(In today’s edition of Woven Lives, we feature lawyer-activist Kani Nada Maling, who is currently the chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee, Capital Complex, and secretary-general of the Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society.)
When she was in the final year of a four-year BSc nursing course in the Regional College of Nursing, Guwahati, Kani Nada Maling figured out that she was not cut out to be a nurse.
While every one of her classmates was filling up forms for the MSc entrance, she decided to study law instead.
Kani needed money for admission to the JB Law College under Guwahati University, so she started working at the GNRC as a nurse to fund her law study.
“It was difficult juggling work and study, but I was determined and I worked hard,” she says, adding that, at times, she had to work upto 16 hours at a stretch and then attend law classes.
“By the time I finished law studies, I was already working as an ICU in-charge. It was tough,” says the 38-year-old Kani.
She left the nursing job and practiced under a senior in the Gauhati High Court.
Journey from nursing to law to social work
A year later, in 2009, she packed her bags and came back to Itanagar, where she found a steady flow of cases, and most of her clients were women.
The same year, she was approached by the Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Women to join the team as its legal advisor. “The honorarium was just Rs 6000,” Kani says, laughing, but adds that working in the commission was the turning point for her.
“During my stay in the commission, I saw firsthand the suffering of women and children in our state. From domestic violence to rapes, child marriage and cases of child abuse, I was overwhelmed to see the amount of violence inflicted on women and children,” she says.
“That’s when I decided to devote myself full-time for the cause of women and children in the state.”
Kani started volunteering with the Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society (APWWS), the pioneer women’s rights organization in the state, and today she works as its secretary-general.
For the cause of child rights
She joined the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) under the Itanagar district administration in December 2016 as its chairperson.
“I had to start from scratch, since there was no infrastructure or staff. Former Itanagar DC, Sandeep Kumar Singh, and present DC Prince Dhawan have been extremely helpful, and with their help, the office was put on track,” she informs.
But Kani had no time to sit back as the general lack of awareness on child abuse needed immediate attention.
“Forget about the citizens, even the police were not aware about their role and responsibilities pertaining to child rights,” she says.
To create awareness on the rights of children, Kani took help from every possible arena – from conducting street plays involving college and university students to the social media and the traditional media.
Her efforts have paid off as the committee has received more than 300 cases of child abuse, including that of child marriage, bonded labour, trafficking and abandonment.
More than 50 children have been restored to their parents. Almost all the cases have been disposed of, and currently the team is working on recent nine FIRs.
Today, CWC, Itanagar is the first stop when there is a case of child abuse.
“We get cases from across the state, but since other districts are not under my jurisdiction, I often have to inform the police, who take it forward,” says Kani.
Today, with the help of Capital Police, Childline Itanagar and the labour department, Kani and her team in the CWC are able to respond to all cases of child abuse.
“Our work is not yet done. Arunachal has to acknowledge that child abuse is a reality in our state. The society has to take collective responsibility to ensure child rights,” she says.
“People in our state are not aware of child rights and they tend to think that children are safe as long as they are not beaten up. But there are staggering numbers of violence against children,” she says.
Kani says that a lot of tribal children are in desperate need of help.
“Tribal people say that communities take care of each other, but if you see the number of cases, you will realize that many need help.”
She feels that citizens who can afford to do so should come forward to sponsor the education and other needs of these children.
She also says that poverty is a major cause for children being abandoned by parents.
She shares the case of a five-day-old child who was brought to her office because the father could not take care of the child and none of the relatives was ready to take the responsibility.
“We kept the child at Shishu Bhavan, a short-stay home, and later the child was reunited with the father,” Kani says.
She also says that many educated families keep children as labourers.
“We had to rescue children from the homes of well-known people,” she says.
Child labour is so rampant in Arunachal that people do not even realize children have rights, and that the law says that they cannot be employed till they are 14 years old.
Very often, Kani’s team is intimidated, and there are threats of physical violence – so much so that the team members often have to change their phone numbers or keep their phones switched off when they are on a rescue mission.
“People are sent to my home for negotiations, so that cases are not registered. It upsets me deeply that people commit crimes and on top of that they use all kinds of intimidating tactics,” Kani says.
The way forward to tackle child abuse cases
Kani says that the state needs a robust system in place to tackle the growing cases of child abuse. She says the state needs a separate juvenile unit in the police department for speedy investigation.
“If there is a dedicated police team in each of the stations, it will ensure that investigations are done on time,” she says.
Kani also feels that Childline rescue teams should be established in all the district headquarters of the state for immediate intervention whenever a child abuse case surfaces.
Many cases still go unreported, she says, seeking help from citizens to report any kind of child abuse.
Who are the child labourers?
While there are many cases of child abuse, Kani’s office deals with cases of child labour almost every week.
The victims are mostly from marginalized groups – Adivasis from Assam, migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Chakma refugees, and Puroiks. Many children from insurgency-affected Tirap and Longding districts are also increasingly becoming victims of child labour.
What are the future plans?
Kani’s term at both the APWWS and the CWC is coming to an end this year.
“I will continue working for the rights of children and women, as there is a lot to be done,” says Kani. “Perhaps, with free time in hand, I will get time to practice law and also spend time with my family,” she says.
A mother of three young children, Kani is married to Dr Tabu Maling, a retired major of the Indian army who currently works at RKMS.
“Without his support and other members of the extended family, it would not have been possible to spend the amount of time I do in social work.”
Born in Daporijo to Tada Nada and Yayi Nada, Kani says that her parents were always supportive of her choices.
“When I got my LLB certificate, my father made a nameplate with the degree inscribed on it in bold letters. He was so proud of me. The nameplate is still somewhere in my parental home,” she says.
(Childline is India’s first 24-hour free emergency phone outreach service for children in need of care and protection. Dial 1098 to report cases of child abuse. The names of informers are kept confidential.)