Indian Children Toil in Dangerous Coal Mines

BoyThousands of young children work in the coal mines of Meghalaya state in northeast India. Deprived of a childhood and education, they work in dangerous, unstable and uncomfortable conditions with the constant threat of injury or death.

Children as young as 9 years-old work in “rat-hole” tunnels, digging for coal. Tunnels are extremely small with ceilings less than 1 meter high and narrow passages that only a small child can squeeze into. Provided with little more than a pickaxe and a head lamp, children crouch in these dark, damp, and tiny spaces for seven hours at a time breathing in air filled with sulfur.

“When I first went in the rat-hole, I was so scared. I thought the roof would fall on me. My knees were all scratched, but after two weeks I got used to it…Inside it is very unstable. The smell is awful. It is so dirty, and it is difficult to move. You breathe in the coal and the dust. People get sick like this. There is no water to drink and it is so muddy. It is not nice at all,” explained Karma, a 16 year-old miner.

The local child rights NGO, Impulse, estimates that approximately 70,000 children work mining for coal or loading coal trucks throughout India and Bangladesh. Most of these children are illegally trafficked in from nearby Nepal and Bangladesh. Human traffickers promise families large sums of money in exchange for their children’s commitment to work, but they often fail to explain the real dangers of the work they will engage in. Many children die while working in the mines, but their deaths are never reported or investigated.

Child miners work without safety equipment, healthcare or insurance to protect them. Tunnels are prone to collapse, with little more than a wooden beam holding up the low ceiling. They also commonly flood with little to no warning, endangering the lives of miners who can become trapped.

Under these dangerous conditions, injuries and deaths are common. Miners commonly become trapped within collapsed tunnels, get hit by falling rock, and even die. Yet, victims and their families rarely receive compensation for resulting medical expenses or death. In some cases the bodies of killed miners are never even recovered or returned to their families.

Ram Kumar Rai, a 40 year-old miner, stated “if we die, we die. They just bury us here. If we live, we suffer and we can’t earn. We rot here and die… When someone dies, they hide the body so no one will know. That way the owner does not pay compensation to the family. He doesn’t pay a single cent.”

India has passed national laws that both prohibit children under the age of 18 years-old from working in mines and set safety standards for mining. Yet the state government of Meghalaya has not implemented or enforced these laws for the mining industry which generates nearly 10% of the state’s gross domestic product.

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Indian Compulsory Education Law Designed Actually Shuts Down Schools

Hundreds of low-cost private schools in India, which have become increasingly popular, are now being forced to shut down as a result of a new compulsory education law, titled Right To Education. The law, as part of India’s program to reform its educational system, requires a free and compulsory education for all children through elementary school. However, the law also mandates certain standards for educational facilities—standards these low-cost schools cannot meet.

School girls in Tamil Nadu, India The private schools, which offer education for as little as 100 rupees (about $1.63) a month—low enough to be available even to some of India’s poorest citizens—are being forced to shut down because their facilities do not meet RTE’s standards.

Critics of the schools say that that they are not providing running water or other basic amenities, and that they are not providing a high quality education. Some schools say that they will have to raise costs in order to meet the demands of the law. But parents students are fighting back. “Our parents are the pooorest of the poor, labourers and migrant workers, they won’t be able to afford it,” said Citanjali Krishnan, a teacher in a private school in Panchsheel Enclave in Delhi. Though comprehensive data on the school closings has not been released, officials have said that over 1,900 schools have been closed throughout the country so far.

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India Celebrates the Successful Eradication of Polio

Polio PosterIndia has successfully completed three years without any newly diagnosed cases of poliomyelitis anywhere in the country. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to  certify India as a polio-free country in March. Due to India’s size and its dense population of 1.2 billion people, polio eradication had seemed like a nearly impossible goal. This impressive success will inspire the country as it works to address other diseases that continue to affect its people.

In 1995, more than 50,000 children contracted polio in India yearly. While as recently as 2009, India reported more than half of the world’s cases of polio infection, less than two years later, on January 13, 2011 the country recorded its last case of the virus.

