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Challenges And Innovations In Child Protection In India: Seminar Hosted By FXB India Suraksha And Harvard FXB Center For Health And Human Rights

The Seminar on Child Protection in India underway in New Delhi.

 

Every year in India, millions of children are trafficked for forced labour, to work long hours in highly exploitative conditions. The 2011 Census of India estimated 4.3 million children were engaged in child labour. Government statistics indicated over 126,000 cases of trafficking for child labour were registered during 2011-13. In recent times there has been official recognition of the immensity of the problem and administrative efforts have led to the rescue of a small proportion of these children are rescued and returned to their home states. However, a large number of loopholes remain. The vulnerable children are simply removed from workplaces and returned to where they came from, leaving them “exposed to the same structural vulnerabilities that led to their being originally trafficked, with the predictable outcome that many of them are re-trafficked” as found by the Harvard - FXB report. Thus perpetuating this social menace.

Harvard FXB Center For Health And Human Rights (henceforth. FXB Harvard) in collaboration with FXB India Suraksha (henceforth. FXBIS)  conducted an extensive survey with 49 experts (from government and civil society) in the source state of Bihar, the transit state of Delhi and the destination state of Rajasthan on the child protection mechanism existent in India. Based on this survey, a report titled, 'Is this Protection? Analyzing India's Approach to the rescue and reintegration of children Trafficked for Labor Exploitation, was released.  The report studying trends in human trafficking and the legal lacunas in dealing with the issue is a culmination of rigorous research over two and half years.

A series of dissemination seminars for the report jointly organized by FXB Harvard and FXBIS was held at New Delhi , Patna and Jaipur in July, 2016. The seminar by design coincided with the unveiling of a new draft bill by the Government of India in June 2016.  This bill is hailed as a reformulation of the existing law into the country’s first-ever comprehensive anti-trafficking law and commended for strengthening criminal investigation and prosecution processes. However many see this bill as adding another layer of superfluous committees to an already crowded institutional landscape. Hence, another missed opportunity to take comprehensive action to address widespread exploitation, especially the trafficking of children for their labor. The seminars formed a platform for representatives from Government, law enforcement , academia and civil society to locate solutions addressing the inconsistency between existing policy and legal commitments and on-the-ground realities.

 

Reflections from the seminar

The seminars witnessed representation from a broad spectrum of stakeholders that included Government officials, law makers, law enforcement officials, media, academia and civil society activists.

The discussion in New Delhi as the policy making center of the country veered towards the need for improvisation and innovations in the implementation of child protection law and policies. The speakers highlighted the extensive politico- legal tradition in addressing the issues studied in the report. Several points of common concern came out of the discussion and these included the need for consultation and cooperation between different sections of the Government and administration, between law enforcement and civil society, better monitoring tools for the effective implementation of the legal framework and stricter implementation of the penalties against violators

 Though not a panacea, the participants agreed that increased attention to reintegration will vitalize the child protection mechanism in India and can prevent multiple trauma for the children and their families.  Tanishtha Dutta , Child Protection Specialist  at UNICEF highlighted,  "The platforms and modus operandi of exploitation of children have changed. These networks have assailed the online space and hence law enforcement agencies need to take cognizance of the increased sophistication of perpetrators". She gave example of the sexual offences rampant in the travel and tourism sector studied by ECPAT to show how the perpetrators and eluding law enforcement agencies using innovative dubious business strategies. Hisham Mundol, Director, Children's Investment Fund Foundation argued," We need to make child protection a vote winning political issue and not simply a development issue. Only then will it be attractive to the leaders and generate the political will essential in curbing the problem"

Bihar was chosen as a part of the research because of its foremost position as a source state for child labor. The topics for discussion at Patna naturally veered towards demography, rehabilitation and compensation for victims and their families. Participants agreed that it is children from socially, culturally and economically marginalized backgrounds including Dalits and girls from districts bordering Nepal. They emphasized on the need to develop a sense of security as families may make bad choices if they do not see an alternative. Bihar being a source state, the issue of repatriation and inter-state cooperation was keenly debated. Participants expressed concern about the lack of verifiable data on the number of children who are trafficked and clarity on post harm protocol. Ms. Anusuya from the CID, Bihar in explaining the importance of keeping records said "90% cases of missing children are never found due to lack of data". The participants agreed that rehabilitation should not be cosmetic and greater monitoring of the activities of the Child Welfare Committees is critical. A key recommendation coming out of the seminar was to bolster intelligence gathering as instrumental in the prosecution of perpetrators. The Labor Commissioner for Bihar, Mr. Gopal Meena, called for an “integrated child rights database that is accessible to all stakeholders, with appropriate restrictions, to facilitate information sharing.”

As its final leg in Jaipur, Rajasthan focus of the seminar shifted to the process of rescue, the judicial process and rehabilitation. Many of them recounted how Operation Muskan became an advertising gimmick. That the lack of a follow up mechanism that acts on the vulnerabilities of children and young people meant that the rescued child is often re-trafficked and is rescued again. A vicious circle that has stymied the system.  Rajasthan is a destination for child traffickers and hence prosecution of perpetrators is crucial to prevention of child trafficking. Govind Beniwal of Antakshari Foundation redefined the debate on crime against children. "He said that the trafficking should be recognized as a crime and the the prime responsibility to reduce crime lies on the police. Other organizations play a complementary role and cannot be seen as equally accountable in stopping this crime. The prosecution of perpetrators is dependent on recognizing trafficking as a crime.

The importance of an integrated social and child protection policy to prevent trafficking was the key implementation point according to the participants' at all three venues.  'A social consensus and a legal framework against child labor are present. This consensus however has to be strengthened in the implementation phase' concurred the report authors and researchers, together with seminar participants and they agreed to collaborate on advocacy around these issues. Only committed and sustained interventions on improved and consistent training for all anti-trafficking caseworkers (including police officers, social welfare officials, labor inspectors and NGO workers) and more vigorous interagency efforts to support long-term reintegration and protection of at risk children were the other action items agreed upon.

Have the glimpse of the Seminar here- https://www.flickr.com/photos/88471363N07/albums/72157670807180942

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