Should children be ‘used without their informed agreement’?


[My question then is: is it right to ‘use children without their informed agreement and without their own initiative’ in the following manner:

  1. Processions for demands they do not understand?
  2. In conventions for giving lectures which they do not fully understand?
  3. In big children’s conventions for passing resolutions which are given to them by interested parties?
  4. In stone pelting?

तो फिर मेरा पूरा सवाल यह है: क्या बच्चों का उनकी ‘समझकर-सहमती और उनकी अपनी पहल के बिना’ निम्न परिस्थितियों में ‘उपयोग’ नैतिक दृष्टि से ठीक है?:

  1. उन मांगों के लिए जुलूस और विरोध प्रदर्शन में लेजाना जिन्हें वे समझते ही नहीं?
  2. सभाओं में ऐसे भाषण दिलवाना जो वे समझते नहीं?
  3. बड़ी-बड़ी बाल सभाओं में प्रस्ताव पास करवाना जो न उनकी चिंता हैं नाही जिन्हें वे समझते हैं, और न उन पर कुछ कर सकते हैं?
  4. पत्थर-बाजी में]

Rohit Dhankar

It seems yesterday a 16-year-old girl delivered a lecture to world leaders in UN summit on climate change. I listened about a minute of it and read an article on what she said. This brought back to my mind an old question which I often reflect on with considerable unease in my mind and see myself at variance with most of the opinions expressed in the media.

लगता है कल एक 16 वर्ष की लड़की ने संयुक्त राष्ट्र संघ की पर्यावरण पर सभा में दुनिया के नेताओं को भाषण दिया है। मैंने उसके भाषण का कोई एक मिनट का हिस्सा सुना और उसपर एक लेख पढ़ा। इस से मेरे दिमाग में फिर से एक पुराना सवाल उठ खड़ा हुआ जो मैं कई बार अपने आप से पूछता रहा हूँ। हमेशा इस सवाल पर विचार करना मुझे कुछ बुरा-सा लगता है, और मैं जिन नतीजों पर पहुंचता हूँ वे संचार माध्यमों में प्रसारित विचारों से बहुत अलग होते हैं।

Putting my question with clarity and explaining my unease requires some background. I believe children should get a chance of developing their intellectual abilities, empathy for human race, and moral code as freely as possible. They should become rationally autonomous, or as nearly rationally autonomous as possible for humans, without undue influences and indoctrination. They should be given the full opportunity to be able to take informed decision on what activities they want to undertake; and should be knowledgeable enough as well as morally strong enough to resist suggestions, pressures and impositions from other people.

अपने सवालों की साफ अभिव्यक्ति के लिए और मेरे मन की शंकाओं को ठीक से समझाने के लिए मुझे कुछ पृष्ठभूमि बनानी होगी। मैं ऐसा मानता हूँ कि बच्चों को उनकी बौद्धिक क्षमताओं, इन्सानों के लिए संवेदना और नैतिक दृष्टि विकसित करने के अवसर पूरी स्वतन्त्रता के साथ दिये जाने चाहियें। उन्हें बिना अनुचित दबाव और प्रभाओं के विवेकशील-स्वायत्तता के विकास के मौके मिलने चाहिएन। अर्थात मतारोपण और दबाव नहीं होने चाहियें। उन्हें जिन चीजों में वे सक्षम हो गए हैं उन में सुविचारित निर्णय के अवसर मिलने चाहियें। और इनमें बड़े निर्णयों से पहले यथेष्ट बौद्धिक समझ और नैतिक साहस विकसित होना चाहिए कि वे अपने बड़ों के दबाओं और लालच का (यदि उन्हें वे अनुचित मानते हैं या नहीं समझते हैं तो) विरोध कर सेंक।

To develop into the above-mentioned kind of person children need to make their decisions independently in spheres they are capable enough and should be protected from allurements and pressures where they stand in the danger of ‘being used for others purposes’; which is the same thing as exploitation.

