A group of activists were in for a shock when they discovered that the average weight among women in tribal hamlets of Kodaikanal was just 35 kgs. Not just the women but also children among the Paliyar and Pulaiyan tribes in about 72 villages in the hill station were found to be stunted and malnourished.
Moving to the busy state capital of Chennai, the Childline has been grappling with a rise in child labour cases, especially a group of them from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Staggering numbers of crime against children and dropping sex ratio, alongside, has made experts and activists, push for a separate Ministry in the State to focus on only the two categories – women and children.
Recently, Thamimun Ansari, TN MLA, founder of Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi had placed a similar proposal in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly, citing increasing cases of crime against women and children. He added, “The state will be the first to have a ministry separately for women and children, just like the Centre. We can also take pride in being the first State to give the two utmost importance.”
At the moment, several schemes and issues concerning women and children are covered by the Department of Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme.
Wide and variant issues
S Christuraj, state convenor, Sama Kalvi Iyakam, says, given the diversity of issues concerning children and the fact that they comprise 40 per cent of the total population, it is only logical that we have a separate Ministry for children alone. He adds, “They should have a separate budget and it should cover all aspects concerning children like health, safety, education, sports, culture, arts, etc.”
While Tamil Nadu has always led in the implementation of welfare schemes like Mid-day Meal, Cradle Baby Scheme; women-centric schemes like Mahalir Thittam (socio-economic empowerment programme), Thalikku Thangam Thittam (gold for marriage scheme), Amma Baby Care Kits (for new mothers), etc. a shift in paradigm in administration is certainly the need of the hour.
Virgil D Sami of Arunodhaya that works with street children pointed out, “Despite being an advanced and progressive state, we are lagging behind with a sex ratio at birth pegged at 840 recently from 939 in less than a decade. This means advanced technology is being used against our girls.” Shockingly, sex-ratio in Tamil Nadu has dropped below Haryana in recent times.
D Sami also noted that there are duplication of roles between several departments and that a nodal agency can bring about convergence.
A Narayanan, founder, Change India, says that the ministry can be a line department of sorts, linking, several other departments like Adi Dravidar, Disability, etc. “Adi Dravidar Department deals with children of scavengers and other occupations, their educational needs and entitlements like pre-matric scholarships. Even in the Disability category, we do not have a clear number of children with disabilities, their educational needs. In such a case, the departments can be brought together to ensure the delivery of schemes and scholarship programmes to the children who need them,” he adds
Social defence in a shambles
The juvenile justice delivery in the state is in urgent need of an overhaul, as the child welfare committees have remained ineffective, says Narayanan.
In recent times, Chennai’s CWC remained without a senior officer for several months, before a new team was constituted. D Sami also observes that separate courts have to be set up under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, 2012. “However, we have not been able to establish them. A focussed approach on such lacunae can be fixed by a dedicated Ministry,” she added. Ansari had also made a similar proposal in his address at the assembly recently, apart from seeking ₹5 crore allotment for the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.
Women continue to be vulnerable
Prasanna Gettu, founder of The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), says that after being hailed as a state for its beneficial schemes for women, unfortunately, there has been a drop in their effectiveness. “A few years ago, during Jayalalithaa’s government, we had compensations for domestic violence victims. We also had a special cell as part of the CM cell that looked into domestic violence complaints. Now, we have only the police department looking at it and there is no other place that the public is aware of for the victims to report them” she says.
The biggest bottleneck is the lack of sensitivity among authorities addressing the issues relating to women, says RS Akila, advocate, Madras High Court. “There is a higher reporting of cases of crime against women and children and the problem here is those dealing with them do not know how to handle them.”
Gettu reckons that the lack of sensitivity is also due to the absence of an integrated system. “This is reflected in the way they deal with domestic violence cases,” she says.
She concurred with the rest saying that there is a need for a very coordinated way of responding to women welfare and development. “The Central Government has accelerated several schemes in the recent years through Nirbhaya Funds like 181 women helpline and One Stop Centres and a coordinating department at the state level for the same can make a lot of difference, she said.