Refusing to accept the apathy and ignorance of children’s rights globally, Kailash outlined his dream by asserting, “My only aim in life is that every child is free to be a child; free to grow and develop; free to eat; sleep, see daylight; free to laugh and cry; free to play and learn; free to go to school, and above all free to dream.”

In today’s world, he said, “There is no greater violence than to deny the dreams of our children” and held that “the biggest crises knocking on the doors of humanity today are fear and intolerance.”  Reiterating the power of education he said, “Rights, security and hope can only be restored through education”.

“Urgency in the key word. Adults can wait our time has passed, but children who’s time is here and now and in the future, can not wait,” was call from Mr Kailash Satyarthi.

Today, around 215 million children are employed throughout the world–many of them forced to work long hours as full-time laborers. In many developing nations, these children lack access to education, proper nutrition, and health care. Stripped of their right to a childhood in order to help their families put food on the table, more than half of them are fall prey to the worst forms of child labor, exposed to hazardous environments, slavery, drug trafficking and prostitution, and armed conflict. (Source: United Nations)  Official figures for India, alone, indicate there are over 12 million child laborers in the country. Though many NGOs estimate that the more accurate figure is a staggering 60 million children, a majority of whom work in dhabas or roadside restaurants/hotels, and factories, specifically textiles and firecracker (matchstick) factories, where the conditions are appalling and hazardous. And while a 2006 law mandated that no child under fourteen work, like many laws in India, it is rarely enforced: Two years after the ban, the Labor Ministry carried out 12,000 operations but made only 211 prosecutions.

According to UNICEF, State of the World’s Children 2010, an estimated 12 percent of children in India ages 5-14 are engaged in child labor activities.  Stripping these children of the right to education strips them of a chance to ever better themselves, and instead perpetuates a vicious cycle that condemns them to a life of poverty, where they are forced to live without the basic human needs that many of us take for granted. And while it would would cost $760 billion over a 20-year period to end child labor, the estimated benefit is six times that—over $4 trillion in economies where child labor is prevalent (ILO, Investing in Every Child, 2003).



The worst forms versus all forms of child labour

Because many people mistakenly assume that child labour is a ‘necessary evil’, only the worst forms of child labour, such as prostitution and slavery, are usually addressed. Indeed, it is easy for everyone to agree that these should be abolished. But this does not help children who carry out work that is labelled as less harmful. About 70% of child workers work on the land or in the household. These children, too, are seriously damaged, although it is perhaps less visible. Sometimes they do go to school but also have to work before and after school or only in certain seasons, such as harvest time. But their performance at school can actually suffer from this, as can their health, well-being and future prospects.

It should also be borne in mind that child workers cannot be easily classified into groups. Children could still be doing other work. They could be working in a mine during part of the year and on the land during the harvest season. Even if it were possible to draw a dividing line between the worst forms of child labour and less severe forms of child labour, it would still be pointless. What’s more, children aren’t interested in these labels. Is it fair when a child who had to forge iron with glowing coals does eventually go to school while his sister at home who is supposedly doing less damaging work is overlooked? She, too, has a right to education. It is clear that focusing on the worst forms of child labour leads to ad hoc solutions, replaces one group of children with another group and simply perpetuates the problem. This is why Stop Child Labour is calling for the elimination of all forms of child labour that prevent children from getting an education.

Informal part-time versus regular full-time education

Focusing on the worst forms of child labour can also lead to a two-tier society in which children carrying out the worst forms of child labour are put into regular full-time education while children who continue to work informally are offered part-time (evening) education so that they can combine work and school. As long as it is assumed that children have to work to survive, this seems the highest goal attainable. But the quality of informal education often leaves much to be desired. Moreover, it is questionable how much children can actually learn after a hard day’s work. Ultimately, informal education does not truly help them and they remain disadvantaged in comparison to their more privileged peers who have regular full-time education.

An additional problem is that informal education by private organisations is more likely to be limited to temporary projects. When lenders withdraw, everything stops. Moreover, it takes the responsibility for education out of the government’s hands. Yet ultimately, only governments are capable of developing and providing a sustainable system of education for all children. The often moderate or poor quality of regular full-time education is not a reason to set up an alternative system for working children but a reason to improve the quality of the education system as a whole. This way, all children can benefit. Stop Child Labour believes that focusing on the worst forms of child labour offers no structural improvement. A more effective approach is to tackle all forms of child labour that prevent children from going to school at the community level and – together with the government – to ensure that all children can follow regular daytime classes.

International agreements and conventions

The above vision and promising practices are in fact a logical consequence of agreements made at the international level (UN). Under the “Convention on the Rights of the Child”, which has been ratified by most countries, states are required to provide compulsory and free primary education. In addition, states commit themselves under this convention to implement appropriate sanctions and other measures to ensure that children are protected from economic exploitation, dangerous work and work that hinders their participation in education.

There are two important ILO (International Labour Organisation) Conventions relevant to the fight against child labour. ILO Convention 182 against the Worst Forms of Child Labour prohibits dangerous and unhealthy work for children and adolescents up to 18 years of age. This Convention has now been ratified by 174 countries. ILO Convention 138 on the ‘minimum age for work’ states that the minimum age for work should not be lower than the age at which compulsory education ends, with a lower limit of 15 years of age. Developing countries may opt for a minimum of 14 years. The number of countries that have signed this convention has risen sharply in recent years and now stands at 1618.

As for universal education: 155 countries at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 decided that by 2015 all children should have access to primary education. This is one of the generally accepted Millennium Development Goals which government leaders agreed on in 2000 to help rid the world of poverty.

When it comes to children’s rights in Africa it is also important to refer to the African Charter on the Rights of the Child. This charter obliges governments to take measures to protect and advance the rights of children – including the right to education and protection against child labour. It states that governments should protect children against harmful social and cultural practices. This includes all forms of work and practices, such as child marriage, that hinder children’s right to education.

This combined mandate gives rise to the basic premise: ‘Every child has the right to regular full-time education, and no child should carry out work that hinders that education and/or is dangerous’. The agreements and conventions provide clear guidelines for policy and programmes, but unfortunately they are not complied with in many countries. Stop Child Labour continues to refer to these agreements and conventions to call on governments to fulfil their responsibilities.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted on 4 August 2009, which describes the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21a of the Indian Constitution. India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the Act came into force on 1 April 2010.

The Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools. It requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats to children (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan). Kids are admitted in to private schools based on economic status or caste based reservations. It also prohibits all unrecognised schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.

The RTE Act requires surveys that will monitor all neighbourhoods, identify children requiring education, and set up facilities for providing it. The World Bank education specialist for India, Sam Carlson, has observed: “The RTE Act is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring enrolment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents’ responsibility to send the children to schools in the US and other countries.”