इस तरह के इंसान के विकास के लिए ये जरूरी है कि बच्चे उन क्षेत्रों में स्वतंत्र निर्णय लें जिनकी उन में समझ विकसित हो गई है। और उनको ऐसे निर्णयों से सुरक्षा मिले जहां बड़ों के दबाव और लालच का खतरा हो। जहां उन्हें ‘दूसरों के उद्देश्यों के लिए उपयोग किया जाने का खतरा हो’। दूसरों के उद्देश्यों के लिए बिना समझे या बिना सहमति के उपयोग करना ही शोषण है।

I am not sure everyone agrees upon this way of thinking regarding children. But in the light of these principles it seems to me there are several activities in which children should not be pushed. I will give some examples below.

मुझे ठीक से पता नहीं है कि सब लोगों कि बच्चों के बारे में इस तरह से सोचने से सहमति है या नहीं। पर इन सिद्धांतों के प्रकाश में मुझे लगता है कई गतिविधियां हैं जिनमें बच्चों को नहीं धकेलना चाहिए। नीचे कुछ उदाहरण दिये हैं।

Long back we were discussion right to education for children (when the act was not yet passed) and few voluntary organisations decided to take out a procession demanding right to free and compulsory education for all children. Some of these voluntary organisations were running schools and therefore had hundreds of children below 14 years of age under their command, so to say. They proposed that we take the children in the procession. I was against it. My reasons were that if we do take them in the procession we will be ‘using them for our purposes without their informed consent’. Children of course will readily agree and will be happy. But I doubted if they will understand what the procession is all about. So my question is: would it be morally right to take 6-14 years old children in a procession, marching in the sun, to demand right to education for all children? My view is: NO. What do you think?

कई वर्ष पहले, जब अभी शिक्षा के बाल अधिकार का अधिनियम नहीं बना था, हम लोग मुफ्त और अनिवार्य शिक्षा के अधिकार पर बात कर रहे थे। कुछ स्वयं-सेवी संस्थाओं ने शिक्षा के अधिकार की मांग करते हुए एक जुलुस निकालने का निर्णय लिया। इन में से कुछ संस्थाएं स्कूल चलती थीं, तो 14 वर्ष तक के कई सौ बच्चे इन के निर्देशन में थे। कुछ लोगों ने कहा कि हमें बच्चों को जुलूस में ले जाना चाहिए। मुझे यह ठीक नहीं लगा। मैं इसके विरुद्ध था। मेरे एतराज यह था कि बच्चों को जुलूस में लेजाना ‘हमारे उद्देश्यों के लिए उनका उपयोग करना’ होगा, क्यों कि वे इस मुद्दे पर सुविचारित निर्णय करने के लिए आवश्यक ज्ञान और चिंतन क्षमता नहीं रखते। तो मेरा सवाल यह है कि: क्या 6-14 वर्ष के बच्चों को धूप में ऐसे जुलूस में लेजाना उचित होगा जिसमें शिक्षा के बाल अधिकार की मांग की जा रही है? मेरा उत्तर है: नहीं। आप क्या सोचते हैं?

Another example. Once I was part of an evaluation team for an organisation working for child safely and education. One of their activities was a Children’s Convention at the national level. Hundreds of children were brought to this convention from all over India. Presidents etc. were elected. And they passed several resolutions regarding betterment of the country. We read the report. The resolutions were all that the adults are concerned with and most of them were beyond children’s power of understanding and action. Again, I felt that the children were ‘used’ by adults for their own agenda. What do you think?

एक और उदाहरण: एक बार मैं एक मूल्यांकन-टीम का हिस्सा था जो बाल-सुरक्षा और शिक्षा पर काम करने वाली एक संस्था का मूल्यांकन कर रही थी। उन की एक गतिविधि राष्ट्रीय स्तर पर बच्चों की बड़ी बड़ी सभाएं करवाना था। सैकड़ों बच्चे भारत के विभिन्न हिस्सों से लाये जाते थे। अध्यक्ष आदि चुने जाते थे। देश की बेहतरी के लिए इन सभाओं में कई बड़े-बड़े प्रस्ताव पास किए गए थे। हमने इन की रिपोर्ट पढ़ी। लगभाग सभी प्रस्ताव बड़ों के सोचने के विषय थे, अधिकतर बच्चों की समझ के बाहर और उनके किसी भी तरह से कुछ कर पाने की सामर्थ्य से बाहर थे। यहाँ भी मुझे लगा वयष्क लोग बच्चों का अपने अजेंडा के लिए उन की ‘समझकर-सहमति’ के बिना उपयोग कर रहे हैं। आप क्या सोचते हैं?