“After this historic victory of humankind where millions of lives have been saved through tireless efforts of many, we have to take care of neighbours also. We should commit ourselves to creating a polio-free world,” declared President Pranab Mukherjee.

The poliomyelitis virus spreads readily especially in unsanitary conditions. It mostly affects young children, with the majority of them experiencing symptoms of fever, muscle stiffness and pain, vomiting and lethargy. Additionally, one in 200 infected children will suffer from an irreversible paralysis that leads to death in 5 to 10% of cases.

India achieved eradication through several health initiatives that targeted poor and marginalized populations throughout the country. This included an aggressive vaccination campaign that sent more than 2 million healthcare workers throughout the country to deliver vaccines to almost every child under the age of five years old. Additionally, the country developed a highly effective integrated disease surveillance system which monitors for and responds to the outbreak of disease. The Indian government is hoping to use the procedures, policies and programs they developed to deal with polio as a model to help the country combat other devastating disease such as measles, diphtheria and pertussis which are targeted by India’s Universal Immunization Program.

According to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, “our success in eradicating polio has made us more confident of achieving our objectives of full immunisation against preventable diseases, universal healthcare and strengthening of primary healthcare infrastructure to address the needs of the most under-developed societies.”

In 1998, Ministers of Health from every WHO member nation met at the World Health Assembly and set the goal to eradicate poliomyelitis globally. Polio was endemic to  125 countries at that time. Now with India’s success, polio only remains endemic in the three countries of Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“India has shown the world that there is no such thing as impossible. This is likely the greatest lesson, and the greatest inspiration for the rest of the world,” stated Margaret Chan, head of the WHO.

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Corporal Punishment of Children Has Lasting Psychological Effects

The board of educationCorporal punishment in schools continues to be an accepted method of discipline in many countries around the world. In these regions, many argue that physical punishment is a normal, natural and harmless part of their culture; yet, human rights activists argue that the practice is damaging and must be abolished.  German researchers responded to debates on this issue by releasing a new study demonstrating the relationship between corporal punishment and long-term psychological effects, regardless of a child’s culture and background.

“Some people still believe, despite an overwhelming body of evidence, that corporal punishment in some cultures won’t result in as many negative effects. But, as this study shows, it’s difficult to find support for that argument” stated George Holden, professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University.

Previous research in Western societies demonstrated that children exposed to physical punishment develop emotional and behavioral problems. Led by Tobias Hecker, a psychologist at the University of Konstanz, researchers investigated whether Tanzanian children had the same experience. Although corporal punishment in schools is common and legal in Tanzania, the research demonstrated that it is linked to psychological problems in children who have been punished.

“Parents aim to educate children through corporal punishment, but instead of learning good social behaviours, the beatings often have the opposite effect…What people usually see after a spanking or beating is immediate compliance. But in the long-term, they are really instilling fear in the child,” explained Hecker.

Of the more than 400 primary school children interviewed, 95% had been physically punished by a teacher. Most (82%) were hit with objects that included sticks and belts, and many (66%) had been slapped, pinched, or punched. Almost 25% of children who received physical punishment were injured due to the severity with which they were disciplined. When evaluated for psychological consequences, more than 20% of these children demonstrated problems with aggression and more than 10% demonstrated a decrease in empathy.

Corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed in 34 countries, but it continues to be an accepted practice for disciplining children in many countries. Even in the United States, more than twenty states legally allow spanking by teachers.

In many regions of the world, students are slapped or caned for disobedience and disrespect. One example of this practice comes from China where a school principal witnessed a student disrupting a class and proceeded to cane both his hands and those of four of his innocent friends.

Another example from India demonstrates the psychological damage that can result from school discipline. In a Mumbai school, a 12 year old girl was disciplined by a male teacher who had her remove her skirt in front of an entire class so that he could hit her on the buttocks. Following the humiliating incident, the girl was unwilling to return to school, lost a full year of education, and continued to act fearful and introverted.

Indian psychiatrists who have treated child victims of corporal punishment agree that these children suffer from long-term psychological effects including anxiety disorders, feelings of inferiority, sleep disorders and depression that affect their success and development.

