Shed a tear for Shanno…
Shed a tear for Shanno’s smothered innocence. It is my fault, of course. I didn’t learn the alphabet. The teacher is right to punish me. But why this weakness? Why is the ground blurring? I must be strong. The sun is so hot today…
Shed a tear for Shanno’s pain. I stood in a contorted position, like a criminal in a self-righteous policeman’s cell. But maybe that’s the way of the world I’m going to grow in.
Shed a tear for Shanno’s perplexity, her confusion. Wasn’t this school the temple of learning, the route to a better life? This suffering, then, must be a trail to that route.
Shed a tear for Shanno’s aspirations. I too will, one day, through education and learning, cross over to the other side, the side of light, joy and fulfilment. The side they call ‘emerging India’. I too will lead my country, buy a car — and play all day. I will be Prime Minister.
Shed a tear for Shanno’s ignorance. She died without knowing she could protest.
She died without a fight. She died without knowing that it need not — it should not — have ended that way.
Shed a tear for Shanno’s potential. A promise of an India that professes to be young, an India whose leaders seek to invest in her vote. A vote she would have cast seven years later.
Shed a tear for Shanno’s parents. Simple folks, living a simple life, with simple ambitions, now enmeshed in a complex web of media spotlight, legal wrangles. And a system that after jerking off on the initial titillation, will vent its frustrations out on the next child, the next couple.
Shed a tear for Shanno’s society. A society of which we are a part. A part that refuses to let go of violence as a top-down transaction. A violence inflicted on the weakest. On the vulnerable, on our children.
Shed a tear for not giving Shanno a chance that was promised to her by the world’s largest Constitution.
Shed a tear for not giving Shanno the right to a painless, silent death. A right that was hers by a contract, sealed by the divine.
Shed a tear for the shame that so many Shannos die in our great nation every day.
Shed a tear for the shell of indifference we recede into, creating a false security that we and our little Shannos are protected.
Shed another tear, for not having shed them earlier.
Shed one last tear so that Shanno forgives us.
…I shed mine…
The tears wouldn’t stop. Just as a colleague entered my room, wanting to know how to tackle the ICICI Bank story, the horrific images of Shanno in the hospital, on her bed, streamed in, releasing tears that no amount of self-control could hold back. She looked frail, thin, weak, exhausted. She was dead.
At 40 degrees centigrade, that sun was hot enough for a tropical person like me to just about manage a half-hour drive on Delhi’s road with the AC running. From that comfortable drive I wondered what sort of a person could inflict such torture on an 11-year-old?
And as the debate on individual accountability, systemic failure, inadequate punitive policies and a general sense of cultural indifference towards our children rages on one angry channel after another, I wondered whether Shanno the individual, Shanno the person, Shanno the soul, got lost in the din.
…in sadness but not in irrationality…
Because the issue is so poignant, it would be easy to blame Manju, her teacher, who allegedly punished her to death. But let not the rational restraint be swallowed up by TV channels and images seeking a higher TRP. We need to give investigators the time they need to come to a valid conclusion, under law.
What if Manju is innocent?
…that will prevent us move towards empowering our children…
Here’s a very useful report on the subject. Titled United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children Adapted for Children and Young People, this is a report that parents must hand over to their 12-plus children. Moving to the section on violence in schools, it talks about the kind of violence in schools. All schools and parents must download this report and be watchful. Here’s what it says:
- Physical violence from teachers — teachers may beat children as punishment, for example when they have not done their work properly. 106 countries in the world have not banned physical punishment in schools.
- Cruel treatment and humiliation by teachers — teachers shout at students or call them names.
- Bullying: physical and mental violence from other students — there may be school ground fights or bullying by other students. Bullying is most often verbal — namecalling or insulting — but physical violence can also occur. In studies from around the world, between 20 per cent and 60 per cent of children reported that they had been bullied at school in the past month.
- Sexual and gender violence — girls may be harassed verbally, abused or raped at school or on their way there by male teachers and/or classmates. Also there is often violence towards young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
And here’s what policymakers can do to prevent another Shanno:
Schools should be places where children are able to learn free from violence. Schools should be safe and child-friendly. Children should learn about their rights. Schools should be places where children learn that violence is never allowed, and that they can lead their lives in non-violent ways. This means that governments should:
- make sure that schools have a code of conduct (set of rules) for staff and students, banning violence and showing how to behave in a non-violent way. Schools should make it clear that no form of discrimination will be allowed, including treating girls or boys less well because of their gender.
