Protecting children from abuse
March 24, 2012 11:32 AM | Bookmark and Share
Alekh Angre

Children’s Rights in Goa is the first NGO set up specifically to address tourism-related child abuse

Goa’s reputation as a great tourist destination is sometimes sullied by its murky underbelly that makes news headlines occasionally because of the dogged perseverance of activists like Dr Nishtha Desai. Tourism-related paedophilia, child labour, school dropouts, exploitation and trafficking of migrant children are among the many issues addressed by Children’s Rights in Goa (CRG). It is the first not-for-profit organisation in India set up specifically to address tourism-related child abuse.

CRG’s origin dates back to the notorious case of paedophile Freddy Peats who was arrested in 1991 and convicted five years later. There were twin reactions to the case—NGOs thought it was only the ‘tip-of-the-iceberg’, while the government insisted that it was just an aberration. Intrigued, Dr Desai, a PhD in sociology, began to research tourism-related paedophilia. “I wanted to find out what the reality was,” she says. See the Evil: Tourism related paedophilia in Goa, a research, was supported by Vikas Adhyayan Kendra (VAK), an NGO, and conducted with the help of community workers. It examined the prevalence of tourism related child sexual abuse and the modus operandi of travelling sex offenders.

In 2000, Dr Desai joined CRG, a part of VAK which was conducting awareness programmes to urge local communities to understand and report the menace of paedophilia and increase awareness about children’s rights. Dr Desai intensified the drive after joining CRG. In 2001, she launched a concerted campaign called STOP (Stop Tourism-related Paedophilia). To raise awareness about paedophilia in villages required hard work. “Though migrant children were more susceptible, Goan children are also at risk. Many foreigners take accommodation in villages. They call kids, supposedly to teach them English and to engage them in fun activities,” explains Dr Desai.

CRG worked with tourists to conduct a signature campaign and submitted it to the then chief minister, expressing these concerns. “The CM organised a dialogue between the police and NGOs. Handouts were kept at airport counters to warn tourists that sex with a child is a serious offence,” she explained. CRG worked at drafting of the Goa Children’s Act (GCA) along with other NGOs. It was enacted in 2003 and is the first legislation in India to address child abuse issues. Dr Desai says, “A major outcome of the campaign is a shift in the state’s stand from denial of the problem to an acknowledgement of the issue.”

CRG was registered under the Societies Registration Act in 2006 with Dr Desai as its director. It started empowerment and awareness sessions at schools in north Goa, informing students about their rights and how to resist abuse. “While interacting with teachers, we found that some children are very sleepy in school during the tourist season and also bring expensive gifts given by foreigners. It was then that we found how susceptible these kids were to advances by foreigners,” she says.

CRG focuses on increasing awareness on the provisions of GCA, like no child can be denied admission in government-aided schools on the basis of being HIV+ or lack of identification papers. It assists the tourism industry to adopt a child-friendly tourism code provided in the GCA. It runs two activity centres which children can attend after school. CRG has conducted special sensitisation sessions for the Goa Police. “We provide counselling to children and also assist them to seek justice at the Children’s Court,” Dr Desai. One can volunteer for CRG, donate financially or in kind, like toys, picture books, etc, for its activity centres. All donations are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80 (G) of the Income-Tax Act.


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Verdict for change

in Panaji

The Congress suffers a crushing defeat, its worst performance since 1980.


AS Goa’s new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government settles down in office, it is easy to forget that a month ago the Congress seemed confident of returning to power in the State. The party is shell-shocked at its crushing defeat, its worst performance since 1980. The Congress won a mere nine seats, and, worse, eight of its Ministers lost the election. The party lost 11 seats, eight of them to the alliance between the BJP and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), two to independents and one to the newly revived Goa Vikas Party (GVP), floated by Francisco Pacheco, former Tourism Minister of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The NCP, Congress’s alliance partner, lost all of its three seats, two to the BJP and one to an independent. Independents, meanwhile, increased their seats from two in the previous Assembly to five.

The BJP increased its tally from 14 in 2007 to a simple majority of 21 on its own and 24 in combination with its partner. Its alliance with the MGP is one of the many factors that scripted huge wins for the party. Ever since it rode piggyback on the MGP in 1994, the BJP has grown in the State at the cost of the MGP’s soft Hindutva credentials. In the past few Assembly elections, the MGP, which is now reduced to being the hegemonic entity of two brothers, Sudhin and Deepak Dhavlikar, in Goa’s interior Ponda taluk, contested on its own and entered into post-electoral alliances with the Congress for government formation. A regular split in the traditional vote bases of the BJP and the MGP gave the Congress an advantage in the past.

