Monday, November 7, 2016

Lost Childhood -What Happened When 6 Year Olds Appu and Bhagat Went Missing, And Were Then found!

by Shalet Jimmy
Published in ( Rise for India )

We talk about child rights often. But, have we ever made an attempt to delve into the psyche of abandoned children – The answer is an emphatic ‘NO’.

It was a Monday morning.  A train had just arrived at the Majestic railway station, Bangalore from Mysore.

Six year old Appu and his nine year old brother got down from the train. Anxiety was written all over their face. They arrived unaccompanied and do not know where to go. Luckily, before the brokers who were lurking in the nook and cranny of railway station could lure them to child labour, the Railway CHILDLINE staff of BOSCO identified them.

Then, they were taken to the BOSCO’s child care centre. It seemed finally, they could relax. But after a few minutes, Appu burst out crying when the counselors in the child care centre started inquiring about their parents and whereabouts. The elder brother seemed very cautious while answering their questions. It was evident that they did not want to go back.

The counselors gathered that they were living with their mother, uncle and his family. Their father had left them. As it became a strenuous task for them to earn their daily bread, the uncle decided to admit them in a hostel. It was from there, they fled.

But this story may or may not be true. We get only 30 percent of truth from them, says Mary Triza, counselor, BOSCO. “It’s not their fault. The life has given them many scars. Though we talk about a lot of child rights violations, nobody has bothered to delve into the psyche of children who endures a lot in such a tender age,” she says.

Every day, BOSCO rescues an average of 20 runaway/unaccompanied children who arrive at the railway stations, bus stands and other city areas. But the number of children reaching the streets are many more. And the organization has got just 24 hours to identify the parents of children so that they could send them back. If their whereabouts could not be identified, they would be presented before the child welfare committee (CWC) to take further decision especially to decide about the shelter home where the child could be admitted for rehabilitation.

Whether they are send back or admitted in any homes, their disturbed psyche is completely ignored.

Some children open up fast and some don’t, explain Mary Triza. “We can handle those children who ran away from their home owing to reasons such as poverty, peer influence, migration of parents due to work etc. But it is not that easy with children who have backgrounds such as death/suicide of any of the parent, separated parents etc. They will not open up readily. For such children, the healing has to come from inside. But how many of them get such a chance?” She asks.

Om, a 14 year old boy arrived at the child centre just a day ago. He is from Belgaum. Tears welled up in his eyes when asked why he chose to leave his house. He says “I used to work from 9 am till 9 pm for a daily wage of Rs 300. But my parents are forcing to work for additional money.” The boy burst out crying when he said “There were times when I was not given anything to eat.”  Om had to load and unload goods from a truck. But was it the whole truth, maybe not. For he also said, his parents used to pressurize him to study.

Six year old Bhagat arrived at the BMTC bus stand, unaccompanied. He was wearing his school uniform and kept on insisting that he came to meet his elder brother and that he took permission both from his parents and teachers. He could have been easily believed if he were not in his uniform. The counselors later learnt that he is a single child living with his mother.

Explaining further, Mary Triza says “How much love and care, I shower upon them; I am not their real mother. Take the case of Appu and his brother. They are too little to be taken away from their mother and to put in a hostel. It has definitely left a scar in their mind.” She also recollects a 12 year old boy who was brought to the child centre. “He had lost both his parents and was living with his maternal grandmother uncle and aunt. He did not want to go back for he knew his aunt would create problems for his grandmother if goes back. The little one is hurt to the core and the trauma remains.”

Language is yet another major hurdle, says M D Shake Shafi, another counselor. “We speak around six languages. But it becomes difficult when children from Orissa, Bengal, Jharkhand etc arrives. We don’t know the language,” he says. Besides, we have a very little time to understand the children and their problems as they have to send them back to their parents in 24 hours, he adds.

originally published in

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Child trafficking, an alarming issue in Bengaluru

by Shalet Jimmy
published in the International Business Times (India)

It was 10.30 a.m. on Monday at the BMTC bus stand in Bengaluru, when the field staff of BOSCO's Child Assistance Centre at Majestic bus stand came across a seven-year-old boy in school uniform. He said he came to meet his elder brother and that he had taken permission from his teachers and parents before leaving the school.

But that did not seem to be the truth as he was wearing his school uniform. The field staff decided to take him to the child care centre. Just then another six-year-old child was found loitering at the bus stand. We had a hard time exacting information from him, as he seemed mentally challenged. As we moved to the Bangalore City Railway Station nearby, we found another seven-year-old boy sleeping at the 8th platform. His clothes were soiled, and he started crying after being woken up. He was initially reluctant to go with the Railway CHILDLINE Coordinator and kept saying that he wanted to go to Mandya.

Eventually, when all of them were taken to the BOSCO's Child Assistance Booth at the 4th platform, there were three more children waiting, including a 14-year-old girl. It certainly gave us more than enough reasons to panic as all the incidents happened in a matter of a few minutes – six children were rescued in half an hour. According to BOSCO, an average of 20 run-away/unaccompanied children are rescued from railway stations, bus stands and other city areas every day. But the number of children reaching the streets would be many more.

BOSCO, an organisation run by the Salesians of Don BOSCO, is a registered NGO that has been offering services to the young at risk, including children living on the streets, child labourers, abandoned/ orphaned children, victims of drug abuse and child abuse, beggers, rag pickers, etc. since 1980. "We are doing our level best to rescue children and rehabilitate them. Though we rescue and rehabilitate over 7,000 boys and girls a year, the actual number of children reaching the streets would be many more. Where do the rest reach?," asks Fr Mathew Thomas, the Executive Director of Bengaluru Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO).

Chances are high for those children to end up in the wrong hands, he adds. Brokers frequent the areas around the railway station and bus stand to trap such children away from the family. "Most of them will be in a state of bewilderment, thereby exposing their vulnerability. Hence, it becomes easy for the brokers/traffickers to approach them with offers for job, food and shelter and the children easily fall prey to them," says Thomas Paul, programme manager, BOSCO.

The brokers are approached by hotel owners, who want to employ children. This arrangement, which involves commissions for the brokers, happens in broad daylight near the Majestic railway station. While some children are taken to factories, sweets makers, eateries/hotels, automobile workshops and construction sites, others end up with marriage caterers and are employed to cut vegetables and wash plates. Some are used for begging and pick-pocketing. 

The runaway children come from almost all the states in the country, mostly from Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal.Thomas reveals they are able to rescue children because the in-fights among brokers sometimes results in one group tipping them off against the rival group.

Ramaswamy, the Co-coordinator at BOSCO Railway CHILDLINE, says rescuing children from the railway station is becoming a strenuous task as most children don't even reach the main railway stations now. "To avoid us, the brokers/traffickers make them get down at the adjacent railway stations. From there, they take them away by autorickshaw or taxi," he says.

Besides, many are brought from other states in the name of education to get them enrolled in religious institutions, or under the name of some orphanages. "In such cases our intervention gets difficult as they would produce everything, including an identity card and other necessary forms. We could only intervene in those cases when we get a cue that the children are not aware of the contractors who have brought them here," he points out, adding that in many cases they are not able to register cases against the traffickers as it is difficult to identify the trafficker. If at all cases are registered it stops with the lodging of the FIR.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Female foeticide thriving business for radiologists, astrologers in Salem, Tamil Nadu

y Shalet Jimmy
published in the International Business Times (India)

It wasn't an easy decision for Meena, nor was it voluntary. It all began after an astrologer told her that it would be a girl. Coming under severe pressure from her family and society, the 28-year- old had taken abortion pills.

Just three days after taking the pill, she started feeling ill; and soon her condition got worse. She could not even stand straight. Still she didn't take rest. Writhing in pain, she went to work in the fields to provide for her children. In the middle of the work, the pain aggravated and she looked for an isolated corner across the field. That's where Meena underwent the much-painful abortion, unattended and solo. Soon she dug up a pit and put an end to that little being.
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Meena's is a clear case of forced female foeticide, a rampant phenomenon in Salem. Meena had undergone nine deliveries, including three abortions, until she turned 28.

She was so anaemic that one wondered how she could have endured the painful abortion procedure and also her deliveries. She took abortion pills during the sixth month of her pregnancy.

