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Dear childhood

 

Development at the cost of childhood is catastrophic
TSI | Issue Dated: April 1, 2007
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UNICEF defines childhood as ‘the time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. It is a precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation. As such, childhood means much more than just the space between birth and the attainment of adulthood. It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years that he or she has to live’.

In today’s context, this definition presents a classical dichotomy. For, each and every parameter defining childhood is ubiquitously defied for millions of children across the world, including children of the most developed countries. The same UNICEF reveals in its ‘Overview of Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries’, 2007 report that Britain has completely failed in restoring a humane environment for its children. The report ranks it lowest (21st) in child wellbeing. It ranks a lowly 18th in poverty, 17th in education and in family relationship & risk behaviour, it ranks the lowest. The family relationship stands so fractured in the British society today that almost 43.9% of young children indulge in fighting, 38.1% have under-age sex, (which is far higher than the average (23.8%) of the other rich nations), more than 30.8% drink twice a day, (which is again double the average) and there is a whopping 28% teenage pregnancy (five times the average). Moreover, discord in the family has led them to drugs and alcohol abuse, leading to more than 13% children and teenagers hospitalised for drug related illnesses. As per the report, the United States of America is marginally better off at a rank 20(!). Almost nine million children don’t have any form of insurance cover. It is scary to think that almost 8,00,000 children in the US go missing every year almost without a trace. This saga of perpetual erosion of childhood continues in other parts of the world as well. Almost 30% of children are victims of some form of sexual abuse in Brazil (3 out of 10 children are sexually abused every day here). Brazil is also infamous for housing the world’s second-highest number of underage prostitutes (more than 5,00,000) after Thailand (which is a hub of sex tourism). The International Labour Organisation states that more than 2.5 million Brazilian children are engaged in prostitution, drug running, street peddling, and domestic and farm labour.

On the status of children in other developing and under-developed nations, the least said the better. One can still blame acute destitution and poverty as the reasons of a failed childhood, particularly in the least developing nations. But how does one justify the shocking status of children in the developed parts of the world. Does the ‘developed’ title get bestowed to a country when a miniscule minority in that country becomes ultra-rich? Or is that title earned by trampling the sovereignty of other countries that neither have the resources nor the means to fight back?Or, for that matter, what development do we seek to attain in the short and the long term? The development that we seek remains skewed and concocted, drawing on examples from countries that have failed to bring smiles to the faces of innocent children. No doubt development comes at a cost, but if it is at the cost of childhood, I think we are paying a very high price for it.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017