The Right to Education of persons with disabilities until 18 years of age is laid down under a separate legislation – the Persons with Disabilities Act. A number of other provisions regarding improvement of school infrastructure, teacher-student ratio and faculty are made in the Act.

Education in the Indian constitution is a concurrent issue and both centre and states can legislate on the issue. The Act lays down specific responsibilities for the centre, state and local bodies for its implementation. The states have been clamouring that they lack financial capacity to deliver education of appropriate standard in all the schools needed for universal education. Thus it was clear that the central government (which collects most of the revenue) will be required to subsidise the states.

A committee set up to study the funds requirement and funding initially estimated that INR 1710 billion or 1.71 trillion (US$38.2 billion) across five years was required to implement the Act, and in April 2010 the central government agreed to sharing the funding for implementing the law in the ratio of 65 to 35 between the centre and the states, and a ratio of 90 to 10 for the north-eastern states. However, in mid 2010, this figure was upgraded to INR 2310 billion, and the center agreed to raise its share to 68%. There is some confusion on this, with other media reports stating that the centre’s share of the implementation expenses would now be 70%. At that rate, most states may not need to increase their education budgets substantially.

A critical development in 2011 has been the decision taken in principle to extend the right to education till Class X (age 16) and into the preschool age range. The CABE committee is in the process of looking into the implications of making these changes.

The Ministry of HRD set up a high-level, 14-member National Advisory Council (NAC) for implementation of the Act. The members included Kiran Karnik, former president of NASSCOM; Krishna Kumar, former director of the NCERT; Mrinal Miri, former vice-chancellor of North-East Hill University; Yogendra Yadav – social scientist. India
Sajit Krishnan Kutty, Secretary of The Educators Assisting Children’s Hopes (TEACH) India; Annie Namala, an activist and head of Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion; and Aboobacker Ahmad, vice-president of Muslim Education Society, Kerala.

A report on the status of implementation of the Act was released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development on the one year anniversary of the Act. The report admits that 8.1 million children in the age group 6-14 remain out of school and there’s a shortage of 508,000 teachers country-wide. A shadow report by the RTE Forum representing the leading education networks in the country, however, challenging the findings pointing out that several key legal commitments are falling behind the schedule. The Supreme Court of India has also intervened to demand implementation of the Act in the Northeast. It has also provided the legal basis for ensuring pay parity between teachers in government and government aided schools. Haryana Government has assigned the duties and responsibilities to Block Elementary Education Officers–cum–Block Resource Coordinators (BEEOs-cum-BRCs) for effective implementation and continuous monitoring of implementation of Right to Education Act in the State.

It has been pointed out that the RTE act is not new. Universal adult franchise in the act was opposed since most of the population was illiterate. Article 45 in the Constitution of India was set up as an act: The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.

As that deadline was about to be passed many decades ago, the education minister at the time, MC Chagla, memorably said: “Our Constitution fathers did not intend that we just set up hovels, put students there, give untrained teachers, give them bad textbooks, no playgrounds, and say, we have complied with Article 45 and primary education is expanding… They meant that real education should be given to our children between the ages of 6 and 14” – (MC Chagla, 1964).

In the 1990s, the World Bank funded a number of measures to set up schools within easy reach of rural ommunities. This effort was consolidated in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan model in the 1990s. RTE takes the process further, and makes the enrolment of children in schools a state prerogative.

Premature pregnancy and motherhood are an inevitable consequence of child marriage. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their twenties.” -State of the World’s Children 2007, UNICEF

UNICEF defines child marriage as marriage before 18 years of age and considers this practise as a violation of human rights. The harmful consequences of child marriage are segregation from family and friends, limiting the child’s interactions with the community and peers, lack of opportunities for education. Girl children often face situations of bonded labour, enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation and violence as a result of child marriage. Because of lack of protection child brides are often exposed to serious health risks, early pregnancy, and various STDs especially HIV/AIDS. There are many reasons why parents consent to child marriage such as economic necessity, male protection for their daughters, child bearing, or oppressive traditional values and norms. Globally more than one third of the women between the ages 20-24 were married before they reached the age of 18. Approximately 14 million adolescent girls between the ages 15-19 give birth each year. Girls in this age group are twice more likely to die during child birth than women in their twenties. Rate of child marriage are higher in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

According to the 2001 census there are 1.5 million girls, in India, under the age of 15 already married. Of these, 20% or approximately 300,000 are mothers to at least one child. The 2001 census also estimated the average age of marriage has risen to 18.3 for females. The male average is 22.6 years. But child marriage is still widespread across the nation. States like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Andra Pradesh still have average age of marriage below the legal age of eighteen for females. Because of the early and often closely timed pregnancies before their bodies are able to handle the stress of pregnancy, adolescent mothers give birth prematurely or to low weight babies. The health of the child and mother are at risk and often they do not survive. Child marriage also makes girls more vulnerable to domestic violence, sexual abuse and inability to complete primary education. It is also found that infant mortality rates are higher than the national average in the states where child marriage is highly prevalent.

According to NFHS-III survey 47.3% of women aged 20-24 were married by age 18. Of these, 2.6 percent were married before they turned 13, 22.6 percent were married before they were 16, and 44.5 percent were married when they were between 16 and 17. In some states the percentage is quite high: Rajasthan 65.2%, Uttar Pradesh 58.6%, Madhya Pradesh 57.3%, Jharkhand 63.2%, Chhattisgarh 55%, Bihar 69% and Andra Pradesh 54.8%.The states where prevalence is low are Himachal Pradesh 12.3%, Punjab 19.7%, and Kerala 15.4%.

Child marriage in India has grave implications for population control as adolescent brides are likely to have high fertility and a number of unwanted pregnancies. States where child marriage is most prevalent is also where there is the highest population. Child marriage is low among women who have had access to higher education and secondary education. Marriages in India are often unregistered, and are socially binding if not legally, which makes it hard to survey.

In 2006 the government of India updates legislations regarding child marriage and passed the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

According to UN Enable, around 10% of the world’s populations, 650 million people, live with disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities are particularly at a risk of abuse. According to a UNICEF survey, 30% of street youth are disabled. Some countries where IMR rates are high, mortality rates for children with disabilities is as high as 80%. Some suspect that children with disabilities are being purposely weeded out. 90% of children with disabilities worldwide do not attend school. Conflict areas find that for every one child that is killed, three are injured and permanently disabled. Children with disabilities are at a 1.7 times greater risk of being subjected to some form of violence.

According to CRIN over 150 million children worldwide have a disability. 50% of children with a hearing impairment and 60% of those with an intellectual impairment are sexually abused. There are many medical professionals who kill children with disabilities and right them of as mercy killings. 90% of the children with disabilities will not survive pass twenty years of age. Children with disabilities face discrimination not only in services but also in the justice system as they are often not considered credible witnesses.

