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The photo of Alexander having a meal with four street children at a Delhi restaurant that went viral on social media.
The photo of Alexander having a meal with four street children at a Delhi restaurant that went viral on social media.

Safeguarding child rights and interests

A picture shared on Facebook by one of our reporters, Asit Ranjan Mishra, who by chance met a doctor from Kochi at a Delhi restaurant having a meal with four street children went viral. We invited the paediatrician and a child rights advocate to share his thoughts on Children's' Day

This day—14 November—belongs to us, the children of India, who do not have a voice, with no rights, only to be told that we are the future with all the responsibilities thrust on us.

Let us start the day with this invocation:

Our leaders, who art in Delhi

Honoured be thy name

Thy governance will come; thy laws will be done on our soil,

As it is, in many parts of the world

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us for our mundane mistakes

As we forgive those who abuse and abandon us

Lead us not into temptations of addiction to technology

Teach us values and help us differentiate right from wrong

Deliver us from our predators and protect us from the great Indian pornographic Revolution

For thine is the kingdom, the power and glory forever and ever, Amen

On the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, are we today providing a better and safer environment for our children? Do they have any rights at all?

It seems not. According to Unicef, every year millions of children around the world become victims of untold violence. Children, in every country, culture and at the social level, face various forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.

The abuse takes place at home, in school, in institutions, at work, in the community, in armed conflicts and natural disasters. Much violence against children, such as corporal punishment, remains legal and has social approval in many countries.

The violence children face takes many forms, such as exploitation and abuse, trafficking, physical punishment, harmful traditional practices (including early marriage and genital mutilation) and recruitment into armed forces and groups. Growing up with violence and abuse seriously affects a child’s development, dignity, physical and psychological integrity.

Children are often poor communicators and extremely vulnerable. They need our support. Children do not earn money, and, therefore, they cannot afford the best possible treatment, most of the time.

Care givers tend to compromise when it comes to children, but if they are the future, then they should be given the best. It is high time that all of us join hands to lend a voice to the child who does not have a voice. The administrative authorities do not have a human face, only facts and figures. It lacks a physical form, with love, compassion, empathy and understanding.

There is so much of child abuse and crime against children taking place in India. Plenty of data is available. Every six minutes a child is sexually assaulted in this country according to our own statistics, but they are mere numbers for the authorities. Children being sexually abused are brought to light by the media, but the authorities take their own time to act and often the public remains in a state of denial.

The official agencies would have hardly reached out to these children and their families to hold hands and bring them back to the mainstream, healing the wounds and be part of their journey through the emotional trauma and grief. The conviction rate is abysmally low in our country.

Many children are caught up in marital conflicts. What crime have the children done? Don’t they have the right to have a father and mother, when both are alive? Whose fault is it?

Children do not drive vehicles, but they are forced to sit on the front seat of four-wheelers without seat belts; they are run over near schools by our killer buses; parents take two or three children on their two wheelers, knowing fairly well that two-wheelers are meant for two, and not four people. Just slowing down or applying brakes will throw them off balance and the buses and cars will run over them. The parents have helmets, but the children do not have them. Who will bring this to the notice of the courts?

Our children face so much stress during examination time. No helpline is available for them. Then why do we make so much noise, when children attempt to end their lives? Southern India has one of the highest suicide rates amongst the adolescent population

Our children are being denied a normal childhood. Parents want children to get hundred percent in all subjects. Marks are just numbers and will not help in understanding life and taking care of a family. Parents have to be educated and schools have to be reformed.

Technology is bombarding our children with games and gadgets which make them corrupted, why blame them when parents are happy that children fall in love with the evils of the digital and cyber world. When both parents are busy working, the children are left alone to sort out their issues. Parents today have very little quality time for their children and the luxury of grand-parenting does not exist anymore.

Children don’t have places to play in our metros and the prospect of tuition in the evenings makes them feel frustrated and lonely. Today, some of the states can boast of good health tourism and medical care, but, sadly, social wellness is on the brink of extinction and our children are the most vulnerable victims.

Child maltreatment is an adult’s action or failure to take action that results in the physical, sexual abuse and emotional abuse, neglect and medical neglect of a child.

Emotional abuse is one of the most common and harmful forms of child maltreatment and can have a lifelong impact, affecting children’s ability to feel safe and loved, the way they relate to others, and their self-esteem.

Making fun of a child and always finding fault using harsh words to criticise behaviour and using fear to control children often leads to rebellion.

There are many reasons and factors that make adults maltreat children. Parents can be unaware of the magnitude of force they use while striking a child. Another reason is the lack of knowledge about alternative positive disciplinary methods which results in inappropriate and harsh physical punishment.

The contributing factors of child abuse include parental abuse as a child leading to continuation of the cycle, lack of parenting skills, unrealistic expectations about children’s behaviour and capabilities, difficulty to control and manage anger feelings and stress, frequent family crises, and drug or alcohol abuse.

We know that parents want the best for their children and don’t want to hurt them. But some end up maltreating their children out of frustration due to a lack of knowledge about what children are capable of doing and understanding at different ages; also, some lack skills and strategies to discipline and respond to the children’s difficult behaviours in age-appropriate ways.

To stop the abuse and prevent its consequences on children’s lives, families need to become aware of how they are treating their children. They also need to know how damaging their behaviour is and the consequences for their children.

Children, who are exposed to violence early in life, are more likely to become abusers later, have health problems, be depressed, have low self-esteem, and fail in school. Parents who maltreat their children may need help from an outside source, such as a parenting education programme, a psychologist or a mental health counsellor.

Decades of research have shown that effective parenting is the most powerful way to prevent behavioural problems in the adolescent years. We also know that the early years are a critical period in a child’s life when they learn basic interpersonal skills, problem-solving, and self-control.

It is a good time for families to learn how to teach children positive behaviour and the skills needed to get along with others. We need to teach children to control and express anger and to resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways.

Children learn by imitation and observation and one of the primary ways of teaching young children is for adults to show by example. Thus, adults need to learn how to control and express their own anger in nonviolent ways so their actions show young children how to behave.

This Children’s Day let us all join together and protect them, safeguarding their interests and rights. The time has come to save our children, who are the future of our nation.

P.C. Alexander is a senior consultant at a Kochi-based hospital and a child protection and rights advocate. He can be reached at alexpc09@gmail.com

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