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New Nursery Admission Rules in Delhi Cause Controversy

Children Reading Pratham Books and AksharaNajeeb Jung, Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, announced changes to nursery school admission rules for the 2014-2015 school year. These new regulations have caused controversy to arise in Delhi, India among both parents and schools.

According to these new regulations, 65% of seats in nursery schools will be open to general admission, 25% will be held for economically disadvantaged students, 5% for children of staff, and 5% for girls if the school is co-educational.

The greatest conflict comes from imposing a distance criteria upon admissions, giving priority and preference to children living within 6 kilometers of schools. During the admission process, child applicants are chosen based upon the number of points they score out of 100. New admission guidelines declare that children will now receive a staggering 70 points just for living in the same neighborhood as the school to which they apply.

Parents and schools have criticized this decision and the potential implications it has for access to schooling. For instance, schools that currently have students living beyond the distance criteria will not be able to admit their siblings in subsequent years. This restriction also limits opportunities for children living in neighborhoods with few schools and limited seats open to admissions.

“The order prescribes that neighbourhood…be measured only up to 6 km, this is ludicrous in a city like Delhi. There are about 10 schools located within the area of our school and in some areas there are no schools at all…Where are children who have no schools in the neighbourhood supposed to go?” asked to Ameeta Mulla Wattal, the executive chairman for the National Progressive School Conference and the principal of Springdales School.

Najeeb Jung responded to this and other criticisms by holding a meeting with school authorities in Delhi. Following discussions of the admission guidelines, Najeeb Jung altered the distance criteria and extended it from 6 km to 8 km so that children and their parents will have more choices of schools. Another point of contention was the 5% quota for girls. Critics argue that this will limit the number of girls admitted to schools, while the Lieutenant Governor argues that it will ensure more equal treatment and refused to alter this criteria.

Private schools continue to be dissatisfied with the new admission criteria, especially with the loss of their discretionary 20% management quota. Private school associations have protested this and other changes as extreme, demanding they be given the opportunity to provide input into the decision-making process. They argue that the new rules deny them autonomy which is their right as private schools receiving no government aid.

The president of the Action Committee for Unaided Recognized Private Schools, S.K. Bhattacharya declared “if we don’t get any relief, there will be no course left to us but to approach the high court for a stay order.”

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Theater of the Oppressed Addressing Child Abuse in India

'Hejje' team :: 'Appa'The Karunalaya Social Service Society is a non-profit center that offers support to street and working children in and around the city of Chennai, India. The program’s director, Paul Sundar Singh, noticed that as internet use has spread, there has been a growing trend of young children being sexually exploited and abused. To help protect and empower these children, Karunalaya conducted a forum theater to discuss issues of child abuse with the community.

Describing some of the issues that arose during the participatory theater, Paul Sundar Singh stated “this is such a shocking event, where we witnessed a group activity by the children who engage in sexual activities without even knowing what it was. It was a 27-year-old youth, who was involving an 11-year-old boy in sexual activities by showing him pictures from the Internet, and many other children in that area get involved in it periodically. These cases have to be dealt with sensitively by educating the child about the ill-effects rather than approaching the police, in which case none of the children was ready to come forward as they voluntarily engaged in such activities.”

To help the communities of Chennai begin discussing these issues, Karunalaya held a participatory forum using Theater of the Oppressed.  Theater of the Oppressed is a community-based form of theater that gives the audience an opportunity to engage with actors in order to work through difficult problems facing the community. This is the second year Karunalaya has held a forum theater to discuss issues of child sexual abuse. Women and children acted out abuse scenarios and potential reactions to them, then the audience was encouraged to participate by discussing what they saw and offering alternative responses.

“These children who attended the programme are at high risk of …Many of them had experienced such behaviour and were able to relate to it. Even though they were not trained actors, they managed to convey the different emotions the victims…and their families go through” explained Paul Sundar Singh.

Human Rights activists have argued that as internet use has grown, so has access to child abuse content which contributes to occurrences of sexual violence. In response to growing access to child abuse sites, the Supreme Court of India ordered the department of telecommunications to take action in order to block pornographic and abusive websites, especially those concerning children.