In India children with disabilities mainly comes under the purview of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment. Some of the issues are dealt with by the health ministry. But no single ministry has been assigned the protection of these children, which leads to varying data about occurrence of disability amongst children. In India 1.67% of the 0-19 population has a disability. 35.29% of all people living with disabilities are children. Other estimates say that India has 12 million children living with disabilities. Only 1% of children with disabilities have access to school and one third of most disabilities are preventable. Under-nutrition is a severe problem with children who suffer from cerebral palsy. In India 80% of children with disabilities will not survive past age forty.

Many of the causes of disability are preventable by providing expecting mothers will better prenatal and post natal care as well as proper nutrition for infants and mothers.

The main causes of disability in children are

  • Communicable disease
  • Infection in early childhood
  • Early motherhood
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Insufficient or inaccessible health care services
  • Inadequate sanitation
  • Inter-family marriages

There are many protection issues that also lead to disability, especially mental disabilities. Children who are trafficked, abused and sexually exploited are at risk for psychological effects as well as physical retardation. Other forms of violence against children can also lead to a disability such as corporal punishment in schools, children living on the streets, and purposefully created disabilities for begging. Children from poor families face a double disability.

Disability in India is still functioning in the realm of social welfare instead of a rights perspective. Teachers are not trained and schools don’t have the infrastructure to deal with children with disabilities. Neither are paediatric wards of hospitals equipped to deal with them. There is not enough data on the number of children living with disabilities to allow the government to provide the necessary services. Mental health disorders account for one sixth of all health disorders yet India spends 0.83% of its health budget on mental health. Child labourers are also at a higher risk of becoming disabled especially in hazardous industries.

In 2008 A NGO published a study on Mentally Challenged Children in Sholapur District, Maharashtra. The study looks at information at all three levels: village, taluka and district. Key findings of the study were that in 24% of the mentally challenged children, one of the parents were mentally retarded. 11% of mothers of mentally challenged children were below eighteen years. 36% of mothers reported complications during pregnancy while 41.2% reported stress. Only 8% of mentally challenged children attended school past II grade pr up to VII grade in normal schools. 33% of parent didn’t allow their children to interact with other children due to fear of them being teased, accidents, aggressive behaviour, etc.

Children with disabilities are covered under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995.

A countless number of children go missing every year. The category of missing children include a number of problems including abduction or kidnapping of children by family members and by non-family members, run-away children or those forced to run away by family and surrounding circumstances, children who are in a difficult or aggressive environment, trafficked children, and lost children. Because of this wide array of problems it is hard to survey the number of missing children. Often cases are not reported to the police. In 2005 National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) informed that on an average 44000 children are reported missing every year. Of these, as many as 11,000 remain untraced.

Children who go missing may be exploited and abused for various purposes from camel jockeys in the Gulf countries to victims of organ trade and even grotesque cannibalism as reported at Nithari village in Noida. There are also a large number of children who run away from homes after dropping out of school or facing difficulties at home. They usually run away to the glamorous big cities where they fall prey to exploiters and are employed in tea stalls, brothels, beggary, etc. Most of the children come from poorer families who do not have access to police services or whose reports are not taken seriously.

When a child goes missing there no FIR filed as there is no cognizable offence committed. Hence only an entry is made into the General Station Diary at the concerned police office. Information of the missing child is forwards up to the Chief of police as well as locally police officers generate awareness through the media. The police headquarters of each state has a missing person bureau. A database of missing persons is maintained by the Missing Persons Wing at the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in New Delhi.

Some recommendations/suggestions of the NHRC Committee made to state and union governments:

  • Missing children should become a priority issue with state and union governments and law enforcement agencies.
  • Every police station should have a special squad and missing person’s desk dedicated to tracing missing children.
  • Special Juvenile Police Unit can also be used in this purpose.
  • Reiterate the High court decision to establish a missing children’s cell in the CBI
  • District administrators are responsible for keeping tabs on the number of working children in his/her district.
  • He/she is required to make regular inspections of these spaces
  • All missing children cases nationally should be reported to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
  • Missing children’s investigation should include the help of the Panchayat and community.
  • NGO’s can also assist in reporting and investigating missing children
  • NCRB needs to set up a system/database so that all missing children cases are available to local authorities.
  • Government is required to give ample support to the emergency helpline CHILDLINE 1098
  • It is advisable that FIRs be filed in the case of missing children.

A CHILDLINE report on missing children discusses the relation of trafficking to missing children. It reports that on average 44,475 children go missing every year. The data also shows an increase in missing children over the years, an increased in untraced cases and increase of cases of missing children in certain metropolitan cities and states led my Maharashtra at a yearly average of 13,881. The report states that children are often kidnapped or trafficked for prostitution, organ donations, employment, and such activities.

To read more trafficking please visit the section on Trafficking.

Children are not only personally affected by HIV/AIDS but it is also affecting their families and their right to a parental care and affection. UNICEF finds that infection can lead children to drop out of school; infection of parents can lead children to engage in child labour in order to survive. Many children are orphaned and highly exposed to abuse, exploitation and neglect because of a loss of a parent(s) or guardian. It is estimated that a child looses a parent to AIDS-related infections every 14 seconds, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many situations also put children at higher risk of getting infected such as recruitment into armed conflict, trafficking, displacement, etc. In 2005 UNICEF estimated the number of children below 15 infected with HIV to be 2.3 million. Approximately 570,000 children were found to have died from AIDS at the time of the study. 80% of children orphaned by AIDS live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2008 Avert found that there are 2.1 million children in the world living with HIV/AIDS. Approximately 430,000 children were infected with HIV in 2008. Every hour, 31 children around the world die because of AIDS. Beyond the direct impact of being infected by AIDS, children are impacted by their parent’s infection. Many children end up being the sole breadwinners of the family and head of their households. Children infected often don’t receive the correct medicine since it is mostly available in tablet form and especially younger children require syrups or powers. The tablets are often administered by breaking them and hence children are at risk of receiving too much or too little in their doses. Children living with HIV/AIDS are also more susceptible to infections of other kinds due to their weakened immune systems such as Tuberculosis and PCP.

According to UNICEF India there are 220,000 children infected by HIV/AIDS in India. It is approximated that every year 55,000 to 60,000 children are born to mothers who are HIV positive. 30% of these children are likely to be infected themselves.

According to a publication of NACO and MWCD there are 2-3 million people in India living with HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that 70,000 children below the age of 15 infected with 21,000 children being infected through mother-child transmission every year. HIV infection in extremely young children is especially fatal. Young children progress through the disease at a much faster rate. 33% of children with HIV die within the first 12 months, 50% by 24 months and 60% by 36 months. For young children early detection, nutritional supplements and medical treatment especially antiretroviral therapy is essential for survival. Children living with the disease experience a great deal of social stigma and discrimination. This results in children being marginalised from essential services such as education and health.

