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Christian Children in India - I

Christian Children in India - I

Author: Joseph Gathia
Publication: Indian Currents
Date: June 30 - July 6, 2008

Introduction: Left in the Lurch by Churches

The poor tribal Christian woman was crying. I could hear it on the phone. Reason: Her daughter did not get admission in any Christian school including the one run by Catholic Church. The only place she got admission was Saraswati Sisu Mandir, a kindergarten school run by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Now every Christian leader was howling at them for taking such a step. Nevertheless, none of them tried to investigate why the poor tribal girl was denied admission in a Christian school while children from other faith got admission.

Here is another incident. A wellknown Christian school threw a number of children out of the school, as they did not perform well in internal examination in Class XI. Fearing that these children would "spoil" the result of Board Examination in Class XII, the school threw these weak students out. The school claims to have minority educational status and thus it is supposed to take special care of the weak children.

A third incident. In East Delhi, a Christian family, living in the vicinity of a school run by Church of North India, applied for the admission of their daughter for KG. Every day they would go to school. Nevertheless, the name of their daughter did not find place in the admission list. This was brought to the notice of a Christian leader of all India level but there was no response. It was also brought to the notice of one of the office-bearers of the Development and Justice Department of the NCCI, but the family got only false promises. Lessons learnt

The voice of the poor, the tribal, the Dalit, and weaker sections of Christians is not heard by the Christian educational institutions but the rich and powerful from other communities easily get admission there. This is discrimination and social injustice with the poor Christian children by their own religious institutions.

Christian Commitment

On several occasions in various international venues, the Holy See has defended children's rights by declaring 'Children, Gift of God for the Future of Humanity'.

The message lays emphasis on everyone's obligation to cooperate in stopping the exploitation of children, who are too often victims of violence and abuse. The message points out that even in the 21st century too many children are forced to do hard work that hampers their physical and psychological development, prevents them from attending school and thus deprives them of the education to which they have a right. Many have been the first victims of the increase in sexual abuse and prostitution.

Signed by Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, President of the Pontifical Council, the Vatican document further states: "Our Christian faith teaches us to discover in the child a model for our relationship with God. Jesus has given us as an example the child's simplicity and trust, docility and liveliness, showing us in this way how we should live in trusting submission to God."

"Every child," the message goes on to say, "has an inalienable right to life and, in so far as this is possible, to be welcomed within a natural, stable family. Moreover, all children have the right to nourishment, clothing and protection. [They also have the right] to be educated so that there may develop in them, and that later they may develop in themselves, all their capacities. In this perspective the child, when sick or victim of an accident, has the right to receive all necessary care. The life of the child, just as the life of every human person, is sacred."

Although many children are still forced to work or are victims of ill-treatment and violence, they "are [also] victims of certain changes in society. When families break up it is the children who are the first to suffer. The increase in the use of drugs and in drug trafficking, especially in poor countries, often involves children, to their great harm. Again, the despicable trafficking in organs concerns children in a particular way and the tragedy of AIDS often means that they are infected from birth."

Mgr Fitzgerald concluded at the end of the message, "that the future of humanity depends on the future of children. I hope therefore that our common endeavours in favour of children will continue and may in fact increase."

In October 1983, the Holy See presented to all Catholic institutions and authorities with a Charter of the Rights of the Family with focus on child protection.

Likewise, the World Council of Churches in 1974 provided guidelines on Human Rights and Christian Responsibility. Churches in many parts of the world took up the Nairobi assembly's challenge, addressing humanrights needs in their respective societies more intentionally. In 1998, the WCC further called the faithful to develop a theological basis for the churches' engagement in the promotion and defence of human rights.

Our concern for human rights is based on our conviction that God wills a society in which all can exercise full human rights. All human beings are created in the image of God, equal, and infinitely precious in God's sight and ours. UN Convention

The adoption of the UN

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989 marked a watershed in the recognition of children's rights, formally identifying children as the bearer of rights -- rights that are distinct from those of adults. Although the Constitution of India, the National Policy for Children (1974), many other policies and legislation accord priority to children's needs, it was only after India ratified the CRC on 2nd December 1992 that a new sense of commitment came into existence.

In the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-2007), overall emphasis shifted to rights-based approach concerning survival, development and protection of children. In the Church institutions, in India barring few Jesuits organisations and handful of Protestant groups, the mindset of the clergy remains in the old frame. There are serious gaps between the vision espoused in the Vatican, the WCC documents, and the reality for Christian children in India.

One of the most alarming findings is the consistent failure of most Christian institutions in India to fully uphold the principle of non-discrimination. Central to the concept of human rights is the notion of a 'public order of human dignity' in which values are shaped and shared more by persuasion than by coercion and which seeks to promote greater production without discriminations. This notion of public order is embedded in the Preamble of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which proclaims the human dignity to flow out of "recognition of inherent dignity… of all members of human family" as "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

It is unfortunate that discrimination against Christian children exists even within the Christian institutions. This brings us to the crucial issue of 'What is the future of Christian children in India?'

Overview

With its economic prosperity, India has now become focus of the world. While there has been some positive development such as creation of Children's Mission by the CNI or Educational Fund for poor Christian children by the Catholic Church, there remains many issues which have still not received proper attention like the impact of new economic polices, the problems of rural children in India, emerging discrimination of HIV/ AIDS affected children, children in insurgency areas and dismal scenario of education for all Christian children.

Issues that plague the minds of Christians in India are falling standard of education among Christian children, discrimination against Dalit and tribal children in the Church institutions, large number of tribal Christian girls working as child domestic workers and plight of Christian children affected by HIV/AIDS, Christian children living in insurgency areas like North-East etc.

India has the second highest (5.1 million) number of people living with HIV/AIDS. It is reported that nearly 200,000 are children less than 15 years. Nearly one million children have lost one or both parents to this illness in India. The government considers six States to be high prevalence (more than 1 % of population living with HIV/AIDS) zone. Children who are HIV positive have been denied access to school or treated badly. Extended family members refuse to care for children orphaned by AIDS especially those who are also HIV positive. Social exclusion of such children is growing in India.

Even in Kerala with 98 % of literacy, cases of boycotting children with HIV positive parents have become known.

Though the exact number of Christian children affected directly or indirectly by HIV are not known it is said that it could be 10 per cent of all the affected children in India.

Another emerging phenomenon is of children in conflict and insurgency areas.

Children's rights are constantly being restricted and violated due to ongoing conflict in India. The North East, areas in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are affected by conflict. The education system has been severely destroyed and disrupted by such conflicts. School routes are unsafe, parents fear abduction of girl child, school buildings are occupied by either paramilitary forces or militant groups.

India may well be shining to the world at large but when it comes to its children's health, a whopping 45.9 per cent of children under the age of three are under weight, 39 per cent are stunted, 20 per cent severely malnourished.

Large number of Christian children in Tamil Nadu, Andrha Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat are found to be malnourished particularly in the tribal areas.

The Church documents recognize children as a focal point. However, the total expenditure on Christian children by the Church is considerably low and most funds are invested in real estates.

Despite a spurt in foreign donation to churches in India total per cent spend on poor Christian children is very low.

(To be concluded)


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