South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Calcutta, Sept. 9: The “abduction” of children from a school to feed the supply chain of a rally has shed light on how an “enlightened” Bengal has learnt to live comfortably with the abuse of the moral and legal rights of its children.

A day after 45 children were plucked out of their school and made to march through the heart of the city, police split legal hairs, some parties found leaving children alone “absurd” and others seemed to suggest that children’s inalienable rights could be trampled with the consent of parents.

The police pleaded helplessness in acting against officials of the school — Sahapur Mathuranath Vidyapeeth in New Alipore — saying their role had not been specified in the complaints.

But lawyers said no law prevented the police from acting on their own against a school that allowed outsiders to take students away.

The school had tried to defend itself by saying the children were taken away before they entered the premises. But a student, whose name and class The Telegraph is withholding, said in a detailed account today: “I had barely taken my seat in the classroom on the second floor when two young men came in…. The other youth grabbed me by an arm and ordered that all of us should get up to leave.” (See Metro)

The parents had accused “a political party” of kidnapping their children in the FIR lodged at Behala police station but they had not mentioned the possible role of the school in the incident.

The police used the lacuna to defend themselves, but a senior lawyer said it was bizarre to expect the victim to name the culprit. “No victim can be expected to pinpoint who all are responsible for a crime. It is the police’s duty to bring them to book,” advocate Rabishankar Chatterjee said.

The children’s testimony should have been enough to locate the guilty, a police officer admitted on condition of anonymity.

Other officers said the police can start a suo motu case of negligence and criminal conspiracy against the school, considering that the institution did not lodge any complaint against the political party on the basis of the students’ allegation that they were taken away from classrooms.

“Once children enter a school, it becomes the responsibility of the school authorities to look after their well- being and their whereabouts. If children go missing from inside a school, the police can charge the authorities with negligence,” a police officer said.

According to the law, even parents can’t take their children away without a valid reason once they enter school premises.

But can parents allow someone to take their children from school to a rally? The answer should be the same as the one to the question: can parents allow children to work just because the wards and the adults have no objection?

If parental consent is the decisive factor, India should not have had a law that prevents any child below 14 from working.

The response today suggests that in the matter of yanking children out of classrooms and making them march through the streets, the attitude is the same as the one that prevailed towards child labour until a few years ago. Till then, many households and reputable establishments did not find anything wrong in employing children under the cover of parental consent.

Smarajit Roy Chowdhury, who deals in human rights law, said: “It is personal. No rule can prevent parents from allowing their children to attend a rally. But if the school authorities allow students to take part in rallies without parents’ permission, the parents can lodge a complaint.”

But he admitted that the present system was in conflict with the provisions laid down in the Children’s Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which says even parents do not have the right to restrain children from taking education. “Taking part in a rally during school hours definitely affects studies,” said Roy Chowdhury.

The children taken to the rally were abused if Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act, 2006, is read in the right spirit. It says any person who has actual charge of or control over a juvenile or child and abandons, exposes or wilfully neglects him or causes him to face all this so that he is subjected to unnecessary mental or physical suffering can face a jail term of a maximum of six months, fine or both.

Chittapriyo Sadhu, who is with Save The Children, an organisation that works for child rights, said: “This (Thursday’s incident) is clearly a case of abuse. We at Save The Children strongly oppose this move of forcing students to attend a political rally. Even if there is consent of parents or teachers, students must not be compelled to participate in something like this.”

Sadhu added that the incident was particularly unacceptable because “child rights principles say they should not be made to participate in anything that they cannot understand or comprehend”.