"The pain is as similar as labour pain," she said. Even such terrible pain could not stop her from having two more abortions.

Though many national dailies report on the issue, female foeticide continues to exist in a rampant form. The issue is, of course, not confined to Salem alone. It's happening in most parts of the country and is yet to show a downward trend.

To make matters more worse, illegal scanning centres and astrologers thrive in Salem. Many, like Meena, are ready to kill their foetus in the womb when an astrologer says it would be a girl.

Geetha, 24 is all tears when she spoke about her two abortions. "People would speak ill of me if I don't deliver a baby boy. That's why I was forced to do it." She had four deliveries and two abortions.

Ultrasound centres and astrologers practise unscrupulous methods to determine gender. For instance, if the first and the second children are female then they say that the third child is also likely to be a girl child. Then they push the mother/elders to commit foeticide.

There also exists another crude form of foeticide – inserting the sap of Arka flowers or Calotropis gigantea into the genitals of the expectant mother.

The scariest thing is that most of these abortions are conducted sans any scientific medical intervention. There are no instructions from doctors. Besides, most of them do not even know the name of the abortion pill.

"It's a small pill but I don't know the name. It costs Rs 500-600," says Selvi.

Ask them how they came to know about the pill, and they say "We got the name from other patients who were there in the scanning centres."

The sex ratio of the district is 929 against the state ratio of 972. The child sex ratio is 918 in the district against the state ratio of 946. The low child sex ratio is a clear indicator that the number of cases of female foeticide is huge in the district.

While the numbers are left as mere statistics in government records, the one question that needs to be constantly asked is, "Is public aware of this reality?"

(Names have been changed in the story to protect the identity of the sources.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Child Rights - The Real struggle, The Real Stories

I met little Meena during my project visit to a village called Kuppannoor at Salem. Female foeticide, bonded labour, child labour, child marriage, untouchability- you name it, the village has everything.
I do not remember when Meena started holding my hand. I stayed in that village with my team for about 5 hours and she did not leave my hand even for a minute. My hands were profusely sweating and the little girl was wiping it with her soiled dress, then clutching to it as if she never wanted to leave it.

When she was convinced that I would not leave her soon, she asked me in Tamil “ Nan ungale akkannnu koopidalama” (“Can I call you Akka?” Akka is sister in Tamil). Overwhelmed with emotion, I told her “Yes, dear”.

She was one among those many underprivileged children in the village who were denied education. Belonging to a bonded labour family, there is a huge chance that either she might end up being a child labour or could be a child bride. But on that day, she was not aware of what is in store for her. I cannot ever forget her smile and those big eyes with hope.

Meena, you will always be in my prayers.

The dalits of this village belongs to the Arundhatiyar community, considered as the most inferior group among dalits. Majority of them are under bonded labour for a meagre monthly salary of Rs 300 for many years. For outside world, they were untouchables, but I assure you, they make the best tea and will serve it you with lots of love.

Mohanapriya was all happy when she met us. I became dead cautious while answering her questions for she had started to look upon us. It was a moment of realization that I amidst them with a huge responsibility. She is the first girl in the Arundhatiyar community to pass 10th standard. I could see dreams in her eyes. She wanted to be an IAS officer.

She said “ Akka, the officers do not want to hear our story. We are always pushed around when we try to meet them. But if somebody from our community becomes an officer, it would be helpful for the community to place our needs.

There is another bright young girl whose name just slipped from my memory. She had no parents and lives with her grandmother and a younger sister who is a speech and hearing - impaired child. Tears welled up in my eyes when I saw her grandmother. She is so old and walks with a stoop.
I met some grandmothers also. To my utter dismay, they were in their late 20’s. Besides, many had been forced to undergo female foeticide.

The children at Ponmalai nagar village again amazed me. Sans any facilities, they were a bundle of talent. If given facilities, they could challenge any privileged child.

My note would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Jayam who have started bringing real change into this downtrodden community. She was a child labourer, child bride, a mother who was forced to undergo female foetcide. If Jayam did not raise her voice, the community would never experience a change.

I believe people like Jayam are the real leaders. She get death threats often but those are not enough to bog her down.

And I salute Jayam – the REAL LEADER

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