Child rights in the Indigenous Community

By Gladson Dungdung

22 September, 2009

Introduction:

Theoretically, the child Rights are right to life with dignity, fundamental freedom (protection and participation) and right to development, inherited in all human beings below the age of 18, irrespective of their race, colour, sex, creed or any other status. Children dancingIn practice, these rights are neither promoted nor protected honestly by the State except in a few cases to show the world community. Though the rights of the Indigenous People are violated from every corner but the community seems to be more sensitive towards the child rights even though the community may not be aware about the theoretical aspect and the UN convention on right of the child, 1989. The practice of child rights is very much prevalent in the indigenous community of Jharkhand. Precisely, because the foundation of the community is based on the principles of collectivism, collective decision, autonomy, non-profit ethos and equality for all. The child rights can be seen in the various aspects of the Indigenous community. 

Socio-Cultural Arenas: The Indigenous community is closed to the nature, which reflects in their unique culture, principles, ethos, attitudes and behaviors. The folk songs, dance, music, paintings and male & female dancing together are the most significant outlook of it, where children plays significant role. The children are also equally treated as an adult and there is also no such discrimination with children based on gender. ‘Akhra’ is an open place in the Indigenous village, where all kinds of activities including community meetings, cultural activities, imparting traditional education, etc are carried on, where children equally participate and also expresss their viewes. They even get space in the decision making of their families. Presently, the globalization has hit the community and they are attracted towards the other culture, which is really a big threat to the community. 

Economic Activities: The Indigenous economy is based on agro-forest, which derives from the natural resources. The children of Indigenous community always have a major economic contribution to their family and community. Unfortunately, when a child of the poor does any physical labour, which has a direct link to the economic gain is called ‘child labour; though the physical as well as mental labour of the elite children does not come under the purview of child labour. One can argue that when a poor child becomes a child labour or working child his/her rights are completely seized but in the case of an elite child, he/she enjoy his/her rights even while undergoing through physical or mental labour. The relevant question is who will decide whether all forms of work done by any child should be counted as child labour because it may be unfair if the sunglasses decide about the destiny of children. 

While analyzing about the economic contribution of children of the indigenous community, one would surely count it as the outcome of child labour. Of course, one can not deny about the prevalence of working children in the community. But apart from that the most important aspect needs to be looked upon is how the community perceives children’s economic contribution to the community. When children are employed in factories, garages and hotels, they are not paid wage of an adult though they work even more than adults. Apart from economic exploitation, they are also exploited physically, verbally and mentally as well but in the case of Indigenous community, children are not exploited for the economic gain.

There are various forms of collective work culture in the Indigenous community like Pancha, Madait and Dihari, which are based on cooperation against the economic exploitation. Consequently, when a child works in place of an adult, his/her share of work is counted as the work of an adult. In Pancha and Madait, which are mostly based on cooperation to each other, if a child takes part in case of any other engagement of an adult member, the contribution of a child is equally counted as an adult, which the so-called mainstream of the society lacks. A child is also given the equal wage in case of he/she works as a daily wage earner, which is a minor practice within the community. 

Health and Education: The issues of health and education are always matter of serious concern if one sees it with the sunglasses and also the education lance of the Lord Macaulay. The Indigenous community has been victimized by the system of governance as a result; their graph of development in health and education is growing very slowly. But as far as the traditional health and education systems are concerned, the indigenous community is still well and advance, where children are the part and partial of the system. All kinds of diseases are healed with the herbal medicines and traditional methods of healing on one hand and the children are also imparted practical education regarding socio-culture, economic, forest, occupation, craft, etc by the adults through various means on the other. But the clash between traditional and modern systems is the basic reason for deterioration in the community therefore there must be a holistic approach to address the issues.  

Hunting practices: The hunting is a very important aspect of the indigenous community, which is mostly done during the winter and autumn seasons. The community does a normal hunting practice and there are also some special hunting practices like Bishu Shikar (annual hunting festival) and Jani Shikar (hunting festival of women). Usually, in Bishu Shikar, the indigenous people go for hunting in a group, where adults, children and hunting dogs are part of it. Similarly women, girl children and hunting dogs take part in the Jani Shikar, which is organized after every 12 years. 

Apart from these, there is a common ongoing hunting practice in the community, where children are part of it with adults and hunting dogs. Interestingly, in all kinds of hunting practices, the share of prey is divided equally among all the members including children and hunting dogs. The children are neither uncounted nor discriminated irrespective of their age but they are given equal entity as a member of the community. But does it mean children play the roles of adults? The answer would be obviously not but enjoying their childhood, the children get the equal entity in the community. 

Children in TSG: The traditional self-governance system of the Indigenous community is a symbol of collective decision making though it faced criticism by saying that the TSG lacks the access for women and children. The fact is instead of taking any arbitrary decision; children are given space to put their views on the matters. Presently, as the world is moving faster, the Indigenous people have also opened the door for children and women in the system of traditional self governance. Of course, this aspect needs more progressive thoughts. The TSG also requires to be strengthened with support of the civil society organizations, where child participation can be ensured with the true spirit.     

Conclusion:

The child rights are inherited part of the indigenous community, which has been in the practice in various aspects of the community for centuries but the world community did not recognize it deliberately. In the era of globalization, the basic principles of the Indigenous community are under the threat, which would have the direct impact on the child rights of the community. But at the same time, it is also unfair to argue that the collectivism is at stake because the city based Indigenous people are moving towards the individualism. But one must remember that merely 8.3 percent Indigenous people live in the cities and the rest 91.7 percent of them still reside in the villages, whose life cycle moves round the nature with it core values of collectivism,  collective decision, autonomy, non-profit ethos and equality for all. Therefore, the child rights needs to be seen with the community spirit rather than looking with the beautiful sunglass of the UN (CRC). Child rights are the basic fundamental rights of children, which needs to be promoted and protected at all level. 

*Author is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from the Indigenous Community of Jharkhand. This Article is based on his personal life experience as being the member of the Indigenous Community and also working on Human Rights issues for more than a decade.



Categories: General

3 replies

  1. hi ,
    not only the child right there are so many strong aspect regardin indigenous people. their democratic way of taking decision in gram sabha(of nuclear village) thrilled me to appreciate. but i don’t know why they don’t come forward to controll free grazing. perhaps this is the main factor of monocropping prevalent among them.

  2. Nicely presented. It gives a glimpse of child status in indigenous community.

  3. Well Written.

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