An approximation for the number of children affected by AIDS varies greatly. The number of children infected with HIV/AIDS varies from 55,000 to 220,000. Roughly 1,500,000-2,500,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS and another 6,000,000-10,000,000 children have a positive parent. The highest cause of child HIV/AIDS is mother to child transmission (MTCT). Other than MTCT other ways of contracting the disease among children has been sexual contract including sexual abuse, blood transfusion, unsterile syringes, and intravenous drug use.

Some areas of concern are the discrimination faced by orphaned children of HIV/AIDS parents, lack of funding or utilization of funds in giving treatments, unsafe health care practices, and lack of attention to HIV/AIDS amongst children in health policy. Child affected by AIDS need medical treatment, counselling, support from extended families, and other non-institutional care, and help with medical care for parents so as not to create debt and need for child labour. As part of an attempt to help children living with HIV/AIDS, UNICEF in collaboration with national organisations and the Government of India have put children on the agenda of the National Aids Control Plan III. The aim is to prevent parent to child transfer of the disease, and provide care and medical treatment to children infected with HIV/AIDS.

“]”Out of school children comprise the workers and non workers. In our view they together signify a measure of deprivation among children and can be considered as a potential labour pool always being at the risk of entering the labour force” – NCEUS, 2007

India is sadly the home to the largest number of child labourers in the world. The census found an increase in the number of child labourers from 11.28 million in 1991 to 12.59 million in 2001. M.V. Foundation in Andhra Pradesh found nearly 400,000 children, mostly girls between seven and 14 years of age, toiling for 14-16 hours a day in cottonseed production across the country of which 90% are employed in Andhra Pradesh. 40% of the labour in a precious stone cutting sector is children. NGOs have discovered the use of child labourers in mining industry in Bellary District in Karnataka in spite of a harsh ban on the same. In urban areas there is a high employment of children in the zari and embroidery industry.

Poverty and lack of social security are the main causes of child labour. The increasing gap between the rich and the poor, privatization of basic services and the neo-liberal economic policies are causes major sections of the population out of employment and without basic needs. This adversely affects children more than any other group. Entry of multi-national corporations into industry without proper mechanisms to hold them accountable has lead to the use of child labour. Lack of quality universal education has also contributed to children dropping out of school and entering the labour force. A major concern is that the actual number of child labourers goes un-detected. Laws that are meant to protect children from hazardous labour are ineffective and not implemented correctly.

A growing phenomenon is using children as domestic workers in urban areas. The conditions in which children work is completely unregulated and they are often made to work without food, and very low wages, resembling situations of slavery. There are cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of child domestic workers. The argument for domestic work is often that families have placed their children in these homes for care and employment. There has been a recent notification by the Ministry of Labour making child domestic work as well as employment of children in dhabas, tea stalls and restaurants “hazardous” occupations.

According to HAQ: Centre for child rights, child labour is highest among schedules tribes, Muslims, schedule castes and OBC children. The persistence of child labour is due to the inefficiency of the law, administrative system and because it benefits employers who can reduce general wage levels. HAQ argues that distinguishing between hazardous and non hazardous employment is counter-productive to the elimination of child labour. Various growing concerns have pushed children out of school and into employment such as forced displacement due to development projects, Special Economic Zones; loss of jobs of parents in a slowdown, farmers’ suicide; armed conflict and high costs of health care. Girl children are often used in domestic labour within their own homes. There is a lack of political will to actually see to the complete ban of child labour.

Bonded child labour is a hidden phenomenon as a majority of them are found in the informal sector. Bonded labour means the employment of a person against a loan or debt or social obligation by the family of the child or the family as a whole. It is a form of slavery. Children who are bonded with their family or inherit a debt from their parents are often found in agricultural sector or assisting their families in brick kilns, and stone quarries. Individual pledging of children is a growing occurrence that usually leads to trafficking of children to urban areas for employment and have children working in small production houses versus factories. Bonded labourers in India are mostly migrant workers, which opens them up to more exploitation. Also they mostly come from low caste groups such as dalits or marginalised tribal groups. Bonded child labourers are at very high risk for physical and sexual abuse and neglect sometimes leading to death. They often are psychologically and mentally disturbed and have not learnt many social skills or survival skills.

In 2000 the ILO estimated 5.5 million children had been forced in labour in Asia, while the Bonded Labour Liberation Front placed 10 million bonded children in India alone. In 1998 the government of India labelled bonded child labour as a marginal problem with only 3000 or so cases. A survey in Tamil Nadu in 1995 found 125,000 bonded child labourers in the state alone. Child bonded labour in India is mostly in the agricultural sector but has in recent times been moving into other sectors as well such as beedi-rolling, brick kilns, carpet weaving, commercial sexual exploitation, construction, fireworks and matches factories, hotels, hybrid cottonseed production, leather, mines, quarries, silk, synthetic gems, etc.

Child labour in India is addressed by the Child Labour Act, 1986 and National Child Labour Project.

“]”Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders annually, and between 14,500 and 17,500 of those victims are trafficked into the United States each year. More than half of these victims worldwide are children!” – Child Victims of Human Trafficking, Department of Health and Human Services, USA and the U.S. Department of State

Human trafficking is the third largest profitable industry in the world. Child trafficking unlike many other issues is found in both developed and developing nations. Trafficked children are used for prostitution, forced into marriage, illegally adopted, used as cheap or unpaid labour, used for sport and organ harvesting. Some children are recruited into armed groups. Trafficking exposes children to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. According to UNICEF a child victim of trafficking is “any person under 18 who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation, either within or outside a country”. Trafficking is one of the hardest crimes to track and investigate hence data is hard to obtain. The latest figures estimate that 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide every year. Child prostitution has the highest supply of trafficked children.

India is a source, destination, and transit country for trafficking for many purposes such as commercial sexual exploitation. Majority of the trafficking is within the country but there are also a large number trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh. Children are trafficked to Middle Eastern countries for sport such as camel racing. There are no national or regional estimates for the number of children trafficked every year. But 40% of prostitutes are children, and there is a growing demand for young girls in the industry.

NGOs estimate that 12,000 – 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the country annually from neighbouring states for the sex trade. Thousands of girls are trafficked from Bangladesh and Nepal. 200,000 Nepalese girls under 16 years are in prostitution in India. An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Indian children are smuggled out of the country every year to Saudi Arabia for begging during the Hajj. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have the largest number of people trafficked. Intra state/inter district trafficking is high in Rajasthan, Assam, Meghalaya, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Delhi and Goa are the major receiver states. Trafficking from north eastern states is high but often over looked. In 2008, 529 girls were trafficked from Assam alone.

