By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI, Jan 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's new child protection law can help curb the exploitation and trafficking of millions of children but needs adequate government funding and commitment to be effective, Nobel Laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi said.
Changes to the Juvenile Justice Act, which focuses on children in conflict with the law and children in need of care and protection, were passed by the Indian parliament last month.
The buying and selling of children, use of children to beg or for organised crimes such as drug peddling or armed conflict are now specific offences, carrying stiff penalties.
The law also tightened the regulation of children's care homes, some of which have in the past been found to be unregistered and to be abusing and exploiting children in their care.
"I welcome this law because it has a very strong component related to the care and protection of children and on punishing various forms of exploitation and trafficking of children," Satyarthi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Wednesday.
"The only thing is that it will only be proven effective when the government shows a strong political commitment to implementing the law and, of course, more budgetary support."
Thousands of Indian children, mostly from poor rural areas, are taken to the cities every year by trafficking gangs who sell them into bonded labour or hire them out to unscrupulous employers, promising to send their parents their wages.
Most end up as domestic workers or labourers in brick kilns, roadside restaurants or small textile and embroidery workshops.
In many cases the children are forced to work long hours under hazardous conditions. Often they are not paid and go missing, and their families are unable to track them down.
Satyarthi, whose charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) is credited with rescuing more than 80,000 enslaved children, said India needed to invest more in children and ensure laws relating to children are properly implemented.
"I constantly question our budgetary allocation for children," said Satyarthi. "How ironic is it that 41 percent of India's population is below 14 years old, yet we only spend 0.4 percent of our GDP on children?"
Many child rights groups in India have criticised one major change to the Juvenile Justice Act, which lowered the age at which a person can be tried for rape and other heinous crimes to 16 from 18.
But Satyarthi, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai, said the law was misunderstood and children aged between 16 and 18 would be sent to special care homes rather than adult prisons.
"No child will be imprisoned and will instead go to these special homes which will look towards their reformation. But of course, lots of investment has to be made in the rehabilitation of these children and psychosocial support for these children."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.