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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
India's five-year-old policeman
By Alok Prakash Putul
BBC News, Chhattisgarh

Saurabh Nagvanshi
Police officer Saurabh - 'hides behind his mother'
At a time when most children prepare to go to school, Saurabh Nagvanshi is off to the office.

Saurabh works at a police station in Raipur, the capital of India's central state of Chhattisgarh. He is five years old.

He is part of an Indian system that allows a family member to take the post of a government employee who dies while in service.

There is no age limit and many families have no alternative but to send young children to work to make ends meet.

Saurabh has to feed a family of five and so his mother, Ishwari Devi Nagvanshi, holds his hand and takes him the 110km (68 miles) from Bilaspur, where they live, to Raipur.

Signing for the cheque

In this surrogate police job, a child must work one day and go to school the next.

I had no option but to make my child work. It's not nice. He should be jumping around and playing at his age
Ishwari Devi Nagvanshi,
mother

At work, the children are asked to do filing and bring tea and water for senior officials.

The children are paid 2,500 rupees ($57) a month.

At an age when children are learning how to write, Saurabh now knows how to sign his name when he receives his monthly salary.

He is quiet. If you try to talk to him he will either run away or hide behind his mother.

Mrs Nagvanshi says: "In order to run the house I had no option but to make my child work. It's not nice. He should be jumping around and playing at his age."

Respect

For most of the children who take on the responsibilities of their dead fathers, there is no time to play.

Manish Khoonte
Many families, like that of Manish Khoonte (right), have little choice

Manish Khoonte, who is 10, works as a child officer in the Korba police station.

His begins at 0600 by going to school with his two younger brothers. In the afternoon, after finishing his studies, he goes to work. He gets extra tuition in the evening.

He loves football, but has no time to play.

But he does get 2,400 rupees a month and the respect of his peers - they call him "policeman".

Manish says he wants to become an inspector someday.

Jitesh Singh, 13, wants to leave his job as a child officer as soon as possible but thinks it could be many years before that happens.

Janki Prasad Rajwade, 18, feels the same way. He joined the police in 1994 after his father's death.

Since then, he has spent every day wondering when he will be able to leave.

He says he does not like filing and serving tea but has little choice.

He hopes to finish his studies and get a job with the federal Indian Police Service, not the state force.

'Illegal'

Railway Police superintendent in Raipur, Pawan Dev, says the employment of the children in the police must be seen from a social perspective.

Jitesh Singh
Jitesh Singh wants to quit but knows it may be many years away

The money is a great relief to the families, he says. In addition, the workload is light.

But Subhash Mishra, a member of the state's Human Rights Commission, says it is wrong to make children work like this.

He says, instead, the families should be given an equal amount of money to pay for the child's upbringing and education.

Subhash Mahapatra, president of a human rights organisation called Forum for Fact-finding, Documentation and Advocacy, goes further.

According to the Geneva Convention, he says, employing children as police officials and making them work at such a young age is against Indian and international laws.

"It is very similar to the definition of child soldiers as outlined by the United Nations," he says.


SEE ALSO:
'Simple' projects help the poor
11 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Indian street kids given new goal
22 Sep 03 |  South Asia


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