GOA - not a paradise for Children

“Goa” – the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Goa are Beaches, Bikes and Booze. Such is the characteristic feature of this state which is supposedly a paradise for most tourists in India and around the world. Most visitors to this tourist destination come with elated desires to enjoy a vacation with friends and family. Many of these visitors are lost in the fun and frolic of this city, that they become blind to the kind of exploitation and violations that happens in front of them.

These children in the picture are from Chhattisgarh who have migrated with their parents to Goa. These children do not get to go to school. Every noon, the girl puts on make up (lipstick and black strokes) on his brothers face and they gear up for performing on the street. Every year this state witnesses a huge population migrating to this city for livelihood. The number of migrants in Goa is estimated at over 400,000; nearly a third of the population. Many of these families engage in labour with their children. They are mostly unsupervised, as both their parents work, mostly as manual labourers. They roam the beaches or do casual work in city markets, and are highly vulnerable to trafficking for child prostitution, paedophilia and child labour.

 Children in the tourist belt grow up in a culture which fosters values of earning quick money as the be-all and end-all of existence. Children are mainly employed in the unorganized sector where they are engaged in selling plastic bags/fish/vegetables/fruit in the markets, rag-picking, off-loading fish and vegetables from trucks that come to the main markets, as domestic workers, at construction sites, in garages, in shops as sales persons or helpers, in small hotels and restaurants, as shoe-shiners, selling peanuts/beer/handicrafts to tourists, as masseurs on the beach, as sand-sifters along the coast where sand is loaded for the construction business, on fishing trawlers, as gymnasts who entertain passersby and tourists, in fish processing units, as beggars, and in so many other kinds of work in order to sustain themselves and their families. These two children in the second picture with their families have migrated from Rajasthan. They sell balloons with their families on the streets on Panjim. Mother of one of the child said “there is no point in sending them to school, they do not understand the language”.

North Goa relatively attracts more tourists than the South, majority of the migrant habitation are in the slums of North Goa. Therefore majority of the children living in the slums of North Goa engage in Child labour. Though a small number of these children do go to school, most of them do not consider schooling as feasible as they find it very difficult to cope with the formal system of education. A majority wishes to go to school but is denied the opportunity as they do not “fit” into the system. Every year, teachers complain that during the tourist season they find increasing numbers of children missing school. When they do come to school, they are often sleepy. Sometimes, young children are affected by their parents’ involvement in the tourism industry. At times they are affected by the general environment – the loud music, the availability of cheap liquor, the attempts of local residents to make money quickly, no matter how.

In 2003, The Goa State Government passed legislation – The Goa Children’s Act. The state of Goa is the only state to have the child welfare act in existence which also recognizes exploitation of children in tourism and deals with the protection of children from various forms of exploitation. The act calls for the state to ensure that children are protected against any form of exploitation. Unfortunately the same Act also ends up defining “Child labour” as all forms of labour involving children below the age of fourteen. Another issue of concern is the large number of children who may not face economic deprivation but who are physically, mentally and/or sexually abused – the incidence of increasing crimes against children has received widespread media coverage in recent times. Child sex tourism is threatening to become the darker side of life in Goa’s tropical paradise - and there is evidence that the Indian authorities are turning their back on the problem.

Goa is in danger of replacing Bangkok as Asia’s prime sex resort. Several foreign men from Europe, North America and Australia have been arrested, but most offenders escape prosecution. Bail is easy to obtain in such cases, and bribe taking among police officers is common. Child trafficking is an organized racket, about which there is little concern. Stricter laws and implementation/monitoring mechanisms are required to counter the growing problem before it reaches epidemic proportions. Prostituted children are usually, but not exclusively, from the more vulnerable sectors of society. Poverty and illiteracy fuel the problem. Many children are lured away from their villages by vice rings, often with the connivance of poor parents. They end up in the beach resorts of Goa where drugs such as hashish and heroin are available cheaply - providing an added attraction to foreigners. This is the other reality of Goa; of child workers and sexual exploitation, of illiteracy and poor health, of the number of convictions not being commensurate with the number of crimes against children. The National Population Commission ranks Goa first among Indian states in terms of 12 indicators on quality of life. The question is does this Goa provide quality life to our children???

Next time you visit this state be more aware and conscious of what is happening around you, so that as responsible citizens we can fight for the rights of children in our country.