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DOWN WILL COME BABY

A deep irony envelops the name, child welfare committee, whether in Calcutta or anywhere else in the country. Welfare of children is the last thing on India’s to-do list: official India is just as casual about this as social India. There is no dearth of laws, of course, for the child’s education, for example, or prohibiting child labour and minor marriage, but laws and policies have very little to do with the realities of children’s lives unless social attitudes change.

Those attitudes are laid bare in certain extreme situations. The CWC has suddenly been faced with two youngsters, one 12 and the other 14, both of whom are pregnant for over seven months. Their urban, upper middle-class families just did not notice that their daughters were pregnant till this late date. Wonders do not cease there. The families no longer wish to house their children while they are pregnant, for it is, presumably, a question of respectability and prestige. They would like the CWC to give them a ‘home’ till delivery. If this is a surreal vision of the stuff that makes up ‘family values’, even among ‘enlightened’ folks who send their daughters to the best schools, there is more to come. After the delivery, the guardians will take the girls back into their homes, but not the babies. Evidently there can be no ‘natural’ bonding with children’s children if babies arrive in the wrong way.

The CWC is reportedly in a fix, for there is no law to deal with a situation like this. The girls are themselves children, and even if they can be given a temporary ‘home’, what about the babies? The CWC does not wish to set a precedent by giving shelter to unwanted babies, for other families would then feel free to palm off the unwanted offspring of their minor daughters on the organization.

The CWC’s dilemma has been caused by the mess of hypocrisy, ignorant prudery, disguised cruelty and suppressed violence hiding behind the veneer of affectionate family and social relationships that the girls have accidentally exposed. Sex is the catalyst here, showing, on the one hand, what great damage, even tragedy, can be wrought by refusing growing children graded sex education in schools and homes, so that they know about safety and health even as they venture out to explore. Such awareness is important in a country where reports of horrifying sexual violence can cause a fear of sex or a glorification of violence, both equally distorting, in impressionable minds just when the bodies are beginning to feel new sensations and desires. On the other hand, sex is the great leveller, showing that in a country of honour killings and khap panchayats, upper middle-class urban families, too, would rather embrace family ‘honour’ than their distressed daughters, and throw their babies out of their homes and out of their daughters’ lives without compunction. The welfare and happiness of children are emphatically not part of Indian ‘culture’.