Be that as it may, what is of added concern is the security of children. They are not only subjected to all kinds of violence in their homes, in the schools if they happen to be attending them and even more so as child labourers in various occupations with some being downright hazardous but also they are often abducted without any trace. The Bachpan Bachao Andolan, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court citing the data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau over the past few years of which in 2013 itself as many as 28,167 children were abducted and only about 40 percent of these cases had been investigated by the police thus indicating that the latter were culpable of dereliction of duty and should be hauled up for this. The Supreme Court took cognisance of this and issued orders to all the errant States to file affidavits giving details of what was the situation with regard to registration and disposal of children's abduction cases in their States. As is to be expected, the State of Madhya Pradesh did not consider it worthwhile to heed the Supreme Court's notice with the urgency it should have and gave a slip shod answer!!
The Supreme Court was not amused and ordered the Chief Secretary of the State, The Director General of Police and others to appear before it and file an affidavit giving the details as to what they had done to remedy matters. This finally woke these worthies out of their slumber and they presented themselves before the Supreme Court with the following details -
1. 34,753 children were abducted in the State over the period from 2011 to October 2014.
2. 30,247 of these including 18,354 girls had been recovered so far from among these and a special drive has now been launched to recover the remaining.
This raises a few pertinent questions. First, why is it that the police which is supposed to take prompt action to recover abducted children unwilling to do so. The reason is that it is woefully under staffed and already under pressure to contain other kinds of crime, maintain law and order and do security duty for VIPs. Thus, the safety of children comes pretty low down in its list of priorities.
Second, why did the Madhya Pradesh Government take the notice from the Supreme Court so lightly in the first instance. This is because there are many such notices from the higher courts that are served on the State Government for the violation of the rights of people and the former routinely gets away by dilly dallying and the cases get prolonged without coming to a conclusion. In the present case too, the petition by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan had been pending in the Supreme Court for quite some time and there had been many hearings earlier. However, the situation changed drastically when the Convenor of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Kailash Satyarthi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his three decade long struggle for child rights and especially against child labour and abduction. The issue of child rights gained some traction as a result and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whose bench was hearing the petition, must have read about and been impressed by all the work being done by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan and decided to come down hard on the recalcitrant police and administration.
The third and most important question is what lesson does this have for people fighting for the rights of underprivileged people in general and not just defenceless children. Since the State is not interested in spending money in providing free or cheap social services to the poor it will also not be interested in protecting their rights. Theoretically the courts should be a forum where the poor can go to secure their rights but they do not have the money to do so and even when an NGO or a mass movement approaches the court on their behalf, given the over load of cases in the courts, once again because in most cases it is the Government which is the biggest and most frivolous litigant, it is difficult to get any judgement in the favour of the poor. As the experience of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath suggests, the use of mass action and legal action eventually just about enables an organisation to retain a minimal presence in the fight for rights without bringing about any substantial change in the situation.
Finally, the piquant conrtribution of the Nobel Committee in the saga of ensuring child rights in India has to be considered also!! Kailash Satyarthi was nominated for the Nobel Prize, by the European Union which happens to be a major supporter along with European NGOs of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. Despite sustained work over the last three decades, Satyarthi does not have many admirers in India in the NGO sector or in the Government and so he wasn't nominated by an Indian!! The European Union did not rest after nominating him but lobbied hard with the Nobel Committee which was also under pressure from the American lobby to award the prize to Malala Yusufzai. In the end this hard lobbying resulted in both Malala and Satyarthi being jointly awarded the prize. A huge achievement by any standards, achieved mainly due to lobbying by neo-imperialist powers but met with lukewarm reception in both their post colonial countries!! Anyway the first concrete result of the Nobel Prize being awarded to Satyarthi as far as Madhya Pradesh, which is his home State, is concerned, is that the Government here has now been forced to act to retrieve all the children who have been abducted in the past few years and let us hope the glare of the Supreme Court will continue to be focused on this matter for some more time. Otherwise childhood in Madhya Pradesh at least is in serious jeopardy!!