kinds of anti-social behaviours from the working atmosphere.

There should be some effort to regularize child labour by providing them some kind of security, health facility and non-formal education. The concept of flexi schools for child labourers gives some relief and become a platform to educate them on their rights. Some of the organizations working with children are succeeded in organizing the children in order to fight for their rights and hence trying to make their right to participation a reality.

Baby Paul : By concluding this session on Child Rights Situation Today he said it is always better to remember the Kumbakonam incident where a number of children became victims of the negligence of the state. The feeling of insecurity is increasing day by day. There is an urgent need to work together for making child rights a reality.