Posts Tagged ‘Child labour’

Constructive engagement elusive at India’s Second UPR at the UN

May 31, 2012

India dodged recommendation for repeal of AFSPA

New Delhi, May 29, 2012 – India’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) under the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May 2012 in Geneva. The review was marked by a general lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India (GoI). Regrettably, the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General (who led the government delegation) stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct”. According to Miloon Kothari, Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR): “By employing a defensive and largely selfrighteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”

Of the eighty countries which participated in India’s UPR – a peer-review process of the human rights record of all UN member states – many reiterated the recommendations made during India’s first UPR in 2008 to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED). GoI accepted both recommendations four years ago but they have remained unfulfilled. On the question of torture, GoI referred to the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB), which is pending before Parliament, without commenting on the non-compliance of the PTB with CAT’s definition of torture. WGHR regrets that GoI left many questions unanswered, including desisting from commenting on the ratification of CED.

WGHR is also disturbed thatIndiadodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism. Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, which camouflaged the systematic impunity enjoyed by armed forces for human rights abuse in the Northeast of the country and Kashmir: “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

Strong recommendations were made toIndiaon the need to impose a de jure moratorium on the death penalty. The government’s response, that simply cited its de facto policy of awarding death penalty in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, is also deeply unsatisfactory in light of statistics that show an increase in the number of death sentences awarded by the courts.

There were recurring concerns by many states on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief, anti-conversion laws and targeting of religious minorities. Surprisingly, while GoI has initiated a Communal Violence Bill to address the issue of violence against religious minorities, it expressed uncertainty before the HRC for the need for such a law. The Indian government’s insistence at the international level that existing laws and judicial decisions are sufficient to deal with egregious violations such as torture and attacks on religious minorities is very disappointing, when new laws on these issues are being debated at the national level.

On the multiple recommendations it received on the need to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India once again stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. Many states also recommended withdrawal of GoI’s reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW – which guarantees non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family life – and emphasized the need to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. WGHR deeply regrets the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

Sadly, GoI failed to use the UPR as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to bridge the gap between the law and the grim statistics on various forms of gender-based violence. Its tendency to rely upon domestic law repeatedly to explain the multiple challenges to the attainment of gender equality is disquieting, especially when access to justice remains a barrier for many, and several domestic laws are inconsistent with the universal standards on sex equality.

WGHR, however, welcomes GoI’s positive shift on the issue of homosexuality, which was raised by many countries. The government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court.

The human rights of children received significant attention at the HRC. States repeatedly raised issues related to child mortality, child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking. Many governments stressed the need for a reduction of the excessively high rates of maternal and child mortality and urged the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in that regard. It was also recommended thatIndiaratify the Third Optional Protocol (establishing a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A notable number of states also reiterated the need to ban all forms of child labour. The GoI stated that it was “fully conscious of issues pertaining to child labour” but that there was “no magic wand to address it”. This stand is oblivious to the fact that the legal scenario in the country has changed as being at school and not at work is now a fundamental right for all children from 6 to 14 backed by a powerful Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The logical corollary of this change is for GoI to revisit its stand and amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Given the scale of poverty and large-scale denial of socio-economic rights in India, the insufficient attention given to economic, social and cultural rights at the UPR – with the exception of health and education – was disturbing. WGHR hopes, however, that references by member states to the need for more attention to housing for low-income groups and reduction of slums; more focus on poverty alleviation; removal of rural and urban inequities; and improvement of access to water and sanitation, will be turned into recommendations by the HRC before the adoption of the outcome document on Wednesday 30 May, 2012

On the critical issue of the right to adequate and nutritious food, it is disturbing that GoI has dismissed the need to universalise the Public Distribution System, which operates on the basis of an unrealistic poverty line and excludes genuinely poor rural households due to targeting errors, corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in distribution. GoI has also failed to respond to concerns about the rights of peasants and farmers, the issue of unprecedented numbers of farmers’ suicides and the endemic malnourishment that still persists in the country, as recently acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

Overall, WGHR regrets that GoI desisted from responding to most of the substantial comments, questions and recommendations by states. According to Miloon Kothari: “It remains to be seen whether GoI will take a constructive view and accept the many recommendations it will receive from the Human Rights Council on 30 May and engage in a genuine dialogue, including cooperation, with the UN between the second and third UPR. The opportunity also still exists, prior to the final adoption ofIndia’s report in September 2012, for GoI to begin a process of serious consultations with civil society and independent actors – including human rights institutions – at home. It is only when such steps, consistent with a democratic mode of governance, are taken that the UN will be convinced that GoI is serious about fostering an atmosphere that will contribute to an improvement in the adverse human rights situation on the ground.” 

