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Do children have rights?

Aheli Moitra 


One dusty afternoon in Dimapur, some of us walked through the bumpy mechanics’ galli that connects Circular Road (now Tajen Ao Road) to Khermahal.


A drama was unfurling in a compound. A young boy was beating an older girl (both juveniles) with a stick on the back of her shin as she held her ears. He lashed out with all his might; she wept quietly. Adults of the household supervised the activity.


We took the best course of action possible in such “private matters”—turn around and walk away.


Corporal punishment to reform children is not new to the Indian subcontinent. It is assumed that if a child does wrong, or is suspect to wrongdoing, beating will cure it all. In conflict areas—more so than societies living without militarization—the hostile treatment of children jeopardizes everyone’s future.


This is precisely why the Indian Union has a robust law to protect children, namely the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. Children—whether in conflict with law or not—have rights, with additional opportunities for reformation. As in the rest of the Indian Union, in Nagaland too, a child protection mechanism exits but rarely works.


Over the past week, this was exemplified well in Wokha—the case was impossible to turn around and walk away from. A child, suspected of an offence, was first picked up by the police; his innocence established, he was then picked up by local vigilantes “for interrogation” which eventually led to him falling off a two storey building, breaking an arm and a leg.


If physical assault was not bad enough, newspapers then made it worse. The child’s name, address, school, father’s name, village name (did we miss a photograph?)—everything was made public. Now, whether the child has done anything or not, their family will lead forever persecuted lives, observed a child rights activist in Nagaland.


The press in Nagaland often treats rape victims with similar respect, the activist had once angrily pointed out.


Rule 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act clearly states, “No report in any newspaper, magazine, news-sheet or audio-visual media or other forms of communication regarding any inquiry or investigation or judicial procedure, shall disclose the name, address or school or any other particular, which may lead to the identification of a child in conflict with law…”


But who will hold us, the press, responsible? Or even educate us on the do’s and don’ts?


Those who can, and should—that is, the State authorities—have abdicated their responsibilities towards the many children who are pushed into poverty, lack of opportunities, substandard schooling and concurrent crimes, left with little to no room for reform.


Today, justice has become scant with the powerful taking over its administration in both its State and customary form. It is in such troubled times that the juvenile justice system needs to be alert towards the safety of children who will be at the helm of affairs tomorrow.


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