The growing poverty conditions in the city also contribute to incidents of child sexual abuse. In recent years, Chennai has experienced a rapid growth in the number of slums. As of 2011, more than 28% of the city’s households lived in slums, under extreme poverty and oppression. Under these conditions, children are highly vulnerable to various forms of child abuse. For example, in the city’s fishing communities, nearly 70% of all families report some form of child abuse taking place.

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India’s Street Children Tell Their Stories Through Youth-Run Newspaper

From the street of India 12A pocket of India’s street children are becoming empowered to tell their stories through Delhi-based youth-run newspaper, Balaknama (Children’s Voice). The Hindi newspaper records harrowingly honest case studies of police brutality, child marriage and illegal child labor, with all staff members, writers and editors alike, ranging from 8 to 18 years of age.

The broadcast, sponsored by Delhi-based NGO Childhood Enhancement Through Training and Action (CHETNA), was founded in 2003 and gives a voice to the country’s overwhelming number of underprivileged and marginalized children. The federation of street and working children who contribute to the journal spans across four northern Indian states.

According to Save the Children India, about 50,000 children live on the streets of the country’s capital, with an estimate of 20 million total children and only 40% of these children registered at birth, making India the home of the largest amount of street children in the world. The children struggle to survive though whatever means necessary – street performances, joining gangs, begging, selling items. Over 50% of these children are said to have suffered verbal, physical or sexual abuse, and are sometimes victims of police brutality.

14 year old Govind of Delhi wandered the streets of the city before he was introduced to the newspaper’s journalistic arts at 9 years old. “When I joined Balaknama, my friends used to make fun of me. But now when they read my articles and see me grow in my life – they wish they too had done so,“ he said. Today his articles discuss the daily lives of the city’s most impoverished people with issues ranging from domestic abuse to healthcare.

Sanjay Gupta, director of CHETNA, explains that the newspaper has become a form of empowerment for many children, saying “children associated with Balaknama are much more aware about their rights than the average school-going child. They’re also shown how to deal with some of the emergencies that may come their way.”

Chief reporter of Balaknama, Vijay Kumar, considers himself to be a street child and explains that “street children are like ghosts… no-one notices and no-one cares. Our newspaper, Balaknama, means Children’s Voice… that’s what it gives us. People need to listen.”

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Collaborative Music & Film Project Will Benefit India’s “Untouchable” Children

Reach for the SkyAn international arts project titled Everything Is New will be launched on January 20th 2014 by Scotland-based art collective Transgressive North and children’s charity Scottish Love In Action; grassroots NGO-based organization that cares for over 500 destitute children through the Light Of Love Children’s Home and School in Tuni, India. The project features a remarkable international cast of electronic, folk and indie musicians, poets, writers, and filmmakers. All proceeds will be donated to support the organization and India’s Dalit (“untouchable”) children.

According to the project’s website, “the goal of the Everything Is New project is to empower the children of the Light Of Love Children’s Home, many of whom have been rescued from bonded labour, child prostitution, homelessness and abject poverty. The project creates the opportunity for the children to ‘star’ in the cultural forms they themselves consider most meaningful – popular music and cinema.”

The Everything Is New project will be released in three parts. The first piece entitled Sun Choir is a full-length album created by Edinburgh-based indie pop band MARRAM. The album will feature musical collaborations with Jarvis Cocker, Owen Pallett, doseone, White Hinterland, Margaret Bennett, and feature lyrics by Alexander McCall Smith, Irvine Welsh, Valerie Gillies and Tom Leonard. Over 1,000 voices, choirs, orchestras, and drums contribute to the album.

The second part of the art series entitled BOATS will be a 29-track compilation of songs created by an impressive international lineup with tracks sampling from the Light Of Love’s Children Choir. The artist list includes: Dan Deacon, Four Tet, YACHT, Gang Gang Dance, Transgressive North, White Hinterland, El Guincho, No Age, Capybara, Deerhoof, High Places, Sun Airway, A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Taken By Trees, Bear In Heaven, Keepaway, Physical Forms, Marram, Matthewdavid, Ramona Falls, Slanter, The Ruby SunsCalifone, Rustie, Lucky DragonsSon Lux, Jamie Stewart, Julian LynchRroxymore, and Max Tundra. According to Everything Is New, “BOATS aims to get the voices of the Light Of Love Children’s Choir heard across the world as part of the most exciting and innovative music today.”

