Are our children really free?
SHILLONG: Children's Day also means celebrating every child's right, but does every child in Meghalaya receive that right?
This day does not only mean singing and dancing, gifts and presents, food and refreshment. Let's not forget that this day is celebrated in honour of our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlai Nehru simply for his love and fondness of children and to him, this love was not limited to only sweets and presents, it holds a much deeper meaning, the love that wishes to remove the heavy burden some children still carries today viz. Child labour, illiteracy, hunger and poverty.
A quick look at the current scenario in Shillong, the future of the street children mainly in Khyndai Lad and Motphram area hangs by a thread as some feels that deprived of the right every child deserves, these children will turn out to become a burden on the society.
Should they be blamed if they steal, if they take drugs, if they loiter or if they create nuisance? They are brought up in the streets, so everybody wouldn't be shock if they turn out to become street hooligans. But let's not forget that these children commit all these petty crime because they don't have a choice. Hunger demands it.
A verse in the Bible says, 'Hate the sin not the sinner'. Going by this biblical verse, the society should try focusing not on the children and their habits but on the reasons which drove them to act in a rude and lawless manner. The solution definitely lies not only on changing the children but transforming the entire system.
The police department and some voluntary self help groups and NGOs have tried their bits in this part. From time to time, various initiatives have been launched for the benefits of these children, providing them with the opportunity to enjoy the basic rights though, the same is temporary.
During the past few years, the police have taken various steps to ensure that the street children are not being made scapegoats and exploited for someone else benefits. One issue which really concerns the police department is drugs and substance abuse, which is very common amongst the street children.
The Superintendent of Police (City) East Khasi Hills, Vivek Syiem recently mentioned that the reasons behind the rise of petty crimes in the city committed by delinquent is due to hunger and security aspects, besides graving for drugs and substance abuse.
Statistics shows that the drug abusers identified in the district are mostly street children where in as many as 70 of the children have been identified for abusing dendrite and ganja.
"In Shillong alone, the time –bomb is ticking and child officers need to take an extra step by finding out the hanging out place of these children and bring them under protection and care," Syiem pointed out.
Stressing on the importance of support systems in the city, Syiem said there were instances where a delinquent comes out of the observation home and becomes harden. "Could the atmosphere or the surrounding areas be blamed for making these children harden and graduate in petty crimes?" Syiem questioned.
Petty crime committed by the street children is one issue which needs to be taken up seriously. Another important issue is crime committed against minors in the state.
Police reports has stated that this year alone (Jan-Aug), police have reported as many as 155 cases of crime committed against children and 70 such cases was registered under the Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 alone. This only reflects that mentality of the society.
As per the statistics on Cognizable Crimes (against Children) in Meghalaya during the year 2014, as many as 213 cases were reported out of which 178 cases were investigated and 160 cases were charge sheeted. Interestingly, out of the 178 registered cases, only 7 were convicted and trail is still pending for the 478 cases (including 2013 cases). Hats off to our justice system!!!
Meghalaya celebrates Children's Day every year, but does every child celebrate this day with passion, joy and liberty? It is a waste for the state to celebrate this day if the system itself cannot ensure that every child receives all the basic rights—right to live, right to education and the right to receive all the basic amenities like food, clothing and shelter.
So Meghalaya needs to pull up its socks and emulate what our People's President, (L) A. P. J. Abdul Kalam had once said, "Let us sacrifice our today so that our children can have a better tomorrow".