The Telegraph
Thursday , July 3 , 2014
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Kids back from Kerala ‘unborn’

Ranchi, July 2: Some of Godda’s minors sent to Kerala orphanages by parents may have been brought back home by interstate teams last month, but the can of worms that opened to expose numbing poverty in the district is also baring how welfare basics, including Integrated Child Development Scheme, have failed.

All 128 children who returned from Kerala in two batches in June to their homes in Basantrai, Mahagama, Meharama and Pathargama blocks of Godda don’t have birth certificates, but they have Aadhaar cards with their ages on it.

Children without birth certificates who went to Kerala got their age certified by elected panchayat mukhiyas, based on verification letters of panchayat sachivs, who happen to be government servants.

“Most children got Aadhaar cards via this age-identifying process,” confirmed Nurul Hasan, panchayat sachiv of Singpur, Mahagama block.

How reliable age verification processes are can be gauged from the difference between Hasan’s official and original ages. The self-admitted 47-year-old Hasan is only 19 according to his voter ID obtained this January.

Though sources call Hasan a “sincere employee” and a “known face”, he hasn’t made any official complaint at the Godda district election office regarding the false age on his voter identity card.

When no one bothers about the correct age of a government employee, it is enough to surmise that the ages of children from poor homes don’t matter.

Md Kalimuddin, a resident of Sital village in Godda, who sent three daughters to Kerala, claimed the youngest child was six years old. Asked why she looked much younger, he said: “Gaon ke bachche aise he hote hain (Village children are like this only).”

Under the pan-Indian Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), anganvadi kendras can register births based on which parents can procure birth certificates of children from respective block offices. In the case of at least the 128 Godda children, none of the parents did so.

And no ICDS or anganvadi official bothered.

Admitting lapses, child development project officer (CDPO) Khadiza Farzana, however, pinned the whole blame on parents.

“Schemes and provisions are meant for people. I really cannot comment on what was going in the minds of people that they never thought of getting the children’s births registered on time via anganvadis,” Farzana said.

“Knowing about the provisions, if people escape the process, can we really help?” the child development project officer further said.

Evading the birth certificate, or the first citizen authentication process, gives scope to parents to fudge the ages of children and can have wide-ranging impact on the future of the wards, including eligibility for education, work, benefits, pension and so on.

Most worrying, the absence of birth certificates makes poor children absent from official records. So, “unwanted” children from overcrowded and hungry homes are more vulnerable to trafficking, flesh and organ trade.

“All we can do is check that children that are born from now onwards are registered,” Farzana said.

Godda deputy commissioner Rajesh Kumar Sharma admitted that low birth registration was a valid concern. But he added this was rampant across the state, not just his district.

“As you know, we have low rate of birth registration. It is an issue we must look into seriously. I have passed orders to ensure that every newborn is registered at the anganvadi level, so that we have authentic figures from every household,” he said.

On the ages of children that have come back from Kerala, he said: “It was visible that the children were very small. Once they settle down, we can check for over-reporting of ages. Rehabilitation of the children is our first concern.”

“The return of children from Kerala has given us many issues to probe into. Mass-scale exodus of children to other states for years does not stem from one cause only,” said Gaurang Mahto, subdivisional magistrate in Godda.