Print

Page 2 of 5

image Click for more images

Sitting at his desk in the small C.W.C. office located in the iconic Civil Station government building in Thodupuzha, the largest town in Idukki district, Mr. Gopalkrishnan Nair discusses cases and procedures with another member of the committee, Sister Melvy of the Sisters of the Destitute. Above them, an old ceiling fan spins with a creak and a wobble. Now and again, administrative clerks silently appear and disappear with letters to sign and documents to review.

While alcohol abuse may be the largest factor endangering the welfare of children in Kerala, it is not their only source of strife.

Children of migrant workers are particularly vulnerable. Their parents come from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu to the east, or from poorer northern Indian states, to work as pickers on the expansive tea and coffee growing estates of Kerala. Until about five years ago, this migrant population was typically made up of men arriving solo. But in recent years, they have begun to bring their wives and families to work alongside them.

The children of these migrant families live in substandard housing on the estates, Mr. Gopalkrishnan Nair says, and they are being either exposed to exploitative child labor practices or left unsupervised all day.

The C.W.C. official says a culture shift is also responsible for much of their caseload — for years, Kerala has been moving away from a traditional, patriarchal, collective mode of living toward a society where the nuclear family, women’s careers and latchkey children are more and more prominent.

Yet the environmental risks associated with alcoholism command special attention. Children are often witness or subject to addiction, domestic abuse, depleted resources and family separation. Under the financial and moral strain of addiction, fathers often seek ways to lighten their family burden, resulting in underage marriage or the surrender of children to government social services. In many cases, children replicate the behaviors they are exposed to when they themselves become adults, leading to self-perpetuating cycles of addiction and abuse.

“It’s a spiritual crisis we have here,” says Sister Melvy between administrative tasks with Mr. Gopalkrishnan Nair at the C.W.C.

“It’s all speed, busy schedules, separations, nuclear families earning money but with no life satisfaction. Mobiles, emails and networks are all omnipresent, but there is no real communication at the end of the day. A spiritual vacuum is emerging and it should be filled by some more important power; some say Jesus Christ, some say Allah, some say Krishna.”

Beyond the C.W.C. lies a constellation of organizations positioned to catch Kerala’s children if they fall. Services include a dedicated 24/7 helpline, public dormitories, children’s homes and self-empowerment groups.

One of the easiest ways for a child — or an adult concerned for a child — to get help is to call the national toll-free number: 1098. This directs the caller to ChildLine, a state-funded national service that is implemented locally through NGO partners.

“The main issue we get calls about is sexual abuse,” says Jose Scaria, the ChildLine district coordinator for Idukki, where the service has four offices that collectively field 1,200 calls a month.

Post a Comment | Comments(0)

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |