GOA – Protecting children from abuse

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.

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS IN GOA

CT-2, Block C, Building A,
Nevio Apartments, 3rd Floor, Angod
Mapusa, Goa 403507
Tel: (91+832) 2263838
Mobile: (91) 9822983336
www.childrightsgoa.org

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