There is a Nobel Laurate in our country. Once he took his 13 years old daughter to deliver a lecture in eradicating child labour in a UN convention. The lecture was appreciated all around and the press went gaga over it. The same nagging question came to my mind: does the child understand all she is saying? Is she being ‘used for someone else’s purposes’? I ask the same question about the child who spoke yesterday in UN Convention on environment. What do you think?

हमारे देश में एक नोबल-पुरस्कार से सम्मानित व्यक्ति हैं। एक बार वे अपनी 13 वर्ष की बेटी को संयुक्त राष्ट्र के सम्मेलन में बाल-मजदूरी खत्म करने पर भाषण देने ले गए। भाषण की मीडिया में बहुत सराहना हुई। यही परेशान करने वाला सवाल तब भी मेरे मन में उठा। कि क्या यह बच्ची जो भाषण दे रही है उसके पीछे के तर्क और उसके निहितार्थ समझती है? क्या इसे ‘बिना समझकर-सहमति’ के किसी और के द्वारा उपयोग किया जा रहा है? कल जिस बच्ची ने संयुक्त राष्ट्र संघ में भाषण दिया उसके बारे में भी मैं यही सवाल पूछता हूँ। आप का क्या मत है?

(By the way, in the short clip I heard, this child yesterday was also speaking with a certain kind of vehemence, aggression and arrogance that did not seem to be coming from her own self. And if it did, I am sorry to say, she needs some serene and sane adults around her to learn from.)

(कुछ विषयांतर के साथ, जो थोड़ा सा भाषण मेंने कल का सुना उसमें तो वह बच्ची बहुत ही ऊग्र, आक्रामक और घमंडी तरीके से बोल रही है। मुझे नहीं लगा की ये उसके अपने भाव थे। और यदि थे तो, मुझे दुख के साथ कहना पड़ रहा है, उसे अपने आस-पास कुछ शांत और समझदार लोगों की जरूरत है, जिन से वह सीख सके।)

A fourth example: many children get hurt in Kashmir unrest, with palates or tear gas etc. It is sad and condemnable that young children suffer this fate. Before Kashmir, and may be even now, stone pelting by children was very common in Palestine. I always felt sad and sometime angry with the security forces for the suffering caused to children in stone pelting incidents. But I also think that the children were ‘being used as cannon fodder’ by their elders who are leading the unrest in Kashmir and Palestine. This is gross abuse of child rights on their elders’ part. What do you think?

चौथा उदाहरण: कई बच्चे कश्मीर में पलेट्स या आंसुगस के गोलों से घायल हो जाते हैं। यह दुखद है और निंदा करने लायक है। कश्मीर से पहले, शायद अब भी, बच्चों से पत्थर-बाजी करवाना फिलिस्तीन में बहुत होता था। यह सदा ही दुखद और कई बार बहुत गुस्सा दिलाने वाली चीज होती है कि इस तरह की पत्थर-बाजी की घटनाओं में बच्चे घायल होते हैं। लेकिन मुझे यह भी लगता है कि पत्थर-बाजी में बच्चों को उनके ही मातापिता और बड़े ‘युद्धबली’ के रूप में ‘उपयोग’ कर रहे हैं। ये फिलिस्तीन और कश्मीर में होता रहा है। यहाँ उन्हीं के बड़े बच्चों के अधिकारों का घोर हनन कर रहे होते हैं। आप क्या सोचते हैं?

My question then is: is it right to ‘use children without their informed agreement and without their own initiative’ in the following manner:

  1. Processions for demands they do not understand?
  2. In conventions for giving lectures which they do not fully understand?
  3. In big children’s conventions for passing resolutions which are given to them by interested parties?
  4. In stone pelting?

