Childhood: Poisoning the Roots

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We produce destructive people by the way we are treating them in childhood. - Alice Miller.

The calmness of morning, breezing of fresh air, red sky due to brightening of sun, glittering of dew due to reflection of sun rays and then I saw a hand appearing to pick some metallic can. He must be no more than 10 years, fully dressed still naked more than half. It dawned upon me just after dawn that is it not setting of a nation’s future? Childhood has never meant to be as such irrespective of where a child is born.

In spite of innumerable acts made by the government and sincere efforts of Non-government organizations, the child labour which is defined as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development” by International Labour Organization is still a reality. In fact ground reality is worse than facts and figures reality. Still for the sake of record, there are around 168 million child labourers in the world, out of which 85 million directly compromise on their health and safety of life and each year 22,000 children die in work related mishaps. 58.6 % works in agriculture sector while 8.4 million children are rusting in a range of illicit activities such as trafficking, drug selling, prostitution, pornography and other. (source)

The definition of child labour emphasize upon the nature of work done by children which nip their potential in the bud, abandon their dignity and hampers physical as well as mental development. But allow me to extend the argument of this definition by mentioning that a number of children are child labour by birth. They are brought into this world to be a part of unfortunate child labourers community. Before you get judgmental and write me off as insane or opiated, please read.

As per the Global Survey Report released by the Save the Children recently, 42% children in India are A poem by the author.underweight and 58% children are stunted by two years of age. Malnutrition not only limits development and the capacity to learn but also costs lives: about 50 percent of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition. Is this not a subtle form of child labour? If you argue just for the sake of argument, I may concede without much caring about child labour as loss of childhood is more important to me. Child labour is just a fringe of loss childhood. Over 4.37 lakh school children are suffering from anaemia and malnutrition in Gujarat alone (Indian Express: 7/7/2013).

Experts say development of a child till the age of 5 years determines how he or she would perform in the rest of their lives. Malnutrition either kills or make them mentally weak denying a good life. They seldom come out from this saddening condition. If you take the case of another state Uttar Pradesh, every second child is undernourished. This fact is responsible for high under-five mortality which is 85 and 94 out of 1000 in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively (Hindustan Times: 1/3/2013).

If few lucky children survive these then comes the act of ‘child abuse’ which is capable of giving lifelong scar mentally. Sometime the scar is so scaring that child behaves with anguish towards society or has a breakdown and ends taking his own life. This happens everywhere - from home to school or hospital to theatre. There is law but toothless and above all such cases are seldom reported! 

In India, more than half (53 percent) children are subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse (source). Police stations in the Andhra Pradesh registered over 500 cases of sexual abuse of minors in educational institutions only, including 121 cases in Hyderabad alone in few months of last year. (Times of India: 16/9/2013). 

If this is case of place considered as temple of knowledge, one can imagine ground realities. Is this not denying the childhood? Why does physical lust not sparing even helpless children? It is worth mentioning here that all these children were normal children but we, the ‘good’ people, ruined their childhood just for carnal satisfaction. However, they are children born due to heinous act of lust termed as rape. Either they are killed or abandoned to die. They eventually make child labourer force. Were they not born to be child labourer? 

Take a case of Orissa; one can find a number of children born out of alleged rapes in different parts of the state, who are leading a pathetic life in the absence of any government support to raise them. (Times of India: 9/1/2013). 

Recently it was reported that nearly 10,000 children, including girls, have been "recruited" by Maoists across Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand to serve as intelligence gatherers or perform chores as cooks and couriers. Though these minor recruits - mostly aged 10 to 15 year - don't carry arms; they are given the basic training to handle weapons. While around 3,000-4,000 children alone stand enrolled into ‘bal sangham’ in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, the young hands working for Maoists in Jharkhand and Bihar are organized under 'bal dasta'. The modus operandi of recruiting these minors involves prevailing upon the local tribal families to "give up" one of their children to the Maoists. Usually, the villagers have little choice but to oblige. Is bal sangham and bal dasta should not be seen as child labour at worst?

If childhood continued to be poisoned in such manners then nobody should dream of a better future. These same children will be in command and they will sow what they are reaping!

Postdoctoral Fellow
Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland

Dr. Siddharth Suman is a freelancer writing especially on societal issues, science, and education in both Hindi and English for various online media houses. In addition, he loves to write poetry and short story for the expression of personal emotions and thoughts. His poetry book titled 'Evaporating Soul — between love and life' may be read at Kindle.


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