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Workshop on Prevention of Child Marriage was held on 8th and 9th November, 2012, at Greenwood Resort, S.G. Highway Ahmedabad. This workshop was organized by the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Gandhinagar, and UNICEF Gujarat. Mr. R.S. Patel, Director of Social Justice and Empowerment Department and CEO of Gujarat State Child Protection Society and Mr. Lolichan, State Consultant, UNICEF Gujarat has inaugurated the workshop. Legal Officer and Protection Officer - Non Institutional Care from most of DCOUs across the state and Child marriage Prevention Officers from five districts and CHILDLINE Coordinator from Ahmedabad and Rajkot were participated in this workshop.

Child marriage is a social norm that requires effort of multiple stakeholders to address the issue and that the main purpose of the workshop was capacity building of key stakeholder to preventing child marriage in the state. Another aim of this seminar was gaining clarity on the legal framework for preventing child marriage in Gujarat context. And the last but not least purpose was the prepare action plan for preventing child marriage

In initial session, Mr. R.S. Patel, Director of Social Justice and Empowerment Department, Gandhinagar and CEO-GSCPS has given a brief on the historical background of child marriage. He said that it may differ by community but there are so many rituals exist in our society which is at the root of the problem. He also added that if we want to prevent our children from an earlier marriage than we should work with local community leaders and parents. In the same session, Ms. Hemalee Leuva has described Child Rights and given an overview of problems faced by children in Gujarat state. She described that around 47 per cent of children are malnourished and 63 percent of children drop out during their 8 to 12 standard’s studies. She added that Gujarat as state, with 38.7 per cent of women aged 20-24 were married before they were 18 years; however, state fairs better than national average in this regard. However there are certain districts within a state with higher prevalence, such as Banaskantha 55.3%, Patan 54.5 %, Dahod 44.8 %, Baroda 44.4 %, and Kheda 44.4 %.

She then presented that in Gujarat the number of convictions of those charged with committing child marriage is very small. Since the passing of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, the total number of applications received reporting Child marriage in Gujarat is 1831. But only in 391 cases these kinds of marriage were prevented and just in 21 cases punishment or penalty has been issued. Due to lack of evidence 1064 applications have been rejected and 107 cases are under court hearing and 228 cases are still pending.

In the second session, Ms. Advaita Marathe, Consultant, UNICEF Gujarat presented the key findings of her research on field documentation of child marriage. The documentation was carried out in 5 districts of Gujarat covering 13 blocks and total 29 villages. She presented that child marriages are not limited to the poor, the uneducated and backward castes but it prevails across all classes and castes in Gujarat. The younger daughters in the family are married into family along with the elder girl to save expenditure.

In evening session, Ms. Bharti Ali, Co-Director, Haq: Center for Child Rights, Delhi has given presentation on Child Marriage Prevention Act 2006. She presented that before the commencement of this act, Sharda Act 1929 was existed. She said that this new act is emphasizing on prevention of child marriage, rather than just stop happenings of such incident. If concern person wants to prevent child marriage, then he should follow a few steps. Firstly, he should inform to Child Marriage Prevention Officer of the particular district. After getting information from people, CMPO will send a fax or email to police to help prevent child marriage. Then he should ask to court in written to issue stay order to stop such happening. A person should keep in mind that this stay order will be for only particular places. So if he has doubts that couple can marry some other place than it is indeed that we should ask to court to issue stay order for the whole district or large geographical area. After this kind of stay order of court, if marriage of that couple happens in banning area, then it’s totally illegal.

By: SAM Nasim

In the last session, Participants were divided into five groups to work out on strategy for cause. An action plan for preventing child marriage in Gujarat has been prepared. The seminar ended with an appreciation for valuable guidance provided by resource persons, and all stakeholders for their active participation.

This information was shared by Amrat Chaudhari, Ahmedabad based Freelance Social Worker, previously working as City Coordinator at Ahmedabad CHILDLINE 1098 (National 24 X 7 hours toll free help line for children in need of care and protection). Amrat can be contacted at amrat_999@yahoo.com

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Your Highness,

I am a blogger from India writing with great concern to you about compatriots of my country in grave trouble in yours. These are Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya in Oslo, whose children Avigyan,3, and Aishwarya,1 have been taken from them and put into foster care by your Child Protective Services. I have been following the news with great concern and it sounds like an exceedingly traumatic experience for them, particularly the children to be separated from their parents in an alien culture. I feel certain that such psychological trauma may not be the purpose of the Child Protective Services.