There is a rising demand for live-in maids in urban areas. This has resulted in trafficking of girls from villages in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to live under extremely poor conditions first in “placement agencies” and later in the employers homes. Placement agents keep the girls in small unhygienic rooms packed together. They are often made to do the placement agent’s household work and subjected to sexual abuse. Smita a sixteen year old girl was taken from her village in Jharkhand and subjected to various forms of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hand of her employers including rape. When rescued her parents refused to take her back since she had been tainted by rape. Falling sex ratios in Haryana and Punjab has led to a need for trafficking of brides from villages in Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam and West Bengal, who have been sold off by the parents. Jyoti, age fourteen, was sold and married to a 40-year old man for Rs 15,000 in order to produce a mail heir.

India has legal provisions to counter trafficking as per the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1986.

According to UNICEF, children worldwide lose their parents in conflict, or due to poverty, disability, HIV/AIDS. Hence there is a large population of children that grow up without one or both of their parents. Children without parental care are at a high risk of abuse, exploitation and neglect. Large numbers of children end up in institutional care. Inadequate individual care of institutions can socially and emotional impair children. About 1.5 million children in the Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States live in public care institutions. In Europe and Central Asia, over 1 million children live in residential institutions. In 2003 there were an estimated 143 million orphans in 93 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Asia has the highest number of orphans due to all causes, with 87.6 million children.

Children may be destitute, for the interim or permanently of parental care for many reasons including the illness, death or imprisonment of parents, separation due to migration or armed conflict, the removal by child welfare authorities and/or the courts based on the child’s best interests, detention of the child, or following the child’s own initiative to leave home.

In India the child parent relationship is often seen as one of obedience of a social order more so than a right of the child. Hence when a child is separated from his/her parent it is not viewed as the duty of the state to provide that child with a family environment. None the less adoption is supervised by the state, but India does not have a long term foster care or alternate care system outside of institutionalisation.

UNICEF estimates that there are 25 million orphaned children in India in 2007. Another study estimates there are about 44 million destitute children and over 12 million orphan and abandoned children in India, yet there are only 5000 (0.04%) adoptions every year. The institutions for children in conflict with the law host about 40,000 children. The wide gap that exists in the knowledge of and attitude towards child adoption and intention to adopt a child between people from different socio-economic backgrounds exposes the need of the state to initiate promotion of child adoption and creating a system of non-institutional care for children above the adoption age.

Adoption in India comes under the provisions of three acts and is carried out centrally by CARA

  • The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956
  • The Guardian and Wards Act 1890
  • The Juvenile Justice Act 2000

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) globally, 30% of children under five are estimated to be stunted and 18% have low weight-for-height, and 43 million children are overweight. Optimal breastfeeding could save the lives of 1.5 million children under five every year. Nearly nine million children die every year from preventable diseases and infections: the largest killer being Diarrhoeal disease. There are over 2 billion cases of diarrhoeal disease every year and is the leading cause of malnutrition amongst children under five.

In India 84% of all health care expenditure is out of pocket. This places a great number of families at risk of falling into poverty due to high health expenses. Millions of children are at risk of becoming malnourished. Every third child in India is malnourished. Infant and child mortality rates still remain very high about the MDG. They are lowest among marginalised groups such as scheduled castes and tribes, and females. Discrimination in food based schemes and in society in general leads to starvation deaths among women and children of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Muslim children have the highest rate of stunting and second highest rate of being underweight. There are almost no services or programmes for children with mental health issues. Children with disabilities, HIV/AIDS and mental disorders are stigmatized and hence have little access to health facilities.

India has one of the poorest health records in the world with the highest TB prevalence, every three out of four children have anaemia, and polio eradication is actually backsliding. With varying social sector budgets, health indicators differ greatly across the country. Kerala is best off with only 21% stunted children. Uttar Pradesh has the worst record with 46% of the children being underdeveloped. Girls are at a higher risk of not being able to access health care. The mental health budget remains at 1% of the total health budget.

According to UNICEF India over two million children die every year from preventable diseases. IMR in India is 63 deaths for every 1000 live births. Of these 47% of the deaths occur within the first week after birth. Measles is the largest cause of death among children which can be prevented by a vaccine. Tetanus in newborns remains a major problem Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Assam.

Breastfeeding is the first crucial step to ensuring good health in infants. According to NFHS-3 data 24.5% of new mothers initiated breastfeeding in the hour after birth, 46.4% breastfed exclusively the first six months and 56.7% nursed beyond six months with the introduction of complementary food. This results in more than 50% the child population below five being underweight. 44.9% of the children under three are stunted and 22.9% of children under three are wasted. Less than 50% of children receive full immunization during infancy. This number has been dropping significantly over the years indicating a problem with the universal immunization programme.

The issue of street children is considered to be an urban problem. Children can be found in railway stations, near temples and durgahs, in markets, under bridges, near bus deports and stops, etc. Hence the definition of street is not in the literal sense, but refers to those children without a stable home or shelter. There are three major categories of street children:

  1. Children who live on the street with their families and often work on the street. There may be children from migrated families, or temporarily migrated and are likely to go back to their homes.
  2. Children who live on the street by themselves or in groups and have remote access or contact with their families in the villages. Some children travel to the cities for the day or periods of time to work and then return to their villages.
  3. Children who have no ties to their families such as orphans, refugees and runaways.

According to UNICEF street children fall under two categories: On the street and Of the street. “Children of the street” are homeless children who live and sleep on the streets in urban areas. They are on their own and do not have any parental supervision or care though some do live with other homeless adults. “Children on the street” earn a livelihood from street such as street urchins and beggars. They return home at night and have contact with their families. The distinction is an important one because children of the street lack emotional and psychological support of a family.

It is the second and third category of children who are most vulnerable as they are easy victims of abuse, and inhuman treatment. They often engaged in petty theft or prostitution for economic survival. Children runaway from their homes for a variety of reasons. Some may have faced traumatic experiences in their homes. Their parents may be abusive or have problems with alcoholism, poverty and unemployment. Some children leave home drawn by the glamour of the big cities.

Street children vary across cities and regions. But a majority of these children are boys. It is also important to note girl street children are often not found in visible spaces and hence hard to trace. Age wise 40% of the street children are between 11-15 years while another 33% are between 6-10 years age group. A study found that majority (89.8%) of children live on the street with their parents/family.

There are a number of factors that lead children to living on the street. One root cause that has been identified is poverty. But poverty alone does not result in this problem. Other factors to be taken into consideration is the expansion and growth of cities, over-population, family disintegration, inadequacy of formal school institutions leading to large numbers of dropouts and failures, inability of institutions to deal with these problems, etc.

Street children mostly live in open air spaces. There are few to no shelters available in the cities for homeless children. Some may live in a temporary constructed hut or the house of their employer. Majority of street children work. Almost 50% of street children are self-employed as rag-pickers, hawkers, and shoeshine boys, while others work in shops and establishments. Their work hours range between 10-13 hours a day. These children are exposed to high health hazards as population and unhygienic conditions of living. Having no shelter they are constantly exposed to environmental conditions of heat, cold and rain.

