To help shed light on issues related to children of Bihar in this election season, a group of non-profit, non-governmental organisations have conducted interviews with nearly 500 children from the state, including those rescued from trafficking and child labour from major cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, and prepared a ‘manifesto’.
The document titled ‘Bacche Aage, Bihar Aage’ speaks about children’s issues and their expectations from elected representatives, and has been submitted to political parties.
As per the 2011 Census, at 46 per cent, Bihar has the highest proportion of child population in the country, and ranks third in the country in the category of children in the age group of 5-14 engaged in child labour. The state has 10.88 lakh child workers, with the highest in Gaya district (78,000). Two years ago, the state also saw the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, where many minor girls were allegedly sexually abused and tortured. The Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the case and 19 persons were convicted in the case earlier this year.
Rights activists working to stop trafficking say most issues related to children do not find significant mention in political party manifestos, which led to the idea of creating a manifesto by children.
The manifesto includes demanding an increase in the budgetary allocation for children –– the current state budget has provisions for Rs 3,727 per child, lower than many states. It also states the need for better policies to bring the state on par with the national average on parameters including stunting among children below five years of age, infant mortality rate and literacy.
Among the children who contributed to the 16-page manifesto is a 17-year old, who was rescued from a work unit in Jaipur when he was only 12. The Gaya resident says that good quality education still remains elusive and he has asked for it in the manifesto. He and three of his younger siblings are enrolled in a local government school but he says that they get a mid-day meal and time to play kabaddi, but the quality of education is poor.
“We are told that we should aspire to make our children join the police force or become teachers. We also want them to gain education which will enable that so that they are not left struggling like us for food. But the government schools are not up to the mark and we cannot afford the fees of a private school. Representatives make promises of vikas before every election, but our situation has not changed and now the fear is that it will remain unchanged even for our children,” says the 17-year old’s mother, a landless labourer from Gaya, over the phone.
She says that the family has to manage most days on a single meal and their livelihood or the lack of it affects their children’s future too.
During the lockdown, many children were stranded in custodial homes across the country awaiting reintegration with their families. In Mumbai, a counsellor of a children’s institution said that some parents have cited financial inability to even manage two meals for their children, and in such a situation the children cannot be sent back.
Suresh Kumar, executive director, Centre DIRECT, a Bihar-based organisation fighting against child labour, which was part of formulating the manifesto along with UNICEF, Child Rights Centre and Chanakya National Law University Patna, says that most trafficked children come from marginalised communities.
“While a circular was issued to all police stations in the state in August to remain alert to an increase in cases of trafficking during the pandemic, the opportunity of creating a registry to map the children part of the child labour workforce who returned home was lost. No effort was made to register them, map their needs. Not including these issues in poll manifestoes shows that the magnitude of the problem is downplayed,” Kumar said.
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