Caste Discrimination Against Dalit Children


Report by IDSN


The cases studied by ISDN provide irrefutable evidence that public servants and community members in India – i.e. state as well as non-state actors - violate a number of human rights protected by domestic laws and international human rights treaties. The following is an overview of the various rights that are violated:


The right against ’untouchability’: The Indian constitution outlaws caste discrimination and the practice of ‘untouchability’. A law enacted in 1989 to protect Dalits against discrimination makes it a punishable offence for non-Dalits to entice Dalits to do forced or bonded labour for public purposes. It also prohibits non-Dalits from insulting or humiliating Dalits. International human rights law forbids caste-based discrimination and obliges India to prevent, prohibit and eliminate such discrimination. Nevertheless, many Dalit children are treated as ‘untouchable’ by teachers and other students. This includes segregation in class rooms, exclusion from school ceremonies and denial of access to school water supplies.


The right to education: A newly passed law requires that every local authority ensure that children belonging to disadvantaged groups “are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education on any grounds.” A number of international treaties protect the right to education and prohibit discrimination in access to education. However, it is clear that teachers, school administrators, and other students deny Dalit children access to an equal education by treating them as unequal, often resulting in an effective exclusion from school altogether. While India has in recent years markedly reduced dropout rates for all Indian youth, the difference in dropout rates between Dalit youth and all Indian youth has actually grown from 4.39 pct. in 1989 to 16.21 pct. in 2008.


The right to health: The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Teachers and community members deny Dalit children their equal right to health by forcing them into hazardous work that includes cleaning human excrement and disposing of dead animals.


The right to be free from child labour and manual scavenging: Manual scavenging is officially prohibited in India. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognises the right of all children to be protected from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. Nevertheless, a large number of the children describe having to accompany their parents to work and work with them, or labour on their own in dangerous jobs such as sanitation and disposal of animals. In addition, many of the children report that teachers or community members require them to clean toilets or pit latrines.


The right to be free from slavery: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the ICESCR outlaw slavery and forced labour and require fair compensation for work. However, teachers and community members force Dalit children into unpaid labour, primarily cleaning schools, homes, and toilets, in what constitutes a modern form of slavery. The CERD Committee has noted with concern the large numbers of Dalit children forced to work as manual scavengers, in extremely unhealthy working conditions, and in exploitative labour arrangements including debt bondage.


The need for international and EU action
The same patterns as the ones mentioned above are seen in other caste-affected countries, especially in South Asia. Hence, there is a need for international action to ensure that these human rights obligations are respected. A useful basis for such action would be the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent.

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