Lok Sabha Elections 2024: In Kashmir, use of children as political pawns go unchecked; Activists call for accountability

The mainstream parties have been using children for election related activities, including distribution of posters/pamphlets, participation in slogan shouting, campaign rallies and election meetings.
Last Updated : 28 April 2024, 12:37 IST
Last Updated : 28 April 2024, 12:37 IST

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Srinagar: Aisha, a bright-eyed girl with dreams as vast as the Kashmir Valley itself, recently found herself unwittingly thrust into the political limelight. At just 15 years of age, she was among the many children allegedly coerced into participating in an election rally of an influential leader.

Her innocence was overshadowed by the weight of banners and slogans she carried, unaware of the political machinations at play. The colorful posters she held aloft seemed to mock her, as if taunting her with the betrayal of her childhood.

The story of 16-year-old Faizan is similar. He has been putting banners and posters of a political party in Srinagar and its adjoining areas.

Aisha, Faizan and the other children, who are being used as pawns by the politicians, remain the silent witnesses to the darker side of politics. Their innocence is being tarnished, their trust betrayed.

The recent incident of alleged use of children for election campaigning by PDP president Mehbooba Mufti brought to fore the issue of minors being used by political parties exposing them to potential harm and manipulation in the conflict hit region.

However, the incident isn’t an isolated one as children being pushed into such activities has been going on for a long time in conflict hit region. At the peak of separatist led unrests a decade back, incidents of minors being used as stone pelters were the order of the day.

Similarly, the mainstream parties have been using children for election related activities, including distribution of posters/pamphlets, participation in slogan shouting, campaign rallies and election meetings.

Taking cognizance of the latest incident, last week the apex child rights body National Commissions for Protection of Child Right (NCPCR) asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to initiate a probe into the alleged use of school going children by Mehbooba .

The action followed a report received by the Commissions indicating that children were involved in political activities related to the former chief minister’s campaign.

Child rights activists calls for accountability

As the debate raged on, the focus shifted to the broader issue of children's rights and the ethical boundaries of political campaigning. Child psychologists weighed in, highlighting the potential long-term impact on children exposed to such intense political environments at a young age.

Child rights activists have called for accountability and safeguards to protect the vulnerable youth from such manipulation in the future.

Asima Hassam, who has been working on child rights for almost a decade, says the latest incident came to fore just because Mehbooba Mufti is an influential politician and a former chief minister.

“If you have a cursory look at the election rallies of all the political parties, children are being used everywhere in one or the other form,” she told DH.

While having a word of caution for politicians on the issue, she said, “Politicians being influential set an agenda for people and should be aware of the rules. If they use children for election campaigning they will lose the moral right to stop child labour when in power.”

It is pertinent to mention here that the ECI has already given strict directions to political parties to not use children for campaigning purposes. In its February 5, 2024 order it had asked political leaders/candidates not to use children for campaign/canvassing/rallies/yatras in any manner, including holding a child in their arms, in their vehicles.

“Further, use of child to create semblance of political campaign either by spoken words/poem/songs, display of insignia of political party/candidate, exhibiting ideology of political party, promoting achievements of a political party or criticizing the opponent political parties/candidates shall not be resorted to,” the order sent to chief secretaries, chief election officers and political parties, reads.

(Names of children used in the story have been changed)

Published 28 April 2024, 12:37 IST

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