This time, the MGP and the BJP found themselves on a common platform in opposing government grants to mainly Christian primary schools which wanted to shift from Konkani medium to English medium. This emotive plank helped the alliance consolidate traditional Hindu votes in some regions, to the detriment of the Congress. Sangh Parivar organisations such as the Hindu Janajagruti and their women’s wings helped with a hushed campaign to vote for the lotus and even for the Christian candidates in their fold.

The BJP contested 28 seats, left seven to the MGP and strategically supported five independents and other regional outfits such as the GVP in the Christian-dominated Salcete taluk. In a crucial departure from its earlier stance, the BJP sidestepped its own loyalists and picked “winnable” candidates who were new to the party but had the financial wherewithal to run a campaign.

The strategy worked. Anti-incumbency and an anti-Congress wave decimated the Congress in this taluk, which in the past had given the Congress all its eight Assembly seats. This time, Salcete swung its votes in favour of three independents, two GVP candidates and one BJP candidate. The Congress won two seats.

Swing in Catholic votes

In another careful strategy, the BJP replicated a successful experiment in fielding Christian candidates. Over several terms, its Mapusa MLA Francis D’Souza had returned unerringly and with huge margins to the House, benefiting from both the BJP-MGP vote base and his own status in the community. This time the BJP gave at least six Christian nominees the ticket in constituencies with sizable Christian population. It kept away all hard-line Hindutva elements and agendas from the campaign and instead concentrated on corruption and development issues.

All six of the alliance’s Christian nominees won. “There can be little doubt that the Church played a big role in the move away from the Congress,” said hotelier Ralph de Souza. In its pre-election statements, the Council for Social Justice and Peace, the wing of the Church that comments on social matters, had “advised” people to vote wisely, for honest, non-corrupt candidates. And this time, it overtly downplayed its traditional anathema to “communal” politics.

Voters here have long been uncomfortable with their back-against-the-wall plight of having to choose between Congress regimes that sank into corruption and real estate speculation (a bugbear with Christian voters) and the BJP-MGP’s brand of communal politics.

“Voters seem to have been simply fed up with the arrogance and hubris of the Congress and the BJP. It was an anti-Congress wave, not a pro-BJP wave, and certainly not an endorsement of the Hindutva ideology,” said Dr Oscar Rebello, a physician and an activist. According to the Citizen’s Initiative for Communal Harmony, “the anger generated by the Congress and its abysmal levels of corruption clouded the people’s minds so much that they failed to see or overlooked the communal ideology of the BJP.”

The no-nonsense charisma of BJP leader Manohar Parrikar and his abilities as an able administrator played no small role in the voters’ choice of the party. There is still a great deal of mistrust with the BJP, alongside the realisation among a section of the people that while some towering Christian politicians have been eased out, those now elected to the House are largely businessmen, some of whom have in the past displayed scarce abilities to put aside their business interests and stand up to a strong leader.

Dr Wilfred de Souza, the seasoned politician, feels that “Christians have been played for fools this election by the BJP”.

Congress, its own enemy

While the BJP suffers from the complete domination of a single leader, the Congress has too many. In Goa, power centres in the Congress revolved around Vishwajit Rane, son of former Chief Minister and Speaker of the outgoing Assembly Pratapsing Rane; Chief Minister Digambar Kamat; and Ministers Churchill Alemao, Atanasio Monserrate and Ravi Naik.

The party’s ticket distribution exercise – conducted under intense media spotlight – saw each satrap successfully jockeying for the ticket for relatives and cronies, with an eye on a majority in the legislature party and chief ministership. In the process, at least three loyalists were ditched in favour of “winnable” last-minute defectors from the BJP. That these loyalists-turned-rebels won at the hustings was an indication of both the flawed choices the Congress made and the voters’ disgust with its politics.

“There’s something called the aesthetics of corruption, when it gets too vulgar and too in-your-face, it can be the tipping point,” said Alito Sequeira, the sociologist and Goa University professor. The four seats allotted to the Alemao clan would certainly qualify for this, as was the arrogance and presumption in setting out to eye the top job even before a vote was cast.

While the leaders jostled for the ticket, the Congress ran an unorganised campaign. In contrast, the saffron party was hyperactive on Facebook, new media sites and the Internet. Digambar Kamat’s supporters are livid that the party did not sufficiently highlight the Chief Minister’s accessibility, responsiveness to public demands and achievements – he scrapped special economic zones (SEZs), held the country’s first-ever citizen participatory Regional Plan, gave a tremendous boost to art and cultural activities, implemented the Sixth Pay Commission, and introduced schemes such as the distribution of subsidised vegetables and grain and those for the girl child and senior citizens. The Congress ran a lukewarm campaign and was unable to counter any of the BJP’s doublespeak on family raj or the Sangh Parivar’s communal agenda in the State.