For more information, contact:

 Miloon Kothari, Convenor, Working Group on Human Rights inIndiaand the UN (WGHR) phone (Geneva): +41 792020679; email: miloon.kothari@gmail.com

 Vrinda Grover, Lawyer – phone: +91 9810806181; email: vrindagrover@gmail.com

 Madhu Mehra, Director, Partners for Law in Development (PLD) phone: +91 9810737686; email: programmes@pldindia.org

[The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human rights organizations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights in India, and towards holding the Indian government accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR, please visit: http://www.wghr.org]

See the original statement here.

Child in need of care and protection is taken into custody by the police

March 15, 2011

Her name is Nupa Bibi and she is aged about 12 years. She lost her parents, home and relatives how she can’t tell. She was employed by a ‘doctor’ as a domestic worker. She was abused, ill-treated and frequently beaten by both ‘the lord and lady’ of the house so much so that she could no longer bear it and tried to run away even she has nowhere to go. She was found traumatised and wandering in front of the ticket counter of Capital Travels (Pvt.) Ltd. in Silchar, Assam on 28 January, 2010. What will happen to her? Another victim of trafficking? Another of the thousands mentally ill living in the streets of Indian towns and cities? Or whatever you may guess.

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) expressed its deep concern over her situation in a statement and informed that at about 3.30 pm on 28 January, 2010 officials of Silchar Municipality Corporation contacted BHRPC informing that a girl child frightened very much and unable to tell her address properly was rescued. She was intending to board bus for Guwahati to go home in Kokrajhar. Members of BHRPC visited her at the Municipality Office and tried to talk to her. She was indeed frightened. The BHRPC team came to know from her that her father’s name is late Hamid Ali.  She could not tell the name of village but told that she was from Kokrajhar, a district in lower Assam, and she was working as a domestic help in the house of a doctor working in the Silchar Medical College and Hospital, Silchar for about one month. The doctor and his wife (who is also a doctor) had ill- treated her and even sometimes beaten her up, she alleged. But could not tell their names. When this conversation was going on Mr. Arun Singh, sub inspector of police with a constable came from Silchar Police Station and taken her into custody. Answering to the questions of BHRPC members he told that they would examine her by a doctor and would try to identify the person/s accused by the child of ill-treatment and cruel conduct and that is necessary for lodging an FIR. There is nothing to worry about it. When contacted, the O/C assured BHRPC that the child would not be returned to the persons accused by her and he would try to trace her home address and send her safely.

The statement said, at about 7pm another team from BHRPC visited the police station to know about arrangement for the accommodation of the child for the night and progress of the investigation. The OC informed that the child would remain in police custody and sleep in the police station. As to the FIR he informed that it was not registered. He even tried to ‘dwell on the inefficacy of laws criminalising child labour in such cases’.

BHRPC claimed that it offered psychological counselling by its experts and accommodation in a family environment for the traumatised girl with full responsibility in view of the fact that there is no such home maintained by Government any where in Barak valley for children who are in need of care and protection (CNCP) as is contemplated in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. But the OC rejected this offer. ‘He insisted that the law does not allow him to do so, in spite of the fact that even the Indian parliament does not trust the police with women and children as is evident from the proviso to section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, which says “no male person under the age of fifteen and woman shall be required (by police) to attend at any place other than the place in which such male person or woman resides”.’

BHRPC alleged that ‘the police also acted against the law by not registering an FIR on such clumsy pretext that the victim complainant is a minor. Employment of children of less than 14 year old as domestic help is a cognisable offence under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and there is no bar based on the age of the person giving information in section 154 of the CrPC, which makes registration of FIR mandatory if information about commission of a cognisable offence is given to an officer-in-charge of a police station.

There is also constitutional prohibition on employment of children aged below 14 years in any hazardous works in Article 24 and work as domestic servants is notified as hazardous. Violation of this article is violation of a fundamental right. In the instant case another important fundamental right of the victim, namely the right to education is also violated. The governments in India has constitutional obligation to provide free and compulsory education to the children below 14 under Article 21A.

It is also to be noted that India has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the present case a plethora of rights enshrined in the CRC were violated, particularly the Article 15 and 32 which respectively guaranteed the right to the free and primary education and “the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”.’

BHRPC urged the authorities to ensure: ‘1. Return of the victim to her family members with sound physical and mental health as soon as possible. And if a reasonable time is needed to trace her address BHRPC once again offers accommodation for her in a family environment for that period of time with full responsibility. 2. Provision of education and future well being of the child. 3. Registration of FIR regarding the accusation of employment of child labour, assault and battery and other ill-treatment on the victim as alleged;  prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the case and a speedy trial.’