Paper presented at Sambhrama 2011’, National Seminar on ‘Human Rights Approach to Development’, sponsored by UGC, Dept of PG Studies and Research in Social Work, SDM College (Autonomous), Ujire, Karnataka, India, 10th and 11th March 2011.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 is the root for most of the human rights instruments brought forward by the United Nations (UN). It proclaimed as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations," who were directed to "strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms...."i The declarations, conventions and treaties pertaining to the rights of various marginalized groups and communities such as children, women, indigenous people, disabled people, prisoners, religious and ethnic minorities, refugees, etc., have emerged from the UDHRii. Several hundreds of organizations all over the world have also started taking up social issues for interventions and development on the basis of various human rights instruments.
Voicing against, protesting, fighting and resisting violations is the crux of most of social work interventions towards development, apart from service providing. Be it working for the rights of children, women, poor, old, socially discriminated, oppressed, workers / labourers, refugees, displaced, people with disabilities, victims of violence, etc., social workers are making use of the existing legal provisions of the land, which in turn are either developed drawing lessons from various human rights instruments or approve them in their provisions.
Rights in the context of Social Work
The term human rights in a broad sense mean, ‘those claims which every individual has or should have upon the society in which he/she lives’ .iii
The UN describes Human Rights (1987) as follows: Human Rights could be generally defined as those rights which are inherent in our nature and without which we cannot live as human beings.
To contextualize the human rights issues in social work practice I would like to highlight the following articles from the UDHR .iv
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) has defined social work as a profession defending human rights,v “The Social Work Profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work”.
Human rights are often categorised as first, second and third generations which most of the social work organizations are involved.
I. Civil and political rights like the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination, fair trial, etc. (Advocacy efforts).
II. Economic, social and cultural rights like the right to health, housing, social security and education. (Service providing or assisting the affected in understanding or getting the services due to them)
III. Collective rights, such as the right to development and self determination. (Community Development facilitation).
Human Rights Violation and Social Development as responses
The violators of human rights come in various forms, shapes and structures. They are many a time are armed with caste, religion, political power, money, arms, circulars, law, rules, regulations, court orders, directions from authority, etc. Violators also come in the name of development, progress and promised future prosperity. While individuals or groups can be identified and named as violators, human rights violations by corporate backed groups and Government bodies are very difficult to resist. Child labour, human trafficking, improper foster care and adoption methods, lack of access to health care, bonded labour, child marriage, devadasi system, custodial ill treatment, land alienation, discrimination in the name of caste, religion, region, language, disability, HIV/AIDS, age, gender, political alliance, etc., still haunt the social workers in the field. In spite of several effective interventions, we have experienced all principles of social work including social action some time fall flat against the power of the human rights violators.
All attempts in the field of social work is for development-information sharing, documenting experiences, treating individuals, working with groups or community, probing into problems and attempting to find solutions, economic empowerment, social development, etc., are largely for helping the aggrieved whose rights are under threat or whose rights are being violated. These attempts of restoration of rights might have been seen from various dimensions, given different names, defined variedly, but are for developing methods and means to instill human rights culture in the society.
In these forms, Social Work is one defined and recognized sector which is practicing human rights in all most all its interventions. But, due to lack of evidence based documentation and providing appropriate socio-legal and political framework for these interventions and the results they are getting for the community, most of them are seen as services provided or services channelized for the community. Social work in action, social work for development thus is failing to be recognized as a human rights approach for development in India. And largely the organizations and individuals in the profession, with some exception, also do not consider their work as ‘human rights’ interventions and defending human rights. The need of the hour is, all involved in the sector to get networked and take individual and collective responsibility to find a common meeting point to recognize our interventions as dimensions of upholding human rights. To realize this what is required by most of the social work interveners in the field of development, is a thorough knowledge and understanding about various -national and international instruments of human rights.
