Visit few events or websites of companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) wing, one thing you will not miss, are the pictures of poor and deprived children. These pictures speak about the unfortunate state of our country’s children- their poverty struck lives, unhealthy and under-nourished health, responsibilities- they are burdened with and their education. Seldom hope and smiles showing their brave spirits are also showcased.
These pictures would make one believe that corporate organisations focus extensively on child welfare. To some extent, it is true; many corporate foundations have been focusing on children but most of these are in the education and health sector.
When it comes to social activities for children, the first thing that comes to our mind is education. However, there is a long list of child rights infringement that needs imperative attention. Basic rights of many Indian children are violated due to crimes committed against them. This further results into breach of their ‘Right To Education’.
“Child rights protection has not been an area of focus for corporate houses. ‘Children’ as a sector has not seen systematic investment of CSR funds. The investments are in education and health sectors for children. Focus has to come on protection as well. It is important to see integration of these factors,” said Komal Ganotra, Director Policy and Advocacy, Child Rights & You (CRY).
Child rights protection is critically needed to ensure a striking future of India. The question is, are we able to provide justice to our children? Are we able to protect them?
What can corporate India do to protect child rights?
Many not-for-profit organisations work towards protection of child rights. Corporate firms can certainly look at supporting these organisations. This can be one of the easiest ways of contributing. Other ways of playing a role would demand involvement.
Rehabilitation of children rescued from the clutches of trafficking needs to be looked at. In many industries, child labour is a common practice. This is not only limited to specific companies but extended to their supply chains. Meanwhile, some companies have started working towards child labour free supply chains.
“The key program for IKEA Foundation in India has been focused on eradicating child labour by working with four factors supporting a positive spiral of prosperity: a place to call home, education, health and a good family income. This is not done directly in our supply chain but in areas where we have suppliers or where raw materials (like cotton) are sourced. Due to our programs, we are today confident that we do not have child labour in our supply chain,” said Patrik Antoni, Sustainability Head, IKEA India.
If each corporate firm ensures its supply chain is free from child labour, we can actually be close to eradication of the practice. It will be responsible business, above CSR.
Companies can also adopt juvenile homes. CSR funds can be used for skill development of juveniles convicted of crimes through non-formal education, counseling and vocational training with rehabilitation, sponsoring higher education and development in infrastructure of homes and waste management among others.
Our society needs awareness in many aspects. Business houses can take up the onus of educating their employees about child rights abuses like child sexual exploitation, its effects on children and probable solutions.
Child Rights Protection- Numbers and State
Children are subjected to abuses like child trafficking, labour, sexual abuse, commercial exploitation, negligent treatment and physical abuse among others. Crimes against them are on a rise. According to data released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2013, number of cases reported under the head ‘Crime against children’ were 58,224. In 2014, the number rose of 89, 423 cases being reported. While the charge-sheet rate of cases in 2014 was 87.6%, the conviction rate remained only 33.1%.
“The rate of crime against children in India is on rise. More cases are now reported. While we have many laws for child protection, the implementation machinery is weak. We do not have the needed dedicated staff in government working for the protection of children; existing officers are mostly given additional responsibilities. The implementation machinery cannot be ad hoc. It needs to be robust with appropriate monitoring,” added Ganotra.
While children are trafficked or are pushed to work, their education certainly is held back. Their mental and physical health is affected. They are deprived of their childhood. Thus, protection cannot be seen as an isolated factor; it needs to be considered as an integrated issue.
The child labour data is reported in India once in every 10 years during the census. The child labour population of India according to Census 2011 is over 3.5 crore, a grave number indeed. “We do not have any interim study to evaluate the child labour data. We do not have any data on trafficking and other abuses. How do we work on it? It is only after the data is released every 10 years that people talk about child labour as an issue,” Ganotra said expressing concern over the reporting and monitoring mechanism.
Child Labour Amendment Bill
Recently, Rajyasabha and Loksabha passed the Child Labour Amendment Bill which invited many debates from activists. The bill allows adolescents (those in the age group of 14-18 years) to work in family enterprises. They can also work in non-hazardous processes and occupations.
Reacting to the bill, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi said, “Children of any age, under the garb of family enterprises, can now legally work in brick kilns, slaughter houses, beedi making, glass furnaces and other hazardous labour.”
A case of irony, children in India are not allowed to buy cigarettes and tobacco products but the same children can be exposed to the hazards of tobacco while making beedi and cigarettes.
Satyarthi further added, “The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have fixed targets for elimination of child labour and accomplishment of universal, inclusive education for children, rights which I had fought and advocated for. As the world progresses towards this goal, India threatens to unravel the pace of progress by opening a back door for large number of children to enter workforce.”
Even as the new law makes it mandatory that the child can help one’s family and a family enterprise only after school hours or during vacations, expecting a child to work and study is unkind. “When we are providing free and compulsory education for children, there cannot be a section of children for whom we believe that they can study as well as work because they are poor. Studies that show that children who combine work and studies tend to have low attendance and drop out early,” said Ganotra. Over burdening children would mean deprive them of opportunities they deserve. Just because a child is poor, doesn’t qualify him/her to work.
While corporate companies can play an important role in working for independence from child rights abuse, citizens have equally essential roles to play. Every responsible and active citizen should contribute towards the freedom of children and ensure justice to them despite their differences of rich or poor, orphans or with parents.
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The CSR Journal Team