The Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh addressed the 4th Ministerial Meeting of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC). Chairing the meeting Shri Rajnath Singh said that the safety, security, dignity and wellbeing of our children and young people will determine the wellbeing and strength of our countries. Following is the text of the Union Home Minister’s address.
“I consider it a privilege to address this august gathering on the occasion of the 4th Ministerial Meeting of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children. SAIEVAC is a coalition of States which aims at protection of the rights of children, particularly protection of children from all forms of discrimination, abuse, neglect, exploitation, torture, trafficking; that is any kind of violence. The mandate of SAIEVAC is to safeguard childhood and to positively value children.
Protection of children is necessary for the well-being of any society. Indeed, India is privileged to host this meeting because two key priorities for India are being discussed here – the well-being of children and strengthening of regional co-operation between South Asian countries. Our region is home to the world’s largest population of children. This is a matter of pride, and we recognise these daughters and sons of our eight nations for what they are: children are our most precious resource. Not a liability, but a wonderful asset, worthy of our respect, protection, and special attention – worthy of the highest valuation. As Mahatma Gandhi had said.
“If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously the whole world is hungering.
We need to care for our children, we need to do it with conscious collective efforts and responsibilities. The language of economists may emphasize investments and assets but it is not money and materials alone on which our future stands: it is our people, our children. And it is most critical to safeguard the innocence and security of childhood. From the humblest household to the highest decision-making forum, this is a basic truth.
As we recognise this truth, we can note today with pride that SAARC, acknowledged the importance and value of children 30 years ago, when it placed them on its official summit agenda. This was a historic step. SAIEVAC is a special apex body that SAARC has created. We can also note with pride today that SAIEVAC is our commitment that we have taken a stand against violence – mistreatment and abuse and neglect of our children. We have many milestones to celebrate and many learning to share through SAIEVAC’s journey – these milestones and learning’s inform the subsequent agenda for us in terms of strengthening the institutional and coordination mechanisms, so that we may drive the SAIEVAC movement into the next decade.
I am very happy to see some children present in this hall today. I welcome their presence and acknowledge the need to listen to them. I understand your presence here today – to remind us of our commitment to the safety of every child in our region. Your presence will guide our concerns, commitments and responsibilities towards you.
No country today can progress without according utmost priority to its children. The safety, security, dignity and well-being of our children and young people will determine the wellbeing and strength of our nations. The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all of us during the UN General Assembly SDG Summit held in September, 2015 has specific targets for the realization of child rights and protecting them from all forms of violence; so it will be the first time that indicators of child protection will be universally monitored. We need to develop a regional strategy that defines clear milestones towards the realization of the SDGs. This is SAIEVAC’s opportunity to be path finding leader in this effort, for the benefit of children of the region.
Children are not a homogeneous category and their vulnerabilities change based on social and economic status, gender, disability, geographical location, etc. I believe, this can be said about the region itself. In today’s fast moving world, many challenges exist for the children. Despite the economic growth, there is a huge population which still lives in poverty and deprivation. This adversely affects the survival, health and overall development of children.
Trafficking is another major challenge for all of us. With increasing access to information technology and changing nature of our globalised economy; new threats for children are emerging – sex tourism, child pornography, online threats to children among others. At the same time, large number of children are adversely affected due to rapid climate change, disasters and conflict. My colleague, the Hon’ble Minister of Women and Child Development has already outlined the key legal and policy initiatives taken by India for the protection of its children. We are increasingly realizing that we cannot commit ourselves to protecting children without providing an overarching social protection network to them and their families. The biggest challenge is to identify and track children and their families who are vulnerable and reach out to them.
In India, we are trying to ensure a protective environment for children by bringing all citizens, including children under the purview of social security by linking them with AADHAAR – Unique Identification number which will empower them to access their entitlements directly without any hindrance. We have set up a National Portal –the Track Child which not only has data on ‘missing’ children but it also has live database to monitor the progress of the ‘found’ children who are availing various services in different Child Care Institutions.
We acknowledge that protecting children is every body’s responsibility, therefore, we must work in convergence with as many stakeholders as possible including parents, teachers, children and community. We have been able to rescue large number of children and restore them to their families or provide a protected environment to them through a special initiative called Operation Smile – a drive pioneered jointly by Police, Ministry of Women and Child Development, District administration, civil society organisations and community. As has been already mentioned, our Hon’ble Prime Minister has launched a scheme for the protection of the Girl Child under the Ministry of Women and Child Development a year back – Beti Bachao Beti Padhao which aims at prevention of gender-biased sex selection and ensuring survival, protection, education and empowerment of the girl child. It takes multi sectoral approach through convergence and co-ordination and a nation-wide mass campaign to ensure that girls are born, nurtured and educated without discrimination to become empowered citizens of this country. Initially, 100 districts were identified for multi-sectoral intervention. The scheme has been well received and is showing encouraging results ; it has now been expanded to 61 additional districts across 11 States. In the state of Haryana, for example, the Sex Ratio at Birth has shown a quantum jump from 830 a year ago to 907 per 1000 boys (Civil Registration System, March 2016).
While these initiatives are important, there is a great need to create awareness and provide adequate information to parents, children, teachers, caregivers, frontline service providers so that they are able to prevent violence and abuse of children and are able to provide adequate support, counselling and comprehensive rehabilitation in case of any violation. Most importantly, we need to give due respect to the voices of our children and learn to work with them, ensure their active participation in formulation of policies and programmes for them.
To address these challenges comprehensively, within SAARC countries, we can all benefit from reinforcing regional cooperation and strengthening mechanisms for sharing of information, experience, expertise and good practices. We all realise today that cooperation is both an ever-increasing reality and a source of huge promise and potential for fulfillment of child rights. It is, therefore, incumbent upon all of us to work together to improve the condition of our children. SAIEVAC is an affirmation of a regional resolve to achieve safety and protection for children. This platform provides us with an opportunity for cross-country exchange and sharing of knowledge and resources related to child protection through capacity building, advocacy, and research. I take this opportunity to express India’s continued commitments towards a strong partnership for the protection of children.
I hope that today’s deliberations result into concerted commitment from all of us to ensure that rights of all children in our countries are fulfilled. I extend my best wishes once again to the organisers, delegates and all my colleagues.”