Last week, papers in the UK reported a horrifying incident that took place in the mining village of Edlington. Two children, aged nine and 11, were tortured to within an inch of their lives.
These children were lured into a waste ground, robbed, beaten, burnt with cigarettes, sexually humiliated, strangled with barbed wire and stabbed while being told that they were going to die. One of the boys was found covered in blood and the other had been hit in the head and left for dead.
Repulsive as any crime on children inherently is, this doesn’t sound unusual so far. The extraordinary aspect about this incident, however, is that the perpetrators of this heinous crime were aged 10 and 11!
These feral children were raised by a violent and drunken father, who beat them and made them fight each other, and a drug-addicted mother. She had seven children from three fathers and abandoned them to the point where the kids foraged and fed themselves from garbage bins.
The Daily Mail called it the symptom of a social and cultural emergency. Suddenly the guilt shifts from the individuals—in this instance small boys—to society at large.
I use the incident to highlight the responsibility that society has towards creating a secure environment for its future generations. And this is a challenge that India faces with respect to its internal security.
How do we make our citizens realize the role they have to play at an individual level in promoting inclusive growth? This is not about moral social service. It is about ensuring the survivability of our children.
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Next time you are on the streets, look around. You’ll see hundreds of street kids who forage, fight and claw their way through life, inch by inch, day after day. You will see babies, drugged and farmed out for begging, children mutilated, injured in accidents and beaten regularly by motorists. As I said, this article is not about moral responsibility. It is about asking a very practical question: What do you think happens to these graduates of the vicious school of street life? Those who survive are deeply scarred, sadistic, with no regard for social values or at least values as we—those who have had a privileged existence—define them.
They become fodder for criminal gangs, drug peddlers, violent crime and terrorism. And the society sets the police on them when they have crossed the point of no return. But we stand by and watch, while they are systematically tottering towards that Rubicon.
Human trafficking is the third largest criminal business in the world. It is also intricately linked to the first two, drugs and illegal arms trade. And this happens right under our noses.
It is ironic that while we are appalled and judgmental about historically barbaric practices such as slave trading or apartheid, human trafficking is a thriving 21st century industry that cannot possibly flourish without being condoned by society or connivance by government.
Most societies tend to look at problems and issues only when they spiral out of control. And then they seek to attack the manifestation of the problem rather than the root cause. It is my firm belief that the widening gap between the two segments of society—the have-nots and the give-nots —is a powder keg waiting for a spark.
And while that has many expressions, there is nothing as shameful as a whole generation of children abandoned to fend for themselves or exploited for commercial benefit. Most citizens can do very little to prevent drug or arms trade. But the exploitation of children is a different matter. It is a clear and present danger to our own children.
Make no mistake—that badly scarred kid begging on the other side of the car window is going to grow into a menace soon. At best—for you, that is—she will be forced into lifelong prostitution or begging and at worst he will turn into a hardened criminal. You might be able to shoo him away now or roll up the window and pretend you don’t see him. But that won’t make him go away. Your child will have to face them when they grow up.
And when they do, for three reasons, my bet is on the kid outside the window. First, the kid outside has been hurt, starved, violated and persecuted. He doesn’t understand the concept of pity, mercy, love or tolerance. He has the same regard for society as society has for him—nothing!
Second, the kid outside the window outnumbers your children by several thousands to one. No matter how tough your child is, she can’t beat those odds. And last, but most importantly, the kid outside has nothing to lose. What can you do to him that life hasn’t already dished out, while you stood by?
This is the single biggest challenge when dealing with terrorists or criminals. Try and recollect the last time you burnt or hurt yourself. Now multiply that a million times and you have an idea of what it takes to strap a pack of explosives around yourself and blow it up. Sure, there are instances of well-to-do children growing into bad cases but those are exceptions proving the rule, that every society will get back what it sows.
Terrorism may begin with an ideology, but it turns into a business and finally into a racket. And the way to fix it is by breaking the racket and then addressing the ideology. I am a believer of direct action. And I am convinced that if any scourge affects a society, it is because the society allows it.
Exploitation of children is a harbinger to criminalization of future generations. And it happens around us because we allow it. Every traffic signal in every major city is infested with a franchised begging model, right under the noses of every official and citizen. And not only do we allow it, we also feed that monster.
I pity the naivete of anyone who does not see the racket for what it is or the debilitating effect it will have on our future generations. I equally question the conscience of a society that ignores it, of the media which does not hammer away at it until it stops, or the citizenry which is not outraged by it.
Because all it takes for evil to flourish is that good men stand by and do nothing.
Raghu Raman is chief executive of corporate risk consulting firm Mahindra Special Services Group that advises companies and organizations on threat assessments and risk mitigation strategies. Respond to this fortnightly column at firstname.lastname@example.org