CHILD BEGGING IN INDIA – CAUSES, CURRENT SITUATION AND SUGGESTED REFORMS:
Children comprise 50% of the earth’s population currently. Extremely vulnerable children can be seen begging on the streets and this is a glaring reality in every corner of our country. Even Norway, which is considered as one of the richest countries in the world is not free of this evil business. Every country has laid down laws to tackle this issue but success has been minimal. Though our Constitution expresses concern for upbringing children in safe, secure and healthy manner through various provisions but on the ground, all of those are still a long shot looking at the current state of affairs. There are not many studies on child beggars in India, however, with the limited ones available, let us explore the reasons and possible solutions for this in detail:
CAUSES OF CHILD BEGGING:
1. Abject Poverty leads adults of families into begging and they also coerce their children into this business.
2. Orphaned & abandoned children and the ones who run away from their native places due to poverty or any other reasons.
4. Religious sanctions provided by Indian culture & religion, where people believe feeding beggars outside religious places or the ones carrying a God’s picture in a steel bowl with oil is an act of good karma and wards off evil.
6. Juvenile Delinquency & Drug addiction.
7. Manipulated and exploited by Adults.
8. Organised Gangs/Begging mafia working who kidnap, buy & sell children (Human Trafficking) and maim them for this purpose.
9. Psychological & Physical coercion.
10. Easy money with no labour.
11. Cross generation begging since no education prevails in many generations of beggars.
12. No knowledge of their rights and rehabilitation provisions and afraid of their gang-lords.
13. Nexus between organised gangs and law enforcers.
14. Failure of Govt. schools to retain children.
15. Failure of Governance to implement policies for such children effectively.
INTERNATIONAL, CONSTITUTIONAL & LEGAL PROVISIONS (INDIA) FOR CHILDREN BEGGING:
1924: The League of Nations adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which established children’s rights as means for material, moral and spiritual development; special help when hungry, sick, disabled or orphaned; first call on relief when in distress; freedom from economic exploitation; and an upbringing that instills a sense of social responsibility.
1948: The UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which referred in article 25 to childhood as “entitled to special care and assistance.” In 1959 the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which recognized rights such as freedom from discrimination and the right to a name and a nationality. It also specifically enshrined children’s rights to education, health, care and special protection. 1979 was declared as the International Year of the Child.
1989: The UN General Assembly unanimously approved the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force the following year.
1990: The World Summit for Children was held in New York. The leaders signed the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children as well as a Plan of Action for implementing the Declaration, setting goals to be achieved by the year 2000.
1999: The Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour was adopted.
2000: The UN Millennium Development Goals incorporate specific targets related to children, including reducing sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
2002: The UN General Assembly held a Special Session on Children, meeting for the first time to specifically discuss children’s issues.
Article 15 (3) enables the state to make special provisions for children.
Article 24 explicitly prohibits child labour and hazardous employment of children.
Article 39(f) further directs the state in its policy towards the well-being of the children.
Article 39 ( c ) provides that children of tender age should not be subject to abuse and should be given opportunities to develop in a healthy manner.
Article 45 makes provision for free and compulsory education for children.
Article 47 states that it is the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living and to improve public health. The courts in India have stated that a child cannot be treated as an inanimate object or like a property by the parents.
Exposure and abandonment of children by parents or others is a crime under section 317 of IPC. Kidnapping is a crime under sections 360, 361, 384, 363, 363 A (kidnapping for begging), 366, 367, 369 of IPC.
There are certain crimes against children which are punishable under special and local laws such as immoral traffic prevention act. The child labour act banned child labour in hotels, restaurants and as domestic servants. The Government of India passed the Children Act 1960 to introduce uniformity and to establish separate child welfare boards to handle cases relating to neglected children.
In 1974 the government adopted a National Policy for Children. The Indian legislature has enacted several legislations to improve and protect lives of children. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 and its amendment in 2006, and Right to Education Act 2009 are significant in this regard.
Bombay Prevention of Begging Act in 1959 made begging a crime, and extended to other States including Delhi.
CURRENT SITUATION IN INDIA:
In India, by official statistics, roughly 60000 children (the real number is estimated to be much higher) disappear every year and an estimated 300000 child beggars in India. Even some people of the medical fraternity are also involved with the mafia gangs to help maim the children for a huge sum. In spite of a number of policies and laws set up for these purposes of helping such children, the govt. has been a big failure in curbing this due to lack of political will. Apart from that, the unholy nexus between the begging gangs/mafia and the law enforcers is a big impediment in removing this social evil. Also, there is no coordination at all between the policy makers, bureaucrats and law enforcers as well as civil society and the lack of public awareness in this matter has led to an even more deteriorated situation than before.
· Compulsory schooling for all children which has already been laid down in Law via the RTE Act but the implementation and awareness needs to be spruced up in a major way and also the corruption involved in it need to be checked by a stringent body/mechanism in place.
· Sympathetic teachers and child friendly environment in schools because govt. & MCD schools lack these and that is the reason that the children dropout or abandon studies completely for life. A routine report and regular inspections/meetings need to be carried out for this purpose.
· No alms drive to educate the public.
· Adult guardians as well as those who criminally (mafia/gangs/traffickers) coerce children in to this trade need to be caught upon information gathered, and punished to make an example of to the others in this dirty business.
· Strict and speedy sentences meted out to the criminals as a punishment for kidnapping and maiming of children.
· Welfare policies for child beggars and their families such as monetary help, health and residence etc.
· Good and more number of orphanage/ shelter homes for children without close relatives and advertise this everywhere for awareness.
· Railways should become more watchful as most of beggars are trafficked through this route and one can see a huge amount of beggars on the railway stations.
· Help to lower income/ poor including temporary emergency assistance and long term skill development for stable income and occupation.
· Increasing awareness of the general public of child helpline numbers and NGOs and Govt. Homes and Laws to help such children.
· Providing an incentive to parents along with counselling to send their wards to schools.
· In depth and a lot more studies and research into this issue to understand it in totality and issues with current schemes & policies. Increased coordination between the civil society, policy makers and implementers/law enforcers to bring their experience and authority to the table and work out a detailed and holistic plan to tackle this menace and eradicate it completely.