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Stolen Childhood

In an interview to BBC Dr APJ Abdul Kalam said Birthday is the only one day in your life
when you were crying and your mother was laughing.
This statement says how much parents love to their children. When a child comes out of the
mothers womb, the moment is celebrated by the family and relatives. But in course of time
the child is exposed to the real world. The real world is very much different from his mothers
womb.
Difficulties start from his childhood. The problems in the life of a child are linked to the
socio-economic condition of his parents. Broadly problems such as child labour, child
marriage, childhood diseases, child sexual harassment, busy parents, alcoholic parents,
domestic violence, excess study pressure and modern phenomenon like reality shows steal
the noble times from a childs life.
There are people in India, who are not able to earn their basic needs. When food, cloth and
shelter are not available to someone, then he works for the survival first. To meet their basic
needs, children are forced to work from a tender age.
In rural India, they work in the agriculture fields. In urban areas, they work in road side
dhabas, tea shops, leather industry, bidi making factories or glass industries.
Children are preferred by the employers over the adults. Children dont have bargaining
power; they are unaware of their rights; they can be used in any type of works; they can be
put into work for long hours. By employing children, the employer maximises his profit.
Sometimes, the employer justifies his act of employing children. Poor children dont get food
to eat. So he employs them for humanitarian cause.
In rural areas girl children are engaged in household works from a very early age. When her
parents are out for work, she takes care of her younger siblings. Most of the time her
household works are not considered as labour.
The effect of working from an early age is manifold. The children cant get education. Lack
of education affects them for the entire life.
Working from an early age affects their health. Generally, the children work in pathetic
working environment. Bad working and living conditions hamper their physical and mental
growth. Sometimes they work in hazardous industries such as fireworks, bidi making and
glass manufacturing etc. They become vulnerable to diseases like cancer, respiratory
disorders and eye sight problems, due to underdeveloped immune system.
They see the bad side of the world from the childhood. They grow up as bad citizens. When
they become capable of doing bad activities like theft, murder, rape, contract killing; they
dont give a second thought, whether to commit the crime or not.

The Indian constitution puts blanket ban on child labour. Below the age of fourteen, no one
can be employed for wages. After the enactment of Right to Education (RTE )Act , anti child
labour laws became more stringent. Without addressing the root cause of the issue, enactment
of Acts will not do anything desirable.
Major portion of the child labour work force is employed in the unorganised and
unrecognised sectors. Hence it becomes difficult to catch the employers and help the child.
A recent report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) says more than fifty percent of
marriages in India are child marriages. If the brides age is below 18 or the grooms age is
below 21 at the time of marriage, it is considered as child marriage.
Child marriage is a mindset issue in rural India. When a girl attains puberty, her parents start
searching for a groom. There are many reasons why the parents do that.
The society influences parents to get their girl child married at an early age. The myths like,
when the girl gets higher education, the dowry demands from the grooms side increase
accordingly. Parents think of child marriage to avoid the burden of dowry. Another myth, if
the girl gets exposure to modern way of thinking, she might elope with someone, which will
damage the social prestige of her parents.
When the girl takes a bold decision of marrying outside her caste or religion, she faces the
drastic consequences from her own family or kinship group. Dharmapuri incident on inter
caste marriage is an example. The higher caste girl married to a lower caste boy, and the so
called higher caste people torched the whole village of the lower caste people. The atrocity
didnt end there; the boy had to sacrifice his life in the incident. The Khap Panchayats
activities against inter caste marriages are no different from the above case. To avoid all these
potential future problems, parents think of child marriages.
The consequences of child marriages like high maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate ,
bad family life cant be ignored. In some cases the age difference between the child bride and
the groom is more than twenty. The groom attains old age earlier and dies, when the girl is at
young or middle age. Life becomes more difficult for her afterwards.
Generally child marriages happen in societies of rural India and uneducated families; where
the knowledge about health, child care and nutrition is limited. The girl child after marriage
becomes unable to manage family life. She cant take care of her children as well. Child
marriage doesnt only ruin the life of the girl child; it ruins the lives of the next generation as
well. Government has been trying hard to stop the shameful activity.
From British time, religious reformers and government has been revising the legal age of
marriage. Sharda Act (1929) and subsequent Acts on legal marriage age has raised the age bar
to 18 for bride and 21 for groom. However, the law is well in its place, and the reality is
something different.
Child sexual harassment is also an inhumane activity practiced in our society. The recent TV
show Satyamev Jayate showed one report on child sexual harassment. As per the report,

most of the time, the family members and the relatives are the culprits who sexually harass
the child. When a child becomes victim of such an act, it affects the child for his entire life
time. It has deteriorating effect on his mental strength. The self confidence of the child goes
down. In those cases, parents should be more vigilant to take care of their children.
Children are more vulnerable to many life threatening diseases. With the advancement of
science and technology, children are getting immunization doses for diseases like Polio,
Measles etc. But all children are not fortunate to get the doses. Children of tribal areas and far
flung areas, where the district administration has not yet reached dont get the doses. Their
bad living conditions and lack of immunization doses make them vulnerable to life
threatening diseases. These diseases either take their lives or make them disabled for their life
time.
A recent report by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on internal security
says that children at the age of ten are getting training to join the Naxallite groups in future.
When a child gets training to kill at the age of ten, his childhood and his future actions are
detrimental to the society at large.
Though the government is trying hard to setup residential schools in tribal areas, at the
implementation level, it is unsuccessful. There is a trust deficit between the tribal people and
the government. The trust deficit issue should be addressed first before any developmental
initiatives.
The children in the urban areas face different set of problems. One line is coming to my mind
from the movie Three Idiots-Mera Beta Engineer Banega. Even before the birth of the
child, parents start the career planning of the child.
When a child starts his formal education, he sees parents pressure, peer pressure and societal
pressure to do well in his studies. That makes the child competitive, but in the long run he
misses the fun of childhood. The intense competition force the child to spend most of his time
in front of the books or computers. School classes and personal tuition classes take his whole
day. He is left with no time for socialization and physical activities.
Lack of physical activities in the childhood affects the health the child. The child develops
life style diseases like diabetes and hypertension from an early age. There should be an
perfect balance between study and recreational activities.
Reality shows are modern day activities. Parents want their children to excel in all fields. He
should do best in studies along with extracurricular activities like dance, drama, music etc.
This puts enormous pressure on the children.
Society is changing at a fast rate. Influence of western societies on Indian life styles cant be
ignored. Increasing rate of divorce cases is evident from the mushrooming marital dispute
resolution centres. Divorce of parents affects the child both psychologically and physically.
Nuclear families do not give a chance to the children to spend time with the grand parents
and siblings. Listening to stories from grandmother and falling asleep on her lap is just like

fiction for the modern day children. Without siblings, children dont get a chance to learn the
joy of sharing. Children spend their time with electronic gadgets like laptops and social
networking sites. This affects their psyche.
Childhood is a precious time. When the time passes, it becomes memory. Without good
memories, life seems meaningless. Our scriptures say Children are sacred. At least they
should be allowed to be sacred till their childhood ends. Now the question comes to us, who
is the culprit here? - The society, the government or their bad luck.
Santosh Kumar Behra