- make sure that good training programmes are provided to show teachers, other staff and parents how to teach or discipline without being violent, threatening or humiliating children.
- make sure that schools build the knowledge, attitudes and skills that children need to lead non-violent lives and to deal with any violence that they might experience. Schools should have anti-bullying policies, and promote respect for everyone in the school.
- make sure that schools teach children about child rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The way teaching is done should in no way encourage anyone to be violent.
…by making them aware of violence in schools…
According to a UNICEF report, one of the places where children experience violence is in schools.
“Schools have an important role in protecting children from violence. For many children, though, educational settings expose them to violence and may teach them violence. They are exposed to corporal punishment, cruel and humiliating forms of psychological punishment, sexual and gender-based violence, and bullying. Although 102 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools, often this ban is not adequately enforced. Fighting and bullying are also examples of violence against children in schools. Often bullying is associated with discrimination against students from poor families or marginalized groups, or those with particular personal characteristics such as appearance or a disability. Schools are also affected by events in the wider community – for example, gang culture or gang-related criminal activity associated with drugs.”
…as well as at home, from parents…
Besides schools children are exposed to violence in many other places, the same report says. Shanno was the result of what the report calls “extreme violence”, but look around anywhere you’ll see a child victim. Here are the biggest violators:
- Boyfriends or girlfriends
- Spouses and partners
- Teachers and employers
“The study concludes that violence against children happens everywhere, in every country and society and across all social groups. Extreme violence against children may hit the headlines but children say that daily, repeated small acts of violence and abuse also hurt them. While some violence is unexpected and isolated, most violent acts against children are carried out by people they know and should be able to trust: parents, boyfriends or girlfriends, spouses and partners, schoolmates, teachers and employers. Violence against children includes physical violence, psychological violence such as insults and humiliation, discrimination, neglect and maltreatment. Although the consequences may vary according to the nature and severity of the violence inflicted, the short- and long-term repercussions for children are very often grave and damaging.”
…like this incident in Orissa…
UNICEF has another report that schools and parents should download. Titled Our Right to Be Protected from Violence, it gives this telling India-specific example. Is that another Shanno in the making?
“My teacher teaches in Oriya (a local language), which I don’t understand. When he asks me a question, I can’t answer because I don’t follow what he says. He abuses me and hits me with a duster everyday for it.” Tribal girl, 9, South Asia
…tell them about their Constitutional rights…
What are the constitutional tools for the protection of Shanno in India?
This is what Article 39 (f) in the Constitution of India says:
“The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.”
…and open our eyes to this profanity across the world…
To see how the world looks at violence against children, take look at Ending Legalised Violence Against Children: Global Report 2008.
According to this report, out of the 197 countries comprising all those that have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child — barring Vatican City (which has no child population), plus Palestine, Somalia, Taiwan, the US and Western Sahara — as on September 2008, 108 (or less than 55 per cent) had prohibited corporal punishment to children in schools by law. This protected less than 42 per cent of the world’s children. Meaning three out of five children across the world are vulnerable to corporal punishment in schools.
…and pull in the demonstration effect into India…
The same report says, only 23 countries or less than 12 per cent had prohibited it at home, which protected just 3.2 per cent of the world’s children. These are:
- Austria (1989)
- Bulgaria (2000)
- Costa Rica (2008)
- Croatia (1998)
- Cyprus (1994)
- Denmark (1997)
- Finland (1983)
- Germany (2000)
- Greece (2006)
- Hungary (2004)
- Iceland (2003)
- Israel (2000)
- Latvia (1998)
- Netherlands (2007)
- New Zealand (2007)
- Norway (1987)
- Portugal (2007)
- Romania (2004)
- Spain (2007)
- Sweden (1979)
- Ukraine (2003)
- Uruguay (2007)
- Venezuela (2007)
While India has not prohibited parents from hitting children at home, some states have prohibited it in schools and children sentenced for crime. It has not prohibited it as a disciplinary measure or in alternative care settings.
…so that we can empower our policymakers…
Policymakers’ work is cut out and if they want to benchmark globally, here is a 5-point agenda:
1. Explicitly prohibit all violence against children, including all corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading punishment or treatment, in the family and in all other settings. This is required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and by other international and regional human rights instruments. Law reform is required to repeal any existing defences that can be used to justify violent punishment and any laws that authorise it in any setting. Explicit prohibition in sectoral laws applying within the family and to schools, the penal system, alternative care settings and situations of employment is required to send a clear message.