Social Work becomes a mechanical act, if it fails to incorporate the rights perspective in general and human rights in particular. In social work interventions Human rights is not just one instrument but a tool to draw inferences from various other international instruments which UN has promulgated. They include:
Similar situation is there in the context of other UN Human Rights instruments. It is worthy to mention here the observations of Ms.Nisha Chandrkant Waghmare “Although India signed the UN CRC about twenty years ago, a study on organizations (NGOs) working for child rights and welfare of children has shown that, rights based approach has not yet entered in the objectives of NGOs (Waghmare, N.C.)., 2009). Waghmare found that the main objective of 62 percent of the organizations under her study had ‘welfare of the children belonging to SC and ST, Nomadic Tribes’ and 64 percent of the oganisations under the study had not modified their objectives in the light of UN CRC, of which 40 percent were established in the last 11 to 20 years ago”.
Relevance of HR instruments
Meer application of social work methods in the current context may not give the expected results in the era of globalization and privatization, volatile political and economic situation. Appropriate utilization of the support of the legal instruments, particularly the international UN instruments is expected to yield long lasting results.
In the preamble of the UDHR it is said that ‘Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,…’viii In this context blending Human rights instruments in the social work education and profession strategically is an urgent need. This can be in the areas of
- prevention-prevention of abuse, misuse, torture, discrimination, alienation, etc.;
- interventions-providing support to protest, resist, scuttle anti people efforts by Government or private bodies including international forces, provide necessary information, material and legal support, capacity building, awareness, developing networks;
- restoration-providing resettlement and rehabilitation services including monitory support, safe guarding (prevention) against further or repeated incidents of violations.
In the current context of social work interventions, there are hundreds of NGOs which are moving away from the traditional service providing mode. NGOs and social entrepreneurs are behaving as resource groups, consultants, advocacy and lobbying units, capacity builders, researchers, etc. Like doctors, professional social workers, teachers and others, law graduates too are in the serious business of social work. HRLN-Human Rights Law Net Work; ALF-Alternative Law Forum are a few to mention who are assisting and strengthening NGOs to use HR instruments effectively for the benefit of the larger communities. It is a process of empowering and developing the poor, disabled and socially marginalized through social work. Legal professionals are now actively assisting rights NGO groups working with transgender, people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, people facing eviction and land alienation, bonded, domestic violence, etc. These legal professionals are defending the human rights of these people and are in reality strengthening social work efforts.
Of late several groups and organizations are emerging with the affected persons as principal members of the groups. Such groups are formed either on their own or with some external facilitation. While many are registered either as a Trust or an Association, there are many who are not registered under any particular Act or provision. E.g., Association of Parents of Children with Cerebral Palsy; Narmada Bachao Andolan; Association of Sexual Minorities; Adoptive Parents Association, etc. The agenda of all these organizations are very clear-defending their own rights, developing their legitimate human rights in those particular sect or group. Because they understand their problem and can place their demands effectively than any other person or group.
The 2010 Joint World Conference in Hong Kong, which was organized by the International Schools of Social Work (IASSW), International Council on Social Work (ICSW) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), drafted the Global Agenda on Social Work and Social Development. Included in the draft are the major areas that can serve as a framework for development and implementation. There are four areas:
a. Social and Economic inequalities within countries and between regions. There is worsening marginalization of the poor and the increased vulnerability of poor people in countries where there is no social protection.
b. Dignity and Worth of the person. People are entitled to have the basics for quality of life.
c. Environmental sustainability.
d. Importance of human relationships.
All these as part of the global agenda are in reality representing basic human rights implementation.
While arguing and acknowledging that professional social work is upholding and defending human rights I have to express my concern too. Although India has large number of NGOs and CBOs and every year thousands of professional social workers are trained by universities, the real community workers, the so called ‘social workers’ intervening at the cutting edge are lay people, with limited educational background and exposure. It is such large battalion which is making a difference in-spite of being ill equipped. Our attention also should be there, we the institutes of social work education have a moral responsibility to equip them not only with human rights issues but also with various other issues involved in social work intervention.
N.V. Vasudeva Sharma, MSW
Member, Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Executive Director, Child Rights Trust, Vice President KAPSW. Bangalore.
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