Unrest among children is attributed to a variety of reasons confronting the state of Manipur. The government on the other hand has been pathetic in responding to the call of children and child rights. A number of small children are seen openly working in hotels and workshops in Manipur. What has the related government agencies done to prevent it as per law ? A good number of children are being used as domestic help in urban households of the state. Have the related government departments practically reacted to it ? Stories of students’ suffocation inside school vans often hit the newspapers. How has the government responded to such incidents ? Minors bear overweight schoolbags disproportionate to their body weight. What has been done to reduce the burden on the back of our children ? Sale of tobacco products around school campus has been banned on papers. Has the government monitored it and actions taken ? Private tuition culture encouraged by selected school teachers to earn huge amounts from affluent families thereby depriving poor students of proper institutional education has created educational injustice to the society. Having realized that the improper and irregular instructions in classrooms have led to tremendous growth of private tuitions, the related government department has failed to monitor and check the school classes. What has the government done to regulate the working of the private schools, which are responsible for the burgeoning tuition culture ? The governance is neglecting the child’s say right from petty issues to heinous crimes against them.
Manipur is a state famous for its drug abuse and AIDS, unemployment, insurgency, fake encounters, threats to indigenous identity, integrity and boundary issues. All these issues are in one or the other way related to the very negative mindset of our children. Any tender-aged boy or girl can easily fall into substance abuse, whenever he or she feels neglected by the family or the system. Lack of employment avenues for the average youths has developed a fear of aimless life among the growing children. Proper career counseling or adequate motivating mechanisms for children have not been created by the government institutions and the civil society. Issues of forced recruitment, sexual assaults and rapes on minors, murders for snatching gold, trafficking outside the state or abroad have flourished in Manipur society. Now comes the issues of communal disharmony and threat to state’s integrity, and the burning issue of fast diminishing indigenous population in Manipur. Amid all these diverse issues, how can our children be nurtured in their beauty of innocence and creativity ?
Minors, in their tender and formative period, have now come out actively on the streets to join in the protests demanding safeguards for their indigenous community. Though disproportionate to their physical and mental state, the children mostly school going students have spontaneously started severe forms of agitations including fast-unto-death. No one has practically instigated them to join the protests. During protests, they brave lathi-charges, teargas and smoke bombs, water cannons along with abusive scolds from the security personnel, which ultimately increases their hostility and aggressiveness against the system. It is total violation of children’s rights as enshrined in various international and national conventions, as well as the provisions guaranteed under the Constitution of India and other Juvenile related Acts. Now the situation has reached such a magnitude that in all other issues other than the Inner Line permit system, our children are very likely to come out for protest, as they have now apparently developed an agitating mindset against the ailing system. How the present dispensation deals with the protesting children, in what way the state forces control their agitation, and what response the government give to them, how quick our leaders respond to the children’s cry are indicators which determine the quantum rise of child unrest in the society.
In recent times, young students of Manipur state have been portrayed as brave agitators as if the whole society puts the responsibility on their heads. Even though this writer appreciates the courage and spirit of patriotism among our young children who come out to fight the malaise in the system, I am of the humble view that such a trend needs to be discouraged. Resorting to ‘fast-unto-death’ is naturally an attempt to suicide, which amounts to severe form of crime. As per the Juvenile Justice (Care and protection of children) Act 2000/2015, children below 18 years of age going against the established law of the land may be termed as CCL (Child in conflict with law). And such cases needs to be dealt with by the Juvenile Justice Boards (JJB) constituted under the JJ (Care and protection of children) Act. 2000/2015. The JJB is empowered to send such children in conflict with law (CCL) to the Observation Home pending enquiry. Thus, the children committing such crimes cannot be treated as an adult criminal. The legal protection is there to safeguard the rights of such children. Special Juvenile Police forces along with those stakeholders working in the field of child rights and the medical professionals find a hectic time to deal with hunger striking students.
Nowhere in the country, have we heard of small children taking part in agitations of severe nature, and that also for the social cause other than the children issues. Manipur’s case of children agitation is unique, which the legal luminaries of the country need to take note of. While defining the categories of either CNCP (Child in need of care and protection) or CCL (Child in conflict with law) in the Juvenile related Acts or Rules, we need to include the category of children agitators, which is a hard reality in Manipur state.
Considering the future of the nation, our children should be distanced as much as possible from the chaos and disorder created by the dispensation. And it is a shame on the part of the adult population of Manipur that our small children undergo fast-unto-death to protect our identity and existence. Is the adult population of the state including those in governance wholly responsible for such a situation which compels the young children to agitate, or shall we take it for granted that it is a unique gift of the ailing system ?
(The writer is Member Child Welfare Committee, Imphal East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)