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You have been working for children in the city for more than a decade now. Do you think that children in the city are safe?
Everything is comparative. Children living in different areas of the country are living in a different style. In Chandigarh the majority of the children are with their parents and it is not like children who have run away from home and have come here. That category is very small; we have been dealing with those children. They are mostly boys and we have seen in Chandigarh, there is not much of a culture that girls coming from other cities are getting involved in any activity. Since most of the children are with their parents, we can say they are safe.
What are the problems you believe exist for the children living in slums and colonies?
Now when you are living in colonies or slums, there is a large number of people in one particular area. Say in a room, which is 10×10 and it has a washroom, kitchen — everything within that area. When there are so many people present in a room, one can imagine there is no privacy for anyone. There is nothing which child doesn’t know. Secondly, sometimes the father comes home drunk and it leads to many other issues.
You are running a helpline as well. How many calls do you receive?
We have a centralised system across the country and if you call on our number (1098), it would go to Mumbai and a counsellor is there to address your problem. If the issue is local and it needs action at a local level, then it will come to us for action.The calls are not that many. Any call which we receive is a new case. We get about 30-35 cases in a month.
What type of calls do you get?
Abuse is the most popular one. Maybe a teacher has dealt with a child in a firm manner; that also becomes an abuse. Once we get a call, we see then what type of case is there and then we go for counselling. Although calls may be around 35 a month, it takes a lot of time to resolve one case. We also get calls for shelter. Sexual abuse cases are there, but very less.
The number of calls made to the helpline usually increases around the time of examination and results. What is the reason?
Yes, there are anxiety calls and the call centre itself handles them. The reason why there are calls at the time of examination is because these days parents have huge expectations from their kids. Then peer pressure is also there which makes the kids nervous.
Many children these days are spotted around traffic lights. Is child begging becoming a major issue in the city?
We do receive calls about it. But in Chandigarh it is not a real problem. What we are witnessing in other parts of the country, it doesn’t exist in our city. What is happening is that many families are migrating here and they make themselves comfortable somewhere around the traffic islands. The families are staying on pavements and when the light suddenly becomes red, children rush and run across. Maybe the parents also help them in buying balloons and selling them. The problem is, you can’t do much about it because the moment you do something about it, the whole community is after you. To address this problem, police need to take action and remove these people from these areas.
We have seen NGOs rescuing children from several places in the city. How many calls you receive pertain to child labour?
Firstly, I think parents do allow their children to work. Unfortunately the issue regarding this is it all happens inside the home and no one really complains about it if everything is going well. The problem crops up if a neighbour feels that the child is harassed and then we get a report. Once we come to know that if the child below 14 is working, we take action. I think parents are equally to blame for this.
Is Chandigarh Police supportive since you have to deal with the local police as well?
We have requested the police that we need one-point contact from the police side. The problem is that in the city different police stations have different cultures and working environments. It would help us tremendously if there is a one-point contact. All those people from the police we deal with, they are very good. The problem is that we need to go to different police stations and everyone has a different working style and it is not possible to create a child-friendly environment in every police station in the city. I would request Chandigarh DGP to make one police station child- friendly and handle all the cases from there.
Do you think UT Police follows law while dealing with juvenile offenders?
Over a period of time, they have definitely become wiser. We have also interacted with them, but awareness is more now among the police personnel.