तो फिर मेरा पूरा सवाल यह है: क्या बच्चों का उनकी ‘समझकर-सहमती और उनकी अपनी पहल के बिना’ निम्न परिस्थितियों में ‘उपयोग’ नैतिक दृष्टि से ठीक है?:

  1. उन मांगों के लिए जुलूस और विरोध प्रदर्शन में लेजाना जिन्हें वे समझते ही नहीं?
  2. सभाओं में ऐसे भाषण दिलवाना जो वे समझते नहीं?
  3. बड़ी-बड़ी बाल सभाओं में प्रस्ताव पास करवाना जो न उनकी चिंता हैं नाही जिन्हें वे समझते हैं, और न उन पर कुछ कर सकते हैं?
  4. पत्थर-बाजी में?

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5 Responses to Should children be ‘used without their informed agreement’?

  1. Dear Rohit ji, its alarming at this stage, we the society have already engaged ourselves in personal goals of achievement. in everything we do, we do have an agenda!? that’s the trust level imbibed into our sweat and blood. there is no selflessness? or is there no selfless person at all? i dont know if we could all think of harmonious society and a constructive thoughts to build a sustainably a peaceful society. i agree THERE NEED TO BE A INFORMED CONSENT TAKEN FROM THE CHILDREN/ STUDENTS PARTICIPATING ANY SUCH ACTIVITIES AND ACTS, to justify what they say and do. interestingly those who are being pointed out, well! they know their agenda. sadly they are the sheeps! would never want to giveup and accept the truth. they just want live in riches n dies in riches.

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  2. Vaishnavi Mangal says:

    Sir,
    With due respect, I just want to bring it to your attention that the 16 year old girl is autistic. She gets uncomfortable in front of corus and hence this aggression. It’s not that she’s being guided by someone else or being used for others. When in personal interview you will listen to her, she is calm and composed.
    Greta in 2018, started from Sweden, when she declared that she won’t go to school, and sat in front of swedish parliament because what is point of studying because world is ending.
    Sir, please also look into above presented view as well.

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    • rdhankar says:

      If she is doing it in an informed manner and with her free will, not pushed or indoctrinated; fine good. But my question is larger. It is about generally using children.

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  3. rdhankar says:

    A friend expressed her views on facebook. Below is a response to her.

