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'Allocate at least 6% of GDP for education'

March 31, 2008 14:15 IST

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Chairperson Shantha Sinha talks to Prasad Nichenametla on the Commission's first year.

Set up with the mandate of protecting the rights of the country's children, the Commission has completed one year. How do you see the work done by the body in this one year?

The NCPCR was set up in March 2007, but actually started working from July onwards. As it was the first year, most of our time was spent in understanding the issues, some of which required immediate attention and some a long-term strategy.

All over the country, we held consultations and conducted field studies as I think if we have a consensus over what child rights are, the rest all will be easy to deal with. Overall, I would say that the first year was exploratory in nature.

But there was some action also. Due to our interference, migration of children from Rajasthan to Gujarat to work in the production of hybrid cotton seeds has stopped to some extent.

As many as 1,500 children, who were on their way to work in Gujarat, were returned to their homes. We also called for joint sittings of both states to tackle the issue, which will show its effect in the coming months. Likewise, our presence has made some difference in some other places.

Incidents like Nithari killings are still fresh in the minds of people. What has the Commission done there?

By the time we took charge, Nithari case was being pursued by the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women. We are aware that the issue concerns us more than others but as already some statutory bodies have taken up the matter, we did not take up Nithari. Anyway, it is not just one commission which can deal with such subjects, we need support of all the bodies in such efforts.

Minister for Labour and Employment Oscar Fernandes told Parliament recently that the government was not proposing to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 to prohibit all forms of child labour in the country and wanted to take a sequential approach to the problem...

The present policies only target some children and leave out the rest, this is not right. All children who are out of school should be treated as those involved in work and should be sent back to schools. There should be a campaign in the country for total abolition of child labour. Instead of going according to the system's readiness, we should start looking from the child's angle and what he/she needs.

It is very much possible to abolish all forms of child labour and rehabilitate them. But for that we need conviction that all children who are working should be in schools. If we give half-hearted attempts, they will lead to corresponding results.

Even the National Child Labour Projects seem to have failed in tackling the child labour problem.

The NCLPs don't address the question of abolishing all forms of child labour and instead focus on children in hazardous industries. Even after being provided with much money, they were able to rehabilitate only about 400,000 children till now.

The programme should be implemented not as a scheme but as a policy that involves multiple components like total abolition of child labour, social mobilisation, awareness of the parents and transitional education centres. We should start focusing at ward and panchayat levels where the child will be a face instead of mere statistics in the records.

We also recommended a new National Child Labour Eradication Policy to replace the one formulated in 1987, which will re-examine all laws and policies regarding working children and ensure consistency in the constitutional and legal provisions.

But it seems not so simple. Many a times, parents, due to their economic condition, are forced to send their children to work.

I don't agree with that point. Given a chance, every parent wants his child to be in school, in spite of him being poor. This I have seen while working with MV Foundation (an NGO with which Sinha was associated earlier and is dedicated to rehabilitating child labour and mainstreaming them). No parents want to exploit their children. It is the society which feeds their minds that you cannot send your child to schools. Let us change these arguments first.

In fact, our schools are not ready for first-generation learners. We have not done enough to see that all these children are in schools. More than economic assistance, every parent should be provided with that social impetus to send their children to school. I think the Right to Education Bill, if implemented, will provide that momentum.

What is your take on the proposal to provide biscuits in place of cooked food in anganwadis?

Throughout our field visits, we have observed that fresh, hot food is an efficient way to increase the nutritional levels of the children. We already have arrangements for this, so instead of looking for another option why don't we strengthen the existing systems? Moreover, with community ownership/partnership in such programmes, the child rights will also be protected.

Are you happy with the allocations made in the Budget for the welfare of children?

The basic thing to be provided to a child is education. For that, we have to allocate at least 6 per cent of the GDP for education.

There is no uniformity in definition of a child and his age. While UN Convention on the Rights of the Child puts it at 18 years and below, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act recognises child labour as below 14 years.

Yes, this is an issue. We need to arrive at a benchmark.

You were in academics and actively associated with NGOs like MV Foundation to eradicate child labour. How do you see your responsibility now as the first chairperson of the Commission to protect rights of children in the country?

It is difficult to answer how the change has been, as it is the same work in a different position. But the impact of the Commission will be far more. It is a duty endowed upon us and we have to act very responsibly.

Prasad Nichenametla
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