Many street children also face harassment by municipal authorities and police. One -third of street children complain of persecution by such authorities. Street children also face abuse from their family members, employers and other people. The right to play of a street child is almost nonexistent as they do not have access to recreational facilities and often venture into activities available to them on the street such as drug abuse, gambling, drinking, etc.

In 2003, UNICEF estimated that there were at least a 100 million street children in the world, but though this figure is commonly found it is not seen to be based on any actual studies or surveys. In 1994, UNICEF estimated that there were 11 million street children in India. This number is said to be a drastic under-estimation. The Indian embassy estimated 314,700 street children in cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur, Bangalore and Hyderabad and around 100,000 street children in Delhi.

In the 2007 MWCD report on child abuse, the study found 65.9% of the street children lived with their families. Out of these children, 51.84% slept on the side-walks, 17.48% slept in shelters and 30.67% slept in other locations such as under flyovers and bridges, railway platforms, bus stops, parks, market places, etc. 66.8% of children reported being physically abused by family members and others. To download the full report please visit the Abuse and Violence section.

Because of a lack of permanent shelter and the fact that the number of street children is not recorded in any national survey or study street children are often called the ‘hidden children’. Being hidden, they are at a higher risk to being abuse, exploited and neglected. Another group that is at risk of ending up on the street are migrant children. Children come to cities in hope of finding new jobs and opportunities for their families. Unfortunately increasing populations in the cities, children that come to the cities face meagre incomes, poor housing and usually end up on the street. The Indian embassy estimated 314,700 street children in cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Kanpur, Bangalore and Hyderabad and around 100,000 street children in Delhi.

A condition that puts a lot of children at risk for many of the issues listed in this section is poverty. Lack of access to basic requirements such as food, shelter and clothing are the underlying cause of poor child health, poor child nutrition, child labour, child marriage and various other issues. It widens the economic, social, cultural, and gender disparities already present in society. Poverty essentially threatens every child right: survival, development and protection. Poverty follows a vicious cycle as poor children grow up to be poor adults who then pass on debt to their children.

Children experience poverty differently from adults as it creates an environment which is harmful to their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development. It can not be simply understood in terms of household income or household consumption. UNICEF defines as “Children living in poverty experience deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential or participate as full and equal members of society.”

In a study on poverty faced by children, UNICEF found that children face seven areas of severe deprivation: adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. The study found that half the child population of the world suffers at least one form of deprivation. The nature of deprivation is such that one deprivation reinforces others. Lack of access to safe drinking water can affect a child’s health, education and nutrition. Rural children in poverty are twice as likely to suffer some form of deprivation as their urban peers.

Child poverty is not an issue only in low income nations but it found in many middle income nations as well. For example Columbia and Namibia have similar levels of per-capita income but yet Namibia has more severe deprivations. Namibia’s children suffer deprivations closer to those of Togo’s, a much poorer country. Child poverty is also high associated with gender discrimination. How income or resources are earned, distributed and valued depends on the power relations between men and women in the family and in society in general.

Children in poverty experience more then simple material poverty. The lack of material security exposes children to all forms of abuse and exploitation. It creates economic need that pushes children into child labour, and hence forsakes their right to education and recreation. Hence children experience an emotional and mental poverty as well. This in turn produces further material poverty, creating a generational cycle of poverty.

The most popular international estimation of poverty is given by the World Bank at 1.4 Million people living below the poverty line in 2005. In 2008 the World Bank set the poverty line at $1.25 a day using 2005 Purchasing Power Parity terms and price data from the International Comparison Program 2005. This line is based on the mean of national poverty line from various poor countries.

The below poverty line in India is determined by the Planning Commission for the purpose of Central sponsored programmes in the rural areas and urban areas. The tenth five year plan calculated the poverty line by thirteen parameters, with a 0-4 score for each parameter. Families with a score less than 15 out of 52 possible marks are considered to be below the poverty line (BPL). The government caps the number of families in this category at 3.26 lakhs in the rural area and the BPL survey found a total of 3.18 lakhs families in 2002. The thirteen parameters include land holding, type of house, clothing, food security, sanitation, consumer durables, literacy status, labour force, means of livelihood, status of children, type of indebtedness, reasons for migrations etc. In the urban BPL survey poverty is calculated by seven parameters: roof, floor, water, sanitation, education level, type of employment & status of children in a house. In 2004 the survey found 1.25 lakh urban poor families below the poverty line. State governments use their own criteria for BPL calculation for the state schemes.

Poverty estimation covers a much larger population than the below poverty line. There are various differing opinions on poverty estimation in India. There are four main sources of poverty estimation in India.

  • Planning Commission 2004-05 estimates: the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) with the use of the Consumer Price Index of Agricultural Labourers for rural poverty line and Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers (CPIIW) for urban poverty lines, calculated the percentage of poor in the nation. Rural poverty was estimated at 28.3% and urban poverty was estimated at 25.7% as per the Uniform Recall Period consumption in which the consumer expenditure data for all the items are collected from 30-day recall period. Mixed Recall period estimates are slightly lower as MRP indicated consumer expenditure data for five non-food items, namely, clothing, footwear, durable goods, education and institutional medical expenses are collected from 365-day recall period and the consumption data for the remaining items are collected from 30-day recall period.
  • The Arjun Sengupta Report on conditions of work and promotion of livelihoods in the unorganised sector’: estimates the 77% of the population, that is there are 836 million people with the purchasing power income of less than two dollars. Based on NSSO data the committee categorizes poverty into four distinct groups: The extremely poor are people who survive at 0.75 of the official poverty line (PL) (which is at approximately Rs. 10 per capita per day). The poor subsist between 0.75 PL and PL. The marginally poor are slightly better off as their daily consumption rests between PL and 1.25PL. And lastly the vulnerable group who is in danger of becoming poor live on 1.25PL to 2PL (which is approximately Rs 20.3 per capital per day).
  • The Saxena Committee Report: In August, 2009, The Saxena Committee, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Rural Development to advice on a methodology for conducting the Below Poverty Line (BPL) census for the 11th five year plan. The committee aimed at three things; to automatically exclude non-poor families from the survey, automatically include extreme poor families and grade the rest of the families according to fare criteria. The Saxena Committee estimates the 50% of the population would be included in the BPL list.
  • The Tendulkar Committee Report: In November 2009, the Tendulkar Committee, which was appointed by the Planning Commission of India as an expert group to review the methodology for estimation of poverty, produced a report. The committee suggests it is best to continue calculating the poverty line according to private household consumer expenditure of Indian households from data connected by NSSO. Hence according to this report the urban poverty headcount ratio is 25.7 % as calculated previously. But there has been a change in the rural national poverty headcount ratio which was originally calculated to be 28.3 %. It is now estimated at a much “higher and accurate” ratio of 41.8%. This means that according to the report, 37.2% of the population is considered to be below the new poverty line. The new all India poverty line is set at Rs. 446.68 in rural areas and Rs. 578.8 in urban areas.