BJP and NGOs

The BJP’s campaign was well-planned, aggressive and spread out. The party has in the past decade systematically set up a network of NGOs and back-room activists who bat for it covertly. Occupying the activist space, these satellite NGOs whipped up anti-Congress sentiments, encouraged a split in the votes to the BJP’s favour, and brought the issue of corruption centre stage. Team Anna’s India Against Corruption (Goa unit), with its vote for change slogan, ran a campaign in the State just days ahead of the election. Speeches at the meetings left no one in any doubt about who it favoured.

Another NGO, The Forum of Good Governance, ran a multi-crore advertisement campaign in the print, television/cable and hoarding media that damaged the Congress’ prospects significantly. “How does an NGO get crores [of rupees] to sponsor defamatory advertisements of that nature?” asked Congress’ Rajya Sabha member Shantaram Naik. He holds that the NGO was a smokescreen to beat the expenditure curb of Rs.8 lakh for candidates and has complained to the Election Commission about it. It ended up making a mockery of the Election Commission’s guidelines, he says. While the BJP thanked the media after the campaigning closed, several Congress leaders complained that the media had been less than fair to it. Aside for a BJP mouthpiece, at least one other English daily played an aggressive role in creating an anti-Congress wave.

Political analysts accord no small measure of the BJP’s victory to the effect of a delimitation and redrawing of Assembly constituencies that took place under an earlier BJP regime. At least a few of the seats it won came because of the “delimitation effect”. The accusation – not unfounded – is that in redrawing the Assembly segments, Christian segments were sought to be weakened, by adding in pockets with the majority population and vice versa. This was especially done in Salcete taluk.

This was quite clear in the case of the Cuncolim segment, where the Congress lost to the BJP. “Cuncolim was always Christian-dominated, and even in case of a split of votes, the BJP could rarely win the seat. With delimitation, it added two other areas, Balli and Ambaulim, from a different taluk and revenue district. This seems to have changed the arithmetic here,” says Guilerme Almeida, a local journalist.

And, for all the noise made against mining and real estate lobbies, more than a normal share of legislators in the new House, irrespective of party affiliations, have direct connections to these lobbies. While some columnists hail the “people’s verdict for change”, there are some who caution that Goans may have jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

Faleiro to resign as NRI chief today

PANAJI: Goa commissioner for NRI affairs Eduardo Faleiro will resign from his position with effect from Thursday, he announced to the media on Wednesday. Faleiro has held the post since February 2006.

Briefing the media, Faleiro said that he “did not at any stage seek the present appointment nor any other office in Goa” and that he had only taken up the post at the request of former Goa chief minister Pratapsingh Rane “considering that since I was in Goa I might as well help my fellow Goans in some way”.

Asked if he would continue if the new BJP government asked him to, Faleiro said he would not. He said his leaving was a “natural thing” which happens in a parliamentary democracy. He, however, explained that though his term was set to expire at the end of March, the Congress government had extended it by five years. With the exit of the Congress, Faleiro had to leave too. “I am honoured by the fact that the prime minister and the Union finance minister, among others, have praised this office, verbally and in writing, for its efficiency and the vast range of subjects of interest to NRIs that it deals with,” Faleiro said.

Faleiro also praised his two officers, vice-admiral (retd) John D’Silva, chairman of the Overseas Employment Agency and U D Kamat, director of NRI affairs, calling them “quite competent to run this office on their own”. Faleiro also hoped the NRI office would complete his unfulfilled projects.

PS. On behalf of the Goan of Australia we would like to express our sincere thanks to Mr Faleiro for the many intiatives, especially the Know Goa Program for the diaspora youth and helping out and giving a patient hearing to the concerns of Goans overseas.

Tony Colaco
GOA NSW Inc Australia.

Goa: Manohar Parrikar sworn in as Chief Minister

Panaji: BJP leader Manohar Parrikar was sworn in for the third time as the Chief Minister of Goa.

Governor K Sankarnarayanan administered the oath amidst a huge public affair ceremony arranged by the party.

Riding high on the anti-incumbency wave in state, the BJP-led alliance, which includes Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party(MGP), drubbed the Congress by winning 24 of the 40 seats.

Mr Parrikar has been the chief minister twice from October 2000 to February 2005.

Mr Parrikar said yesterday that all the BJP ministers from his 2005 Cabinet would find place in the new dispensation, and that the Budget would be presented around March 24.

“There are five ministers who were in my old Cabinet. They will be sworn-in again,” Mr Parrikar said.

Mr Parrikar has promised to make petrol cheaper by 11 rupees by removing the Value added tax (VAT) and set up a Lokayukta within 100 days.

On his Facebook page, Mr Parrikar has also said that an amount of Rs. 1000 will be credited in the bank accounts of housewives every month as a measure to combat price rise and undertaking other infrastructural developments in the state.

“The BJP-MGP alliance will start implementing the manifesto immediately but it would take little time to deliver,” he said.

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