21 Apr 2024  |   06:02am IST

Migrant Children Betrayed: Hidden Abuse, Exploitation

PETER F BORGES

In the shadow of Goa's serene beaches and vibrant tourism, a horrifying truth lurks—one that we, as a society, are forced to confront yet again. The recent tragedy at a construction site in Vaddem, Vasco, where a five-year-old child was found sexually abused and murdered, echoes a similar incident just two months prior involving another five-year-old girl in Sattari, where there was an attempt to murder a five-year-old child with very brutal injuries. These are not isolated incidents, but stark manifestations of a broader systemic failure that preys on the most vulnerable: the migrant communities. There exists a dark reality of violence and neglect faced by the children of migrant workers.

Goa's rapid development hinges significantly on the backs of migrant workers who along with their children toil in various sectors, particularly construction. The parents are engaged in demanding jobs that offer low pay, poor working conditions, and inadequate housing. This scenario not only strips these workers and their families of basic human dignity but also places their children in extremely vulnerable situations. The unsanitary and unsafe living conditions are not just a concern for health but also create environments where children are at greater risk of exploitation and abuse. Compounding their hardship is the stark lack of educational opportunities for their children. The cycle of poverty and illiteracy is a cruel trap for these young minds, denying them a fighting chance at a better life.

Another grave concern is the additional layer of child exploitation prevalent in Goa, involving children who are not only coerced into begging and selling items on the beaches and various junctions across the state, but are also subjected to being drugged by their own parents to elicit sympathy from passersby. This manipulation exacerbates the violation of their rights and their dignity, depicting a stark abuse of their innocence. Such practices are not only morally reprehensible but also illegal, yet they continue largely unchecked, despite mandates from the Supreme Court to address these issues.

The term 'ghantti,' a derogatory label for migrants, reverberates through the corners of Goan society, a stark reminder of the deep-seated racial prejudices that persist. Ironically, these same communities are indispensable, handling tasks that find little interest among local labourers. Yet, the acknowledgment of their contribution is overshadowed by the disdain that taints their everyday existence.

The Buildings and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions Of Service) Act, 1996, explicitly mandates creche facilities for children of construction workers, proper housing, and sanitary facilities to ensure their welfare. Yet, this is far from reality. The act, alongside the Goa Building and Other Construction Workers' (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2008, is systematically ignored. This chronic disregard is a glaring example of the lack of enforcement and accountability from the authorities, showcasing a disturbing lethargy among bureaucrats tasked with safeguarding these rights.

More alarming is the indifference observed within the broader Goan society towards crimes against children of migrant laborers. Horrific acts such as rapes and attempted murders of migrant children fail to stir the collective conscience of the community. The ethnicity of the victim or the perpetrator does not diminish the gravity of the crime. 

Unfortunately, the initiatives by civil society organizations (CSOs) to meet the needs of these vulnerable groups are disjointed and frequently misguided. Very few CSOs actively push for the enforcement of laws meant to protect these communities. Additionally, some unintentionally exacerbate the issue by placing migrant children in institutions, disconnecting them from their families and establishing harmful care practices. This scattered strategy does not effectively consolidate efforts toward substantial reform.

Despite the budget purportedly allocated to protect all children by the Central government, under Mission Vatsalya, previously Integrated Child Protection Scheme, the funds stagnate, with no meaningful welfare measures being implemented by the government too. This decadal neglect is only sporadically addressed by a few voluntary organizations, leaving a gaping hole in our social fabric.

Amidst the troubling neglect and systemic failures, another deep-seated issue plagues our society: the rise of xenophobia and racism. Alarmingly, these sentiments are not just idle talk but are being stirred and amplified by certain political entities who seem to exploit these divisive emotions for their own gains. 

This escalation of xenophobia is not just a social issue but a profound leadership crisis. The very leaders who are expected to unite and protect all constituents are instead, in some cases, drawing lines of division. This raises a critical question: what does the future hold for our children under such leadership? How can we hope to foster a generation of compassionate and inclusive individuals when they are being led by examples of bias and exclusion?

As political entities continue to lead the charge on these fronts, the consequences extend far beyond the immediate social unrest. The potential long-term effects are stark—a generation that could grow accustomed to division rather than unity, and to hostility instead of understanding. 

Therefore, it is imperative that we scrutinize the motives and actions of those in power, demanding accountability and a return to values that prioritize human dignity and equality. 

The time has come to reflect deeply on our values and actions. Investing in the welfare of all children—whether Goan or non-Goan—is not just a moral obligation but a necessity for building a resilient society. Children, irrespective of their origin, are a divine trust and deserve a humane approach.

Migration is an integral part of our society and is here to stay. Accepting this reality and fostering peace and respect for each other as human beings is the only way forward. If we continue to ignore these pressing issues, we do so at the peril of losing our humanity. Let us not allow indifference and neglect to define us. Let us strive, instead, for a community that upholds the dignity and safety of every child, setting a foundation for a society that truly cares.

(Peter F. Borges serves as the Hon’ble Chairperson of the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights) 

IDhar UDHAR

Idhar Udhar