I am a supporter of Children’s Rights, and I admire your law from 1993 that established such a proactive and concerned organization. Indeed, in India we have many children who could do with even a little attention to their well being from the state.

I have been trying to find out more about these services in order to understand them better and instead have come across several very concerning reports about families traumatized by separations and very high rates of interference and allegations of corruption. I also read several instances where local disagreement or other interpersonal problems resulted in complaints that led to parents being separated from their children. Being a homeschooler, I heard about homeschooling families who are perfectly within their legal rights to educate their children at home, but they are fearing antagonism from local pastors and others who disapprove that could lead to them losing their children, because of allegations against parents not being reviewed adequately and a bias against biological parents, which sounds strange to me as an outsider.

I got the impression that Child Protective Services are a cause for great alarm for parents in your country to the extent that over a thousand parents filed a lawsuit fighting them in 2008. That doesn’t sound like those parents don’t care about the children they lost. This Child Protection System of yours sounds very arbitrary and non-evidence based, relying on allegations for such serious decisions. This is not the action of a responsible authority. I also came across UN reports about human rights violations in such cases. I may also be mistaken or I could also have mistaken those websites seeing as I don’t understand Norwegian and relied on automatic translations.

To get a very brief idea of how frequent the phenomenon was, in order to be able to speak well on behalf of this couple, I observed your very excellent website providing statistical information, which was easier to understand. I used information from 2010 to get an idea of what happens. 61,400 children were born in Norway in 2010. Child Protection Services began interventions with 13,727 children in Norway in 2010 out of which, 863 were put into various kinds of foster care and 581 into child welfare institutions. That is an astonishing 1,444 children uprooted from familiar family environment. In other words, at least one child out of every ten touched by the Child Protection Services and 2.35% of the child population ends up displaced! Those receiving various kinds of assistance is 22.35% of all kids – which I think is a great thing.

As a parent of a child who is now 2 years old and has never been away from me, I cannot begin to imagine the trauma of such separation. My son would be most unhappy without me and I, without him. I cannot imagine what act of mine would deserve such trauma. I would be willing to learn, change, beg… whatever it took WHATEVER it took to keep my son with me.

Parenting is an inexact art. Some days are better than others, some circumstances. Surely it is discrimination to deprive a person of their offspring and a child of parents over relatively minor issues like height of a bassinet from the floor or eating with hands? Inefficient breastfeeding may not be the greatest thing, but breastmilk is still the best nutrition for a child and the presence of a mother the most psychologically reassuring factor.

In India, most children don’t have their own beds. My son doesn’t. While I don’t presume to say how it should be in Norway, it isn’t child abuse! In fact, progressive parents are increasingly taking to attachment parenting, including co-sleeping because it is considered to be healthier and psychologically reassuring. There has been research done on this subject. Children left to sleep alone and away from parents feel more anxious than those who sleep with parents. It seems your Child Protection Services are keen to see the exact opposite happen.

The same with eating with the hand. It is natural. It is how we eat in India. It isn’t force feeding. Surely how a child is fed is a personal matter between the mother and child?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states in Article 9.1

Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child’s place of residence.

No such process seems to have been followed by the Child Protective services, and yet two children are living forcibly separate from their parents and each other. How can Child Protection Services violate rights of a child as stated by the United Nations? If these rights are not supported in your country, has this been made clear? Why is this family still separated months after this hideous action?

I would like to request you to do the following:

1. Return both children immediately to their parents. Unconditionally and deport the entire family if their actions are not acceptable to your country.

2. Investigate the arbitrary confiscations of children by your CPS that are in direct violation of what the UN says – for the sake of Norway’s children themselves. If foster care pays well, it may be useful to look at possibility for corruption leading to a bias for these abductions as many parents are calling them.

3. Please update your Embassies worldwide to inform people with children applying for visas that this is a risk in your country and to proceed at own discretion. It does sound rather like the script of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but better safe than sorry.

Your Highness, kids in India have only heard of kings. Lots of stories in childhood. There is an element of magic and hope attached to the “good” kings in our fairy tales. Be that for those kids. Don’t let them down. They are too young to understand separate countries and different laws and hurtful adults.

Thanking you for your attention. Hope to thank you for more,

Vidyut