“Diagnostic teams with ultrasound scanners which detect the sex of a child advertise with catchlines such as spend 600 rupees now and save 50,000 rupees later.” –

The girl child’s discrimination begins before birth in the form of female foeticide. Sex selection has been argued as the consequence of technology. But simply because it is a consequence it does not excuse the fact that between the years 1981-1991 a whopping 11 million girls joined India’s missing women a group of 35 and 40 million. According to Amartya Sen there are more than a hundred million women missing in the world of which India has 37 million missing women by 1986.

Another figure as recorded by UNICEF, said that in 1984 in Bombay out of the 8,000 abortions that took place, 7,999 of them were girls. Girl children are murdered shortly after being born when the family comes to know the sex of the child or killed slowly through neglect and abandonment. In 1993 in Tamil Nadu 196 girls died in suspicious circumstances. “Some were fed dry, un-hulled rice that punctured their windpipes, or were made to swallow poisonous powdered fertilizer. Others were smothered with a wet towel, strangled or allowed to starve to death”. The larger consequence to both female foeticide and infanticide has been the sharply declining sex ratio. The adult sex ratio fell from 972 females for every 1000 males in 1901 to 927 in 1991. Only recently has the ratio increased to 933 in 2001, but the child sex ratio (ages 0-6) have dropped from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001.

According to the United Nations Cyberschoolbus paper on the girl child out of the 130 million children not in school, almost 60% of them are girls. By the age of 18 girl children have received on average 4.4 years less education than boys. In India, the Ministry of Human Resource Development showed the average enrolment rate of girls, ages 6-14 and 14-18, as 93.47% and 36.77%. But they also show the 61.5% of girls drop out of school before completely class XII.

According to a special report on the girl child and labour by International Labour Organisation (ILO) more than 100 million girl children between the ages of 5 and 17 are engaged in child labour, out of which over 50% of them are in hazardous industries, and 20% of those are below twelve years old. It is hard to get correct statistical information about girl child labour since the kind of the work girls undertake is more invisible than that of boys. For example agricultural work, domestic work and working in home based workshops. Many girls are engaged in active labour which is disguised as household chores. ILO shows that 10% of girls are engaged in “household chores” for more than 24 hours in a week which is twice as much as boys. One of the most gender specific forms of child labour is child prostitution. The Human Rights Watch says that prostitution ages have dropped from 14-16 yrs in the 1980’s to 10-14 years in 1991.

According to United Nations Cyberschoolbus paper on the girl child at least one in three girls and women worldwide has been physically harmed or sexually abused in her lifetime. Female genital mutilation though not common in India affects millions of girls and women every year. Sakshi a Delhi based NGO conducted a survey of 357 school girl children: 63% have experienced serious sexual abuse or rape; 29% had forced oral sex, squeezing of breast, and genitals. In 30% of all cases, the person behind the act was a family member. There is also a rise of sexual abuse in schools, where teachers molest their students sometimes in the presence of other children.

The issues surrounding a girl child have been discusses in national child policies and laws and addressed in a few programmes.

  • The National Policy for Children, 1974
  • The National Plan of Action for Children, 2005
  • The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994
  • The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1986
  • The Juvenile Justice Act of 2000
  • Indian Penal code
  • Balika Samriddhi Yojana
  • Kishori Shakti Yojana.

Campaigns promoting the rights of the girl child are found both nationally and internationally. The Government of India has started a “save the girl child” campaign with the slogan “A happy girl is the future of our country”. The UN has many initiatives that aim at the welfare of the girl child. The most significant one is the UN Girls’ Education Initiative launched in April 2000, at the World Education Forum in Dakar, by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Plan U.K (n.d.) has launched a campaign called “Because I am a Girl”. The two major objectives of their campaign is to create a forum in the UN for complaints against governments of countries and to ensure that the British governments aids for education to developing countries and given equally to boys and girls. Population First started a girl campaign called ‘Laadli’, which addresses the issue of the falling sex ratio in Mumbai. The aim of the campaign is to create a positive public image for girls in society and hence change the perceptions and values of families that opt for boy children. In 2004 the Nike Foundation was founded with the aim of addressing developmental issues of the adolescent girl. They released a series of videos and created a sub web page for their campaign: “The Girl Effect”.

“My mom would drop me off in the evening with her older sister (my aunt) to spend the night while she would go out. In most cases, this would be a safe haven babysitter for a child, Right? Wrong! My cousin was 18/19 years old at the time and addicted to drugs. In the small house in which they lived, I was always put in the cousin’s bed to go to sleep prior to him getting home from a “night out”. I vividly remember the first time it happened. I went to bed, asleep by myself – 6 years old – only to be woken up by being raped by my cousin. I remember having my face shoved into a pillow so my screams and cries for help wouldn’t be heard by anyone. When it was over, I was told if I ever mentioned it to anyone, he would kill me – and I believed him.”

I was eight when it happened. My older brother had made a bet with me and I won. He said I got to pick a dare. I thought it would be funny if I saw his underwear and sung the song “I see London, I see France, I see your underpants”. He said we’d do it later. Next thing I know he’s in my room when I was getting ready for bed and he said I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. I said “That’s not fair, but he insisted I do it, and I did. The next night he came in my room while I was in bed and he reached down my pants touching me. I kept my eyes shut because I thought it would help me escape. For many weeks it would happen sometimes randomly, but then every night. He touched me, and took my hand and made me hold and stroke his penis”

These are not random cases of CSA that have been mentioned. CSA is prevalent not just in India but all around the world in alarming figures. According to the first ever National Study on Child Abuse in April 2007, covering 13 states in India and a sample size of 12,446 children, a disturbing number of 53.3% children reported sexual abuse. The survey also found that boys and girls were equally at risk. The most frightening aspect was that 50% of the abusers were known to the children and the children trusted them.

Stages of Child Development

According to Erickson psycho social stages of development the child passes through various stages which help him to become mentally and emotionally strong as an adult. The major developmental task in infancy (0-1year) is to learn whether people, especially primary caregivers, regularly satisfy basic needs. If caregivers are consistent sources of food, comfort, and affection, an infant learns trust- that others are dependable and reliable. If they are neglectful, or perhaps even abusive, the infant instead learns mistrust- that the world is an undependable, unpredictable, and possibly dangerous place. From 2-3 years if caregivers demand too much, ridicule early attempts at self-sufficiency, children may instead develop shame and doubt about their ability to handle problems. During 4-5 years the children are realizing for themselves if they are good or bad and may develop guilty feelings for actions for which they feel they are to blame. The later stages (6-11 years), help the child develop a sense of worth self confidence, a sense of loyalty, his identity and purpose in life (12-19 years). However these ages are not fixed and can overlap and gratification in each stage effects the development of the other.