    Response to a friend
    Rohit Dhankar
    My little article is triggered by Greta Thunberg’s (GT) speech but is actually has a much wider concern. And the principle I am using is of “necessity of informed agreement”, in absence of which I find it “being used for another’s purposes” which is the same thing as exploitation to me. Therefore, I do admit and actually arguing for child’s agency and unhindered development of her/his autonomy. Reading denial of agency and paternalism in this is either ignoring the concern I am expressing or being plainly unfair to this little article. I am arguing for the optimal and free development of rational autonomy. Which is slightly more than some interpretations of “agency” and encompasses agency completely.
    Your First Point
    You quote CRC. Yes, children do have the right to express themselves as well as to be heard and considered. Article 12.1 of CRC is: “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” I am arguing against situations in which children are unlikely to have formed “their own views”, and where adults may exploit them by using them as megaphones for views of the adults.
    A child of 16 years in many countries (no idea about Sweden) is not eligible to vote, to marry, to have consensual sex, to by alcohol, and so on. This is because s/he is not deemed yet “capable of forming his or her own views”.
    If GT is capable of forming her own views on the whole gamut of issues regarding environmental concerns well and good, she should express and well as lecture world leaders. Absolutely no problems. One may argue that she is only expressing her views, not taking any action like voting etc. therefore no problem. But this kind of lecture is sure to expose her to something pretty difficult. We will take that issue at the end, after dealing with other issues you have raised.
    You claim that “children are far more intelligent and agentic than commonly given credit for”. May be. In that case we should review our legal system and many other things. I am sure if there is a case of punishing a child less than 18 years for murder or rape you will argue that he should be treated as juvenile, because he is not yet fully capable of understanding right from wrong and has not yet developed requisite self-restraint. But in this case, you are willing to consider them more intelligent than we give them credit for. In any case, as I said above, if they are intelligent enough to form their own informed views, we will take that case up at the end of this note.
    Your second point
    The first part in your second point is somewhat strange to a lakeer-ka-fakiir like me. You happily and approvingly quote (somewhat misquote? 😉) CRC right in the beginning and then ask “Who is a child?” Well, to go back you your CRC Article 1: “For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” So, for as lakir-ka-fakiir it may look like a contradiction. But ok, let it pass.
    I am sorry, but you cannot use the fact of your grandmother having a child at 16 in this argument. The CRC and Indian society considers it to be wrong now, that is why it is banned and that is why we do all that we can to prevent our daughters having a child at 16 today.
    Yes, this is possible that 16 years might be good enough for certain things and may not be good enough for certain other things. As I said above, we will see that at the end. However, the argument that since we have environmental issues in curricula for children below 16 therefore 16 is also good for large scale action and lectures in the top-level formal conventions may not hold. You are a teacher; I need not lecture you on discussing environmental issues for learning purposes and enlightening world leaders.
    Your third point
    Sundry examples are not goof enough for an argument of this nature. There are instances of child soldiers, that does not give weight to this argument. Actually, my article is exactly to oppose that. Also, I am not talking of artificially excluding children from wider protest movements. I am talking of keeping them out of the harm’s way. I wonder if you will allow child-soldiers in a conflict zone. And the principle I am arguing for is “informed consent”, not pushed, not forced, not indoctrinated.
    You characterise GT’s style as passionate and not aggressive etc. Hope I know the difference between passion and aggression. The sentences like “we will be watching you”, “how dare you” frequently used have a meaning. From a child they express bluster, arrogance and aggression. But let us agree to disagree on this this one. No big deal.
    Finally lets supposed GT understands enough regarding global warming issues. And can handle the problems being a crusader of environment will throw at her. First, let us understand that there are plenty of good speakers on environmental issues in the world. GT’s impact is mainly because she is a young moral crusader. I am using “moral” deliberately. Because it is a moral issue.
    Now, cutting harmful emissions and other environmentally harmful products and actions is not only an issue of money. It will impact people’s life styles and standards of living, as they are understood today. I am not arguing for continuing on the way the world is moving today, all I am doing is indicating complexity of the issue. There are countries which are barely manging their needs with current harmful ways of production of various commodities. Have no batter ways at hand. If they immediately start matching emission control standards etc. they may suffer economically and in terms of living standards. And those who will benefit in this are the countries which polluted the earth in the beginning and now have reached a level of development (on the basis of past exploitation of other nations) to manage better than the previously exploited countries. I am sure she understands all this.
    Now, the arms manufacturing, their use and dynamite have substantially damaged the environment in many ways and are damaging today. How about cutting on arms manufacturing to save the earth? Does GT understand her own living standards depend partially on selling arms to the world by her own country. A moral crusader should be able to manage with lower living standards and other facilities in her own country to save the earth. So, environmental crusade may lead to shutting own Swedish armament factories. And may be GT should actually start there rather than giving lectures to the world leaders.
    Now, I know this is an unfair attack on a 16-year-old child. But moral crusading is a hazardous business and involves many fair and unfair attacks and risks. One does not only need environmental understanding; one need to be able to deal with world politics here. One who boldly challenges “how dare you?” will be asked “how dare you who lives a comfortable life on supply of environment polluting equipment world over, lecture others who fail because of their survival needs?” Do you think GT will be able to handle this kind of attacks? Questions asked with equal vehemence, arrogance, and aggression? (Ok, we will call it passionate questioning.) I don’t think the child understand what she is dealing with. She needs protection. I am not arguing for taking her rights away. I am not being paternalistic. I am concerned about her protection.
    This is just an example. Global action (and speaking is an action) on environment is complex, competitive, political, adversarial, and full of stress. If you think the child is ready for all this, fine. But, I have also given other examples. GT is one of them. I am doubtful if all children being used in this manner have formed their own informed views. That is my concern.
    ******

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