His is usually the last word when it comes to the welfare and protection of a child in the City. Meet the founder-director of Divya Disha and Chairman of Hyderabad’s Child Welfare Committee, Isidore Phillips
Irrespective of who you are talking to in the child protection community, his name is bound to pop up at least a few times in a conversation. Most often it is with a hint of pride, to have a person amidst them who will fight tooth and nail, even against the powers that be, if there is the welfare of a child at stake. As founder of NGO and rescue home Divya Disha, and chairman of Child Welfare Committee in Hyderabad, there are a few who know about child welfare as Isidore Phillips.
What’s the status quo?
Earlier we never spoke of child labour. We never publicly acknowledged that there have rights. Now, we do. So obviously, I’ll expect that there is a change in tact when it comes to sensitisation and when it comes to employers. But it isn’t happening. Ultimately it’s an indicator based management system, tell me how prosecutions happened.
What’s the thing about child labour today that most alarms you?
We recently rescued a young girl in a domestic child labour case, who was severely injured. We realised there were bite marks and knife wounds all across her body. The impugnity with which employers are hurting children today, with no fear of repercussions, has increased. Labour markets are becoming invisible and impossible to track. This needs to be treated with gravity. Our apathy and tolerance of abuse, emotional and policy paralysis that we seem to be caught up in. The least you can do when you see a child in distress is to call 1098.
How are the laws standing up?
When you have a policy framework, a legal framework with legislations like Child Labour (Regulation and Prohibition) Act 1986, The Minimum Wages Act, RTE, The Juvenile Justice Act and so on, I would say it’s fairly good. But in this context, I would have expected a little more. Now if you say, after all these years, enforcement is a problem, I would say there’s something wrong.
What exactly is the problem with the enforcement of these laws?
You have a department which does hundreds of things and Child Labour is one . Now, if it really mattered, there would be specific machinery allotted to dealing with it. But there isn’t. It might not make a difference to you. But for a child it does. Because this one day can change his or her life. If children are important to us, why haven’t we changed the way we respond to child labour? We don’t have a dedicated mechanism to deal with it.
How come we always dialogue in the future tense?
I like the Juvenile Justice Act because it has specific time frames. You have to produce a child in a certain time. You have to dispose off a case in four months. You can’t keep a child for too long. Every day is important. That sense of urgency needs to creep in to the programme and our approach. Who is responsible for the loss of these childhoods? There is simply no accountability.
As almost half our population, shouldn’t they be getting the most importance?
No one cares because they are not a voting population. Have you heard of a single politician or party who has ever talked about child education or health? If our policy makers-to-be don’t care, who will? Give children voting rights and you will see how quickly things change.
What seems to be the biggest challenge in the process?
The population is so large and we don’t even know where our children are. So, how can you respond to them? In other words, for most of our children, childhood is work. Can you imagine what kind of attitudes they will grow up with?
What can and should be done?
In the CWC, where sometimes, it seems like we are all alone with the child against a hostile system, it’s a scary feeling. Not because we are fighting the system but because of how alone the child would have been if even we were not there. So much has to change. For instance, that a child’s place is at the side of his parents, even if they are abusive, violent, destitute or callous to have sold them off, that has to go. Letting a child work in a home or a shop thinking it’s better than being in a rescue home where they can be rehabilitated and sent to school, is another. There needs to be more integration between CWC, police and the women’s development and child welfare departments. We need a more comprehensive take on child labour. Children shouldn’t be treated as objects of charity.