In an advisory issued to all private satellite TV channels yesterday, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has directed them to desist from showcasing content which denigrates children. The advisory read, “The child participants enact and imitate grown up actors which includes some inappropriate dance movements executed by kids. The gestures, dialogues and dance moves performed by the kids appear to be suggestive and obscene for their age.”
TV critic Shailaja Bajpai said “We all agree that the depiction, portrayal and use of children on TV is something we should be careful about and pay attention to. But there are so many issues here – after all, parents of the children haven’t been forced to these shows. Besides, so many Hindi film songs are of this nature so how do you work with anybody under age? While this intervention is healthy, how it is implemented remains a grey area.”
An early exposure to the apparent glamour world, experts opine, leaves little space for a child to explore, learn and grow. Children require space to bloom and not to be ripped apart at such tender an age. The advisory is thus a welcome move as it says, “…all private satellite TV channels are hereby advised to desist from showing children in vulgar, indecent, suggestive and inappropriate manner in dance reality shows or other such programmes and exercise maximum restraint, sensitivity and caution while showing such programmes.”
The advisory was issued by citing the Programme &Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, which prohibit TV channels from telecasting content that denigrates children in any manner. The appropriate rules are as follows:
Rule 6 (1) (I): No programme should be carried in the cable service which denigrates children.
Rule 6 (4): Care should be taken to ensure that programmes meant for children do not contain any bad language or explicit scenes of violence.
The new directive essentially means that dance reality shows like Super Dancer (Sony Entertainment Television) and Dance India Dance L’il Masters (Zee TV) besides other popular singing shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa L’il Champs (Zee TV), Indian Idol Junior (Sony) and Sabse Bada Kalakar (Sony) should, logically, come under the scanner.
Children from five to fourteen years of age, which is an impressionable age, participate in these shows, which run into multiple seasons. Children far younger than age five audition for these shows and, experts say, undergo psychological turmoil when they are not selected.
A quick look at any of the episodes of these shows will reveal how children are made to enact scenes from romantic movies, flirt with the celebrities that come on the show, make fun of their parents’ personal life and dance on obscene songs. To give an instance, in one of the episodes of Super Dancer 3, a 6-year old girl is seen dancing with her choreographer on the song ‘Slow motion’ from the movie ‘Bharat’ which describes and beautifies the physicality of a woman and has lines like ‘Will you keep loving me at gunpoint.”
Last year, the video of playback singer Papon kissing a minor participant on music reality show The Voice Of India Kids 2 had sparked a controversy with many child rights activists demanding a ban on the participation of children in TV shows.
The Guidelines to Regulate Child Participation in TV Serials, Reality Shows and Advertisements have been in place for more than a decade now. Earlier in 2011, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights had issued guidelines for children participating in TV shows and advertisements, to regulate their working hours, prohibiting inappropriate portrayal and ensuring supervision. However, regrettably the implementation continues to remain poor.
Time and again, child psychologists have mentioned the damage that these shows do on the minds of young children. Dr. Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist practising in Pondicherry, approved the directive stating that the situation on most children’s reality shows is sad, dotted with adult sexual humour and innuendo. He said, “If you look at the jokes, themes and outfits in most of these shows, the idea is to bring kids, whose cognitive abilities are not that developed, closer to the adult world. When they are exposed to an environment and lifestyle that they are not ready for, they don’t entirely realize it is make-believe and would nurture a great desire to live the same in real life as well.” Adding further Dr. Sharma said, “I don’t understand why there should be jokes on a five-year old having a girlfriend. For shows centered on children, it is ironic that I would not want my child to see this kind of content.”
Another clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, Professor Manoj Kumar Sharma told The Print that many of these reality shows for children create an unhealthy competition among children which affects them by enhancing their need for approval from the society. “Also, when a child is dancing to a certain song or playing a role, the child starts identifying himself or herself as the character portrayed,” he said, adding that it is in no way healthy for a child.
In the word of commercial, electronic and digital mediums, the spotlight and celebrity status is attractive and important. It could also be enticing to be in the limelight at a very young age, albeit with immense performance pressure. This is the harsh truth of children’s reality shows, which have become a trend since the late 20th century. However essential to note is, that these shows, apart from bringing fame to young children, as young as five years, have a gargantuan impact on their mental, physical, social and psychological well-being. Today, the use of young children through commercial advertisements and shows remains concerning, the manner of its implementation raises questions and concerns.