2. Ensure that awareness-raising of children’s right to protection, promotion of non-violent childrearing and education and the principles of non-violent confl ict resolution are built into all the points of contact with future parents and parents and into the training of all those working with or for children and families. Encourage political, community and faith leaders and educators to support this awareness-raising and public education.
3. Involve children in the development of effective and appropriate action to eliminate corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading punishment or treatment.
4. Review the extent of violent victimisation of children, including in the family, through confi dential interview studies with children themselves and with parents and other carers.
5. Review safeguards to protect children from all forms of violence in the full range of residential institutions and other forms of alternative care, state and private, and implement any necessary improvements.
…across the world…
According to the London based National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, as many as “7 per cent of children experience serious physical abuse at the hands of their parents or carers. Emotional abuse affects 6 per cent of children. One per cent of children are sexually abused by a parent or carer. Outside of the family, 11 per cent experience sexual abuse by someone known, but not related, to them.”
In another report, the organisation says that as many as 1,000 children may have died in the UK over 10 years because of cruelty and neglect.
…and once the issues of definition are resolved…
Let’s define what constitutes cruelty to children. Here’s a list from lawandparents.co.uk.
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Domestic Violence
- Physical Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
Shanno’s death would fall under physical abuse.
…and the global vulnerability of a child is acknowledged…
India is not alone in neglecting or engaging in cruelty against its children. In a report by Dr. Prasanna S. Jirli, Dr. Ashok Kumar S. Shetty, Dr. S.C. Mestri and Dr. V.D. Patil of J.N. Medical College, 40 million children in the world aged 0-14 years are abused and neglected. “These children require both health care and social care,” they said in Battered Child — A Case Report.
…and after 53,000 dead Shannos have been turned into data…
Another report by The Independent cites these terrible statistics:
- According to the World Health Organisation, up to 53,000 children are murdered worldwide each year.
- Between 80 and 93 per cent of children suffer some form of physical punishment in their homes; a third are punished using implements.
- In 2002, the WHO estimated that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 experienced some form of forced sexual intercourse or violence.
- 218 million children worldwide are labourers, 126 million of whom work in hazardous environments.
- 1.8 million are involved in prostitution or pornography and 1.2 million have been trafficked.
- Up to 275 million witness domestic abuse annually.
- Eight million worldwide are in residential care.
- There are 250,000 child soldiers in the world.
- According to Amnesty International, 40 per cent of soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are children. 11,000 have still yet to be disarmed.
- Save the Children says a million children worldwide have been imprisoned.
One last statistic that magnifies Shanno’s death:
- One billion children live in countries where it is legal to beat pupils.
…let us strengthen what we have…
I’m not one to needlessly castigate policy. I believe policy should serve a practical, societal need and is an evolving tool for good governance. But while India has all the rights and all the laws and is a signatory to all international agreements on protecting children, here’s a telling example of the flaccid way in which it defines Rights of the Child. It shows just how distant, how loose and how feeble policy is from people — no attempt at empowerment, no attempt to educate or inform. Just a wallowing in self-praise.
This must change.
…and act on what we have signed…
According to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of November 20, 1989, and came into force on September 2, 1990.
Article 19 (1) says: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
Here’s what the India declaration said: “While fully subscribing to the objectives and purposes of the Convention, realising that certain of the rights of child, namely those pertaining to the economic, social and cultural rights can only be progressively implemented in the developing countries, subject to the extent of available resources and within the framework of international co-operation; recognising that the child has to be protected from exploitation of all forms including economic exploitation; noting that for several reasons children of different ages do work in India; having prescribed minimum ages for employment in hazardous occupations and in certain other areas; having made regulatory provisions regarding hours and conditions of employment; and being aware that it is not practical immediately to prescribe minimum ages for admission to each and every area of employment in India – the Government of India undertakes to take measures to progressively implement the provisions of article 32, particularly paragraph 2 (a), in accordance with its national legislation and relevant international instruments to which it is a State Party.”
…so that Shanno can live freely, fearlessly, painlessly
Our future lies in the conversion of thousands of Shannos into thousands of leaders, who will create the India of tomorrow. Let’s give them the protection that’s theirs by right.