The final piece of the artist trilogy is a 70-minute film entitled Everything Is New and will focus on the children of Light Of Love Children’s Home in India. Controversial Scottish writer and filmmaker Irvine Welsh is the film’s executive producer and narrator. Irish director and film critic Mark Cousins described Everything Is New as “an inspiring movie about the turning of the earth and the play of children. It tells a mythic story of togetherness, peril and hope. It is a valuable film and memorable one.”

According to the project’s website, “the film sets out to create an empowering new fable for the children of the Light Of Love Children’s Home, where children defy adults and prevailing orthodoxies to bring change and renewal to a dying society.”

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Innovative Improvements Proposed for India’s Higher Education Institutions

Calcutta Coffee House -  5President Pranab Mukherjee called for an “elevated level of urgency” for academics to introduce innovative changes in India’s higher education system. Reflecting on India’s failure of universities to be positioned among the world’s top 200 list, Mukerjee said the country must be careful to create a “culture of excellence.”

India’s higher education curriculum cannot be conveyed in a “routine fashion any longer,” said Mukerjee. The President’s proposed renovations will increase coordination within the country’s academic departments and foster greater connections with international universities for student and teacher exchange programs.

Improvements will be substantially increased in coordination with the country’s Five Year Plan, but the President also added that “there needs to be an urgency to bring about innovative changes in the higher education sector of the country.” According to Mukerjee, “our academic syllabus is not up to the highest standards as recognized by world universities. We are not emphasizing on ranking ourselves. We have to be careful.”

The President further suggested enhanced focus in research activities, saying “universities need to develop in their students a scientific temper and a curriculum that will encourage the growth or research and innovation.”

Over 80 years has passed since an Indian university produced a Nobel Prize winner, and the few Indian graduates who received the Nobel Prize did so while working in United States universities. “We in India have the best teachers, students and the talent but we are not coordinated well. If we can make the right call at the right time, we will get the necessary response,” said the President.

Additional changes will also be made to India’s judicial system to increase accessibility of justice for the country’s more “vulnerable sections of society.” Increased emphasis on improving legal education of lawyers, judges, judicial officers, bureaucrats and academics will be included in the reforms. 

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Global Slavery Index: Almost 30 Million People Currently Enslaved

0001_zoriah_child_labor_children_working_20120816_0203A new report published by the Australian-based Walk Free Foundation revealed that nearly 30 million people worldwide are forced into practices of modern slavery.

According to the Foundation, “’slavery’ refers to the condition of treating another person as if they were property – something to be bought, sold, traded, or even destroyed,” and includes sexual exploitation of women and children, forced marriage, child soldiers, organ removal, forced labor, forced begging, or forced servitude. These forms of modern slavery are driven by extreme poverty, gender inequality, ethnic divisions, systems of economic exploitation, and high levels of government corruption.

Almost half of the entire enslaved population lives in India with a staggering estimation of 14 million people. China follows with almost 3 million and Pakistan with 2.1 million people. West African country Mauritania has the highest proportion of slaves with 4% of its 3.4 million people enslaved, followed by Haiti where most of the country’s slaves are children.

A total of 160 countries were ranked and based on an estimated prevalence of slavery by population (accounts for 95% of total), measure of the level of human trafficking in and out of the country (2.5%), and level of child and early marriage within the country (2.5%). 

The report explains “today some people are still being born into hereditary slavery, a staggering but harsh reality, particularly in parts of West Africa and South Asia. Other victims are captured or kidnapped before being sold or kept for exploitation, whether through ‘marriage’, unpaid labor on fishing boats, or as domestic workers. Others are tricked and lured into situations they cannot escape, with false promises of a good job or an education.”

The Walk Free Foundation provides the world’s first Global Slavery Index and hopes to solve these issues by building public awareness, using empirical evidence in the context of each country’s efforts in eradicating slavery, begin a global fund to implement anti-slavery interventions in countries most needed, and by working with business leaders to ensure best practices without enslavement. 

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