Any trauma or distress during any of the stages can result in the child being maladjusted or having a problem in some sphere of his life. CSA always impacts a child but in varying degrees. Childhood is the stage when our personalities and beliefs are being formed and any trauma at this stage does impact the psychological and emotional development. No child can be unaffected by the abuse. However not all are affected to the same degree. A child who is severely abused over many years may be affected differently from a child who has been abused once. Also a child who has been abused by a person whom he trusts and loves would be affected differently from a child abused by a stranger.

Indicators of abuse

There is no one single identifiable sign or symptom that all children will have. They may have very subtle or very pronounced symptoms. Most often the abusers are known to the children so there is little or no use of force. Hence the physical evidence of abuse becomes difficult to spot. There may be urinary infections, bleeding from the vagina or anus, STDs, pain in genitals specially during urination, difficulty in walking or sitting, throat infection (due to oral sex) or pregnancy.

Behavioural changes in the child may be subtle or very prominent but will always be there. Children often do not tell with words that they have been sexually abused. Usually a child hardly talks about his abuse and even if s/he does, no one takes him seriously and that further creates more problems in the child increasing his feelings of shame, guilt and the feeling that he is responsible for the abuse. A child could show any of the followings symptoms, but having any, does not necessarily mean the child is abused. The reason for the behaviour must be explored.

  • Waking up in the night screaming, nightmares or other sleeping problems
  • Showing an unusual fear of certain people, places or things
  • A reluctance to be with a certain person
  • Loss of appetite or trouble eating, eating disorders
  • Fear of the bathroom
  • Excessive crying, depression, anxiety
  • Mood changes, anger outbursts or withdrawal or fear
  • Becomes worried when clothing is removed
  • Wearing layers of clothing to hide injuries or provocative clothing
  • Knowledge of sex which is age inappropriate
  • Imitating sexual acts with other children or toys, such as dolls
  • Withdrawing from activities they used to be involved in
  • Academic problems
  • Lowered self esteem
  • Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder such as panic attacks
  • Regressive behaviour like bedwetting (after being potty trained)
  • Having new words for private body parts
  • Excessive masturbation, addiction problems.

Any sudden changes in the behaviour of the child along with physical symptoms must be taken seriously and is a warning signal. It is necessary for the primary caretaker to be vigilant and alert to any changes in the behaviour of the child and also to be aware of what the child may be trying to convey verbally though indirectly. One common feeling that most children and adolescents have is of guilt and shame. Children usually feel a sense of guilt over the abuse that occurred. It is important to remember that under no circumstance is the child ever responsible for what happened to them. There is a sense of betrayal as the abuse is often by a person whom they trust and love. It is crucial that “re- victimization” does not happen.

Some ways a child can be re- victimized is by saying to the child: “Uncle, or Grandpa would never do that to you, why are you lying?” or “It couldn’t have been that bad or you would have told me sooner”.

The Silent Problem

As we can see that the children are traumatized so why is it that they still don’t tell and talk about their abuse. Especially in India, the children are taught to respect their elders come what may, the elders know what is good for you and they are never wrong.

Other reasons why the children keep quiet is because of their relationship with the offender, they do not want to put the abuser into trouble, their sense of loyalty towards the abuser or at times even to protect another who is not an abuser. The child is confused between the behaviours of the adult who is caring at times and abusive otherwise and hence cannot distinguish who the real adult is. Abusers may offer a combination of gifts and threats about what will happen if the child refuses or tells someone. Threats include physical threats or what will be lost in the form of family breaking up. The child’s fear is played upon by the abuser. At times the child may experience a physical pleasure or arousal and this confusion makes it difficult for the child to speak up. Very often the child thinks he is to blame for being bad and is being punished this way. He is too ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone. He feels no one will believe him. The reasons may differ depending on the age of the child at the time of abuse and who the abuser is.

Consequences of CSA

Child sexual abuse victims usually carry this trauma with them for the rest of their lives. Depending on the seriousness, duration and type of abuse, the effects can vary in intensity but mostly do affect all victims in some aspect of their lives and are manifested in psychological, social, sexual or physical problems. I realize that I build walls between myself and people who love me, including my wife – it’s the only way I know to protect myself from getting hurt.

I don’t know how to let someone love me. My wife has gotten tired of running into that wall. I realize that the long term affects of child abuse has caused me to form defensive personality traits which make it difficult to have adult relationships. I feel as though I am damaged, I have no self esteem / confidence, everyone else is “better” than me. My life has been moulded by the abuse and hurt I suffered as a child and I make those around me miserable as a result.

Psychologically the person can report panic attacks, depression, fears, panic attacks, sleeping problems, nightmares, irritability, outbursts of anger and sudden shock reactions when being touched. They have low self esteem and little confidence and respect in themselves. They may resort to self destructive behaviours like addictions, prostitution. Socially they are not able to trust others and do not have satisfying relationships. They may deliberately get into relationships where they will be abused as they see themselves as .damaged goods.. Sexually they may not want to be touched as it brings back memories, or have problems with pain and orgasms or be averse to any particular act like oral sex. This affects relationships as the partner does not understand what is happening.

Many psychosomatic illnesses may occur which could include eating disorders, inexplicable aches and pains and may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

Role of a Trusted Adult

The foremost thing that an adult can do is to believe the child. Children rarely make up stories about sexual abuse. However vague or imaginative the narration may be, the child is entrusting you with a part of himself that is sore, painful and terrifying and embarrassing. Let the child know that you are willing to listen patiently to whatever the child has to say however painful it may be. Here is a person the child can trust, feel understood and not betrayed. Validate the child’s feelings of anger, pain, fear, helplessness as the child needs to express them and be heard. Be genuine in your response even if it is of outrage but do not make your feelings overwhelm the child’s. If for some reason you are unable to handle it and are extremely upset or defensive, it may be from a feeling you have repressed from the past, in which case you can encourage the child to speak with someone else whom they see as trustworthy.

Most importantly, view the person as someone strong who has come for help rather than as a victim. It is important for the child to be helped to overcome the abuse by trained professionals who in an unthreatening atmosphere help the child to regain control over his life. This is done through various play methods or through the creative arts like dance, drama or drawing. No child should be made to go through the trauma and suffer all his life for a fault which is not his.

Parents/teachers need to educate the child about CSA, how to prevent it and what the child needs to do. They need to be given age appropriate sex education and explained about appropriate touch and inappropriate touch. Remember – No child seduces an abuser. Children ask for attention and affection not abuse.