Every country that has ratified the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) is required to submit a periodic report - on the steps taken by the government to implement the Convention- to the Committee every 5 years. The Government of India is due to submit its first periodic report in January 2004. Separately, an alternate reporting process has been instituted by the Committee to hear from NGOs and other civil society organizations about the extent of implementation of the UNCRC in design of policies and programmes of the country before that country's government makes its official presentation. The Committee will then seek a response from the government on the issues raised during the alternate reporting process.

The National Movement Of Working Children, a national federation of working children's organisations in India, was a part of the Indian delegation invited to Geneva to present alternate reports. The children of NMWC were the only child participants in the delegation.

The NMWC is comprised of nine member organisations from 4 states of the country - Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Karnataka. NMWC has a total membership of over 14, 000 working children, boys and girls under 18 years of age. Its members are from both urban and rural areas and from different communities, ethnic groups, castes and religions. They work in a wide range of occupations - in both the formal and informal sectors. While all the members are working children, some of them combine work and schooling - either in the government run schools or in NGO programmes. The NMWC was constituted in 1999 to influence policy at the national level, to protect children from exploitation and discrimination and to ensure participation of children at all levels of government and society in all decisions and issues affecting them directly and indirectly.

The alternate report was prepared entirely by children and contains the following:

Ø Their present situation in the context of the realisation of their rights with regard to their Protection, the Provision of services and infrastructure and their right to Participation.
Ø Their own initiatives that have helped them to improve our lives and to realise their rights.
Ø Their review of the GOI Report.
Ø Their suggestions for what needs to be done for the realisation of their Rights.

Some of the problems faced by children, and solutions recommended by them, are as follows:

At home

At home, their problems relate to alcoholism, abuse and neglect, discrimination faced by girls and children with disabilities and lack of opportunities to participate in decisions concerning them. They recommend the setting up of effective and responsive support systems like children helplines, Children Ombudspersons that they could seek help and protection from in times of need.

"Toll free phone lines and stamp free post cards should be made available for us to contact children's organisations, children's councils, ombudspersons in times of crises. The existing children's help lines and support structures should be given much more publicity and support. They should also work with better co-ordination among themselves."

At work

"Some of us are not in a position to stop working right now. So we need schools that we can attend at times that are convenient to us."
 •  NMWC Alternate Report [380K]
 •  www.workingchild.org
At work their problems center around bad working conditions, low wages, abuse and exploitation at the workplace, lack of protection and support systems, migration, lack of representation and participation at work related forums. They recommend that the government provide realistic alternatives to working children (a) To prevent them from working, and (b) To retain them in schools. These alternatives should be designed in consultation with working children themselves, and should reflect the needs and aspirations of the children. In the interim, given that the problem of child labour cannot possibly be solved overnight, they recommend that working children organize themselves, and the government and employers recognize and facilitate these organizations to ensure the participation of children at all levels. They recommend the protection of children in hazardous industries and the setting up of support structures that would shield them from abuse and exploitation.

"We are constantly told that we have to stop working and start going to school. But the government does not realise that in our given situation of poverty and deprivation, work is a necessity. Even if we try to explain our situation, we are not taken seriously. If we are migrants, we are sent off to our villages. They do not realise that we left our villages because we had no livelihood there. We, the concerned children are not at all consulted. Our needs are not taken into consideration. The alternatives forced on us by the Government actually make our situations worse than before. Some of us are not in a position to stop working right now. So we need schools that we can attend at times that are convenient to us."

At school

The children list in great depth their problems relating to the teaching methodology, learning environment, access to schools, facilities in schools as well as discrimination faced by groups like girls, minority, low caste and marginalised community children and physically and mentally disabled children. They also cite the lack of/inadequate provision of basic facilities like water, fuel, health facilities, anganwadis, ration shops as being a big deterrent to their attending school. The children recommend flexible timings, relevant, job-centric curriculum, participation in planning school activities, schedule, curriculum and courseware, provision of basic services and provision of infrastructure like toilets and facilities like midday meals in schools.

"Education is our right. It should be made available to us at the place of our convenience and at times which are convenient to us. All the childcare centres should work full day. So that our parents can go to work."

In the Community

The children cite the lack of opportunities and avenues for participation in their communities as their primary concern. They also feel the need for a support system for their protection.

"When decisions are made about matters that concern us, we children should be involved in that process. Wherever children's organisations exist, representatives of children's organisations should be involved in the process. Where children's organisations do not exist at present, the adults should facilitate children to choose their representatives - keeping in mind different age groups and different situations of children. The children's organisations, children's councils, ombudspersons and concerned adults, such as representatives of local governments and government departments should collectively develop these support structures. These structures should be a part of the National Commission for Children."

With the Police and the Juvenile Justice System

The children observe that abuse and harassment of vulnerable children at the hands of the police and the juvenile justice system is very common and there is no system in place for the protection and proper rehabilitation of juveniles. They recommend that special training sessions be held with the police to apprise them of children's rights. They also recommend that juveniles receive legal aid, counseling and care and vocational training when they are in Observation Homes and Remand Homes.

"When a child is taken into the State Observation Home, he/she should have an immediate access to legal assistance from a special panel of Lawyers. (Either volunteers or those appointed by the Judges or from the Legal Aid Cell) This will ensure that we are assured of legal and emotional support of a high quality. All police personnel must be trained in how to best to deal with children and to assist them. They should be aware of children's rights."

The report also details the NMWC's critique of the Government periodic report - and gets straight to the heart of the matter: children themselves were absent in the preparation of that report. The NMWC's version, it turns out, is more than an alternate; it is also the real thing.