A 12-year-old girl from Surat renounced ‘worldly pleasures’ on Wednesday to become a Jain nun and thus attain peace. Identified as Kavya Shah, she told ANI, “The pleasures we enjoy here are not permanent as this world is temporary and it will remain so. The only way to peace and salvation is to lead a simple life.”

Shah scored 97 percent in her class six final exams and. Earlier she aspired to become a doctor, but left school in November year. Apart from her, there are four others from her family who have previously become monastics at a very young age. Her parents are reportedly very proud of her for taking this decision. Her father, Vinit Shah, who is a government employee said, “At this tender age, she has got the insight and it is not something very common among children. It is a matter of pride for us. She can spread light in the lives of millions once she becomes a saint.”

We reached out to many child rights activists to know their views. Are children below 18 years of age able to make this long term decision for themselves?

“When we don’t allow children to vote and marry at such a young age and basically a person must be above 18 years of age to be able to make all the crucial decisions of his life, then how are we allowing children to turn into monastics at such a young age?”- Dr. Kriti Bharti

Consent in question

Child Rights activist, Dr. Kriti Bharti of Saarthi Trust said,“When we don’t allow children to vote and marry at such a young age and basically a person must be above 18 years of age to be able to make all the crucial decisions of his life, then how are we allowing children to turn into monastics at such a young age?”

“Religious ceremonies are different from rights-based issues but definitely, a child cannot consent to any such activity”, said Ashish Kumar, Director of Legal Intervention at Haq Centre For Child Rights. “Whoever is the guardian of the child must be held accountable for allowing him or her to become a monk because they take a call on the future of the child,” he added.

Can the decision be reversed?   

Another child rights activist Uma Subramaniam, founder and Co-Director of Aarambh India mused, “If we try to balance out child rights with the protection of a child’s agency then it is okay for a child to become a monk, because that shows that the child has exercised his or her agency, but then is this agency blanket and irreversible? It basically means that if five years or 10 years down the line a child doesn’t feel so strongly about it then the child will be damned. He or she will never be able to be reintegrated into society. If it is so then, of course, it is problematic,” said Subramaniam.

Whoever is the guardian of the child must be held accountable for allowing him or her to become a monk because they take a call on the future of the child. – Ashish Kumar

Subramaniam also added, “We also need to see the child’s consent in the way in which monkhood was being projected to her,” she said.

The process of taking Deeksha

Dr. Bharti revealed that since she belongs to the Jain community, she is well aware of the process of taking Deeksha. “The child is first dressed up as a bride and there is a procession that happens around her. People pray to her like she is a Devi. When it comes to end, she takes the bridal garments off, wears white clothes. Apart from all this, like in some communities, men are accustomed to going bald after somebody dies, similarly in Jainism, the person has to practically tear her hair apart from her head to go bald and then they become a monk and go off with the guru from who they have taken Deeksha. In monkhood, one has to renounce all pleasures of life and sustain on begging for food,” she told SheThePeople.TV.

Customary practices vs law

She added, “If a child wants to finish their life, would a parent allow them to do it? Even the law doesn’t allow it and the Supreme Court has passed an order that consent is immaterial before you reach adulthood. And if you can’t give your consent for anything before you turn 18 then can you consent for subjecting yourself to monkhood at such an early age for your entire life?”

It may be in the religious custom of a community for children to join monkhood but when the coded law is there under the Juvenile Justice Act, children are provided all protection. – Ravi Kumar

Human Rights activist Ravi Kant of Shakti Vahini also agreed with Dr. Bharti and said, “As per the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Act any child below 18 years of age needs to be protected from all such activities that might put them in harm’s way in future. A child has no opinion and they can only take a decision for their life once they turn into adults. Below 18 years of age, they are being influenced by people around them. It is important that people who are influencing them are the ones who should be held accountable for this.”

“It may be in the religious custom of a community for children to join monkhood but when the coded law is there under the Juvenile Justice Act, children are provided all protection. The government should decide whether customary practices win over coded law,” Kant noted.

Subramaniam further added to this, “If this is going to be passed down from generation to generation in the name of culture, one has to really take stock and see if this is in line with the principles enshrined in the child rights convention. Does it fall under the ambit of rights of the child?”

ALSO READ: Kerala Child Rights Panel Files Case Against ‘Kuthiyottam’ Ritual

Who can take action?

“When the parents and the child both agree to follow such cultural imposition and allow a minor to take Deeksha, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of the area comes into play”, Kant said. “The bench of the magistrate or the District Magistrate or Superintendent of Police should take suo moto cognizance of this to stop this practice.”

“The Child Welfare Committee and the district administration need to realize that customary practices need to take a back seat when there is a coded law. And the publicity being given to this incident also sends out a wrong message which makes it even more necessary for the area’s district administration to take a call. Obviously, these are regressive customary rituals and if they aren’t keeping up with the times that we are living in today then they need to change or face a ban,” he added.

“It is in the core functionality of CWC that if it’s alerted of any such activity or any activity that violates child rights then it must act on it. If a child renounces guardianship rights of their parents then that amounts to them becoming a Child in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP). As soon as that happens, CWC’s jurisdiction comes into the picture as they have the authority to take cognizance of this act and refer a complaint through Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) concerned and register an FIR under relevant provisions,” he explains the procedure that should be taken in such a case, adding, “If this does not happen then it is negligence on part of CWC, local police and State Commission for Protection of Child Rights as well.”

We have tried to ban this ritual in the past but then the child’s parents sign the affidavit that says that they take full responsibility of their decision and then get the child to take Deeksha within a week.

 “No provision to stop this.”

We reached out to Surat’s Child Welfare Committee member Rupal Shah who said that while she also condemns it, the committee cannot do anything against this ritual as one cannot really stop a religious practice. “We have tried to ban this ritual in the past but then the child’s parents sign the affidavit that says that they take full responsibility of their decision and then get the child to take Deeksha within a week. There is no way to oppose anything that falls under the religious sentiments of people. There is no law that bans this ritual but it should be there and children should not be allowed to turn into monastics at an early age,” said Rupal.

Picture Credit: ANI

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