India, land of spirituality and philosophy, is home to large number of religious and mass gatherings and pilgrimages such as Kumbh melas, Ardh Kumbh mela, Rath Yatra etc. Many of these gatherings attract millions of people from most parts of the country and also across the world. The influx of millions of pilgrims/visitors during such gatherings creates tremendous amount of pressure on their host cities and organizers with the result that any kind of disaster in those gatherings ends in widespread human and infrastructure impact. Some of the big fairs/mass gatherings in India are Pushkar fair, Baneshwar fair, Gangasagar fair, Tarnetar Mela, Chaitre Chaudash mela, Nagaur fair etc.
Mela is a Sanskrit word meaning 'gathering' or 'to meet' or a 'fair'. It is used in the Indian subcontinent for all sizes of gatherings and can be religious, commercial, cultural or sport-related etc. In rural traditions, melas or village fairs were (and in some cases still are) of great importance. In recent times "Mela" also popularly refers to shows and exhibitions. It can be theme-based, promoting a particular culture, art or skill. Generally in "melas" people can find eateries, entertainment activities, shops and games.
Need for child-friendly melas
Due to the magnitude and attraction of celebrations like ‘Melas’, large gatherings of people come in multitudes including children. Since lakhs of people participate in such events, including several children, it is pertinent to highlight that many children reportedly go missing or get lost and separated from their families/carers during these Melas, in which they are vulnerable and at high risk of falling prey to trafficking, kidnapping, sexual exploitation and abuse. It is therefore of utmost importance to create a child friendly environment or Child Friendly Mela.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has hence come up with guidelines for organizing Child Friendly Melas and Large Gatherings.
Objectives of a child-friendly mela
- Ensuring 'Safety and Security' of Children during large scale gatherings such as Melas/Fairs/Events etc.
- Framing indicators for making such large scale events 'Child Friendly' to ensure zero tolerance for any violation of child rights and child protection.
- Fixing accountability of the concerned officials to ensure zero tolerance w.r.t the indicators outlined by the NCPCR for such melas/large scale gatherings thereby facilitating smooth logistic coordination and ensuring safety & security of children during such events.
- Leveraging technological innovations to promote “Child Friendliness” during such Melas. For example; using bar coding technique and other available technological medium to prevent and track missing children.
- To ensure optimal usage of all available information and communication channels for making such events ‘Child Friendly’ such as: Audio visuals, banners, posters, announcements etc.
- To create gender sensitive and Child-Centred; Child Friendly environment for promoting child participation at melas and large gatherings.
- To ensures a healthy, hygienic, and safe environment, with adequate water and sanitation facilities and healthy practices (e.g., a Mela/ large scale gatherings free of drugs/Harmful substances, violence, Child labour, Child trafficking, and harassment), and to arrange provisioning of health/medical services and nutritional supplementation and counseling.
- Establishing a Child Rights Desk: To increase awareness about Child Rights and entitlements under laws, creation of a Child Rights Desk for dissemination of information on existing laws/schemes/polices available for children.
- To ensure convergence of various stakeholders viz. various Departments of State Governments and District Administration with NGOs etc.
- Encourage Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs)/ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSRs) to partner in sponsoring various aspects of Child Friendliness during such Melas.
- Provide positive experiences to make children excited such melas/gatherings, where they can feel welcome and safe.
- Creating an inclusive environment for such melas/gatherings thereby making them friendly for Children with Special Needs.
- To encourage active involvement and participation of children.
Indicators of a child-friendly mela
To ensure zero tolerance for any violation of child rights and child protection, the following indicators have been framed for making such large scale events ‘Child Friendly'.
- Ensure Child Friendly set up (Police Station, Children corners, separate toilets etc)
- No Missing Children
- No Physical and sexual abuse against children
- No Child Trafficking
- No Child labour
- No Child Begging
- No harmful traditional practices, such as Child Marriage etc
- No Harmful Substances
- Safe Drinking Water and Proper Hygiene and Sanitation Measures
- Emergency/First Aid/Medical Care and linkage with nearby hospital/PHC
- Disaster Preparedness
- Nutrition Awareness
- Maintenance of Law and Order
Definition of terms related to child-friendly melas
- Missing Children : The Hon’ble Court (BACHPAN BACHAO ANDOLAN Petitioner(s) VERSUS UNION OF INDIA & ORS) has defined Missing children as “a person below 18 years of age whose whereabouts are not known to the parents, legal guardians or any other person who may be legally entrusted with the custody of knowing the whereabouts/well being of the child whatever may be the circumstances/causes of disappearance. The child will be considered missing and in need of care and protection, until located and/or his/her safety/well being is established".
- Sexual offences against children : The POCSO Act 2012 - Penetrative and aggravated penetrative sexual assault, sexual and aggravated sexual assault, sexual harassment, and using a child for pornographic purposes are the five offences against children that are covered by this Act. This Act envisages punishing even abetment or an attempt to commit the offences defined in the Act. It recognizes that the intent to commit an offence, even when unsuccessful needs to be penalized. The punishment for the attempt to commit is up to half the punishment prescribed for the commission of the offence.
- Begging : As per the Sec 2 (8) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 - Begging means any child soliciting or receiving alms in a public place or entering into any private premises for the purpose of soliciting or receiving alms under any pretence or exposing or exhibiting with the object or obtaining or extorting alms, any sore, wound, injury, deformity or disease, whether of himself or of any other person or of an animal.
- Child Marriage : Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 - bars the marriage of girls below 18 years and boys below 21 year but compliance is low and needs strict monitoring.A child marriage is void if the child is taken away from their lawful guardian by enticement, force or use of deceitful means or is sold or trafficked for the purpose of marriage. The Courts have the power to issue injunctions to prevent child marriages from taking place. The solemnization of child marriages is a cognizable and non-bailable offence.
- Child Labour : The Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 - prohibits employment of adolescents aged between 14 and 18 in any of the hazardous occupations or processes set forth in the Schedule. The hazardous occupations and processes include mines, inflammable substances or explosives, and hazardous process as defined in Clause (cb) of the Factories Act, 1948.
- Child Trafficking : As per section 370 of Indian Penal Code - Trafficking of persons means, whoever, for the purpose of exploitation, (a) recruits, (b) transports, ( c) harbours, (d) transfers, or (e) receives, a person or persons, by - using threats, or using force, or any other form of coercion, or by abduction, or by practising fraud, or deception, or by abuse of power, or by inducement, including the giving or receiving of payments or benefits, in order to achieve the consent of any person having control over the person recruited, transported, harboured, transferred or received, commits the offence of trafficking.
- Child Friendly Corner : A child Friendly Corner is a demarcated area in the Mela/venue/premises which is Child Friendly and provides information regarding access to services for children in crisis or an adult seeking help on behalf of a child.
Source : NCPCR Handbook on Guidelines for organizing Child Friendly Melas and Large Gatherings.