Crime against children is rising alarmingly in Arunachal Pradesh, and much of the blame rests with agencies tasked with preventing it.
In the capital Itanagar alone, the Child Welfare Committee receives about 20 complaints of child rights violations a month. Childline, a national helpline for children in need of care and protection, dealt with 157 cases, including 91 of child labour, from the city between January 2016 and July 2017. There were also nine cases of children needing counseling for drug addiction and pornography.
In all, Childline recorded 104 “confirmed cases” of child labour and seven of sexual abuse from across Arunachal in this period. For a state of just 15 lakh people, these numbers are highly disturbing.
And this is not even the full picture, as Kani Nada Maling, who heads the Itanagar Child Welfare Committee, pointed out: most crimes against children go unreported. One reason, the city’s Childline coordinator Jumtum Minga said, is that the victims are mostly from marginalised groups – native and Assamese Adivasis, migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Chakma refugees from Bangladesh, the state’s erstwhile bonded labour community of Puroiks.
Maling said most of the children they have rescued were sent into child labour by their desperately poor families. Many of them then ended up being abused physically, psychologically or sexually. “They are often beaten up by their employers because they can’t do household chores properly,” said Minga. “People forget they are still babies.”
Let alone prevent this, child rights activists complained, the state does not even have “any proper mechanism to verify the homes” children are sent to work in.
Failing the young
Another major reason for rising crime against children is that Arunachal is ill-equipped to deal with it. The state has only six Child Care Institutions – housing facilities for children in need of care and protection or in conflict with law that are run by the government or voluntary organisations – and two of them, in Tawang and Yachuli, are not functioning at all. Their contracts will not be renewed, Women and Child Development Director Tokmem Pertin Loyi said.
Similarly, of the 21 Child Welfare Committees, only those in Ziro, Lower Subansori, and Itanagar are active, according to records maintained by Childline.
“CWCs in Itanagar and Ziro have been dependable, the rest are in slumber,” said Minga. “Let alone work for safeguarding children’s rights, they do not even take calls.” He said it was time “CWCs are activated across the state”.
In fact, even the two active committees are hamstrung. “We have an office and necessary equipment thanks to the proactive district administration,” said Maling, of the Itanagar committee. “But neither CWC nor Childline has a vehicle and the police are not always able to provide us one when we need it.”
Mepung Tadar Bage, general secretary of the Indian Council for Child Welfare’s Arunachal Pradesh chapter, believes that setting up more Child Welfare Committees alone won’t help much. “It will not serve the purpose unless there are more shelter homes and professional social workers,” he said. “There is also an urgent need to train all CWC members so that they know their roles and responsibilities.”
Instead, she argued, the state must focus on “implementing in totality” the central government’s Integrated Child Protection Scheme. Bage also called for “convergence between police and labour department to help the CWCs”.
Mitali Tingkhatra, head of the State Commission for Women, called for launching “more awareness campaigns about myriad laws and mechanisms available for protection of children”. She also argued for “a separate children’s commission”.
Currently, the women’s commission doubles up as the agency for protection of child rights even though it is stretched for resources; its members have not been paid the meager honorarium of Rs 1,000 per sitting for the last one year, apparently because “the funds are yet to be received from the central government”.
It’s not just the lack of resources that child rights workers must contend with. They are routinely abused and threatened by the perpetrators, emboldened by a weak state. “It has become part of my job to endure abuse from the very people who should be in jail for crimes against children,” rued Minga.