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Talk unlocks keys to child protection

Awareness, teacher training and the need to hear a child’s voice were the keywords that emerged at the end of a panel discussion on child protection and children’s rights, organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Calcutta Foundation, on Monday.

Moderated by Rudrangshu Mukherjee of The Telegraph, the panellists dissected the topic with personal accounts — contextualising child abuse, child psychology and child rights with government initiatives and policies in the UK and the US.

“It’s a burning issue not only in our country but throughout the world. We need to view this problem from the perspective of poverty, illiteracy, child marriage, child pornography, socio-political problems and migration that can reach a rational framework and help the government as well as the citizen of our state,” said Rakhi Sarkar, trustee and general secretary, ICC Calcutta Foundation.

Education minister Bratya Basu, in his opening address, focused on the child protection policy that the Bengal government has been striving to achieve.

“Teachers need to internalise and not mechanically follow Section 17 of the child care act. We had meetings with the British Council for such training in all schools. Soon we will publish this training methodology,” he said.

US consul general Helen LaFave spoke of the history of child labour problems in the US in the 1800s. “My grandfather, born in 1900 in rural Massachusetts, was pulled out of school and went to work in the textile mills. I’m very thankful that the laws started coming into place and my father was able to stay in school and attend university and now as the granddaughter I was able to attend school, go to graduate school, join the foreign service and come here. It shows how transformative these laws and protections can be,” she said.

Margaret Waterworth from Britain, who has been part of British Council workshops on behalf of the Bengal primary education board, stressed the need to “identify, share and take action on a child likely to suffer” and, at the same time, devise a “system that protects teachers from false allegations”.

Rishika Raha, a law student from Delhi, talked about child abuse in cyber space. “The physical space between the child and the perpetrator is so vast that the virtual space has become a hunting ground,” she said, advocating the need for a “global lawmaking agency and awareness programmes in schools”.

Suman Mukherjee, dean and principal of Bhavan Institute of Management, said ways must be found to bridge the divide between children’s education and life. Asim Mukherjee, the secretary of the Janashiksha Prochar Kendra, voiced concern over child trafficking.

Psychologist Anuttama Banerjee said awareness was the key to stop children being stigmatised for approaching counsellors.

“The subtle discrimination based on performance at school and at home traumatises children. Parents need to understand that it is not the end of the world and there are other areas where one’s skills could be developed.”