THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It was while trying to make some sense of the youth festival-related appeals that kept pouring in that Child Rights Commission chairperson Shobha Koshy had her moment of epiphany. Three minor girls from Kozhikode who were disqualified from staging their play at the district level met Ms Koshy and blurted their heart out. She remembers with deep admiration how the girls analytically and systematically argued why they deserved another chance to perform. Hearing the girls speak, realisation struck like a blinding burst of light. “The child is the best person to fight for her rights,” Ms Koshy said. It is with a smile Ms Koshy recounts the irony. “Their play was on women and child rights.” These three girls and countless other children who had come before her seeking redress had revealed more, that they have an unalloyed passion for creative expression. “Unlike grown-ups, what concerns the child is not grace marks or the prize. The only thing that matters to her is her right to perform,” Ms Koshy said.
It is this budding creative urges in a child that school youth festivals, with their inappropriate stages, poor event management and unfair judgements, are snuffing out. “In a number of cases the appeals are not seriously looked into by on-ground appellate committees. These are then brought before the Commission,” the chairperson said. “Many of the children who have been found unfairly treated at the lower levels have gone on to claim top grades at the state level,” she added. Ms Koshy said the fundamental objective of the Commission was to ensure that children enjoy the rights guaranteed to them by the State. What is most endearing about the child, according to the Commission, is that she can accept defeat with a poise that is unseen in adults. "In cases where the Commission can't find a rights violation, it has been found that these children are determined to try next time unlike their parents who sulk big time," Ms Koshy said.
It is this unadulterated psyche of the child that prompts Ms Koshy to argue that any minor, howsoever grave his crime is, can be reformed. This is also why she is disappointed with the recent amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act that brought down to 16 the age limit to be considered as juvenile. "In the light of the Delhi Rape Case, the Government in its wisdom had decided that if a crime is committed by a minor above the age of 16, he/she could be tried in the court like an adult criminal," she said. However, the Commission's priority is clear. "We will be lenient even to the most mischievous child because a kid is after all a kid," she said. In cases where the Commission comes across severe deviancy in a kid, she said the Commission would do all it can to initiate corrective measures.
"The aim is to quell criminal tendencies and save the child from being an emotional wreck before it is too late," Ms Koshy said. In a large number of cases where the child turns to crime, Ms Koshy said it had been found that external or family circumstances had pushed him into it. The chairperson sees scope of improvement in every problem child who is less than 18 years of age. “There are cases where the child is grievously punished for his/her offences. Such behaviour for even the most criminal of offences shall not be entertained," Ms Koshy said. The law must have changed but the chairperson has science to hold on to.
"The pre-frontal cortex of minor will be immature till a child reaches 18 and so it will be difficult for them to draw a clear line between right and wrong," she said. She further observed that the child would be unable to say no even when he or she was being abused. "This is why even the mere act of manipulating a minor girl who is in love is considered an offence," Ms Koshy said. Gone are the days when a child was chiselled into adulthood by constant human interaction. "Today's child is denied her childhood. Even at a tender age, constant pressure is made to bear upon her in the form of parental expectations, competitions and grades to achieve. If at all they get some time in between, they will pull out their play stations to burn their stress,” Ms Koshy said. She has just this old-fashioned, but long forgotten, advise to give parents: "Take time to talk to your child, listen to her, and have a clear picture about what's happening around her and what's happening to her. She should be given every chance to learn, to unlearn, to play, to argue, to interact, to enjoy, to experience, to compete, to loose, cry and then win."