‘There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children,’ said Nelson Mandela. Children have always been projected as the future of the country and ‘future citizens’. But are we ready to view children as individuals with their own rights and opinions? With every sixth child in the world residing in India, the well being of children gains paramount importance to India’s growth and success. While India is on the path of economic success, it has yet to attain the most basic social development indicators. The status of education and health of children will directly reflect on the economic status of the country.
While several nationwide initiatives and policies are in place to protect children against violation of their rights, there are still many who are out of the safety net. Millions of children are denied their basic rights to education, healthcare, development and protection from exploitation. Statistics claim that 11.8% children in India are engaged in some form of child labor (NFHS-III); every second child is malnourished; 50% of children in the age group of 6 to 14 do not attend school; 50% of girls fail to enroll in school; those that do are likely to drop out by the age of 12 – these grim numbers bring out a state of affairs that needs urgent action and change.
To ensure sustainable change in the lives of children, it is imperative for each one of us – civil society, businesses, media and the government to join hands and work together to attain this goal.
At CRY America, we believe that the ‘child rights approach’ is the most effective way to ensure sustainable change. Children’s rights should be at the core of policies and our everyday choices should address the root causes that impede children’s progress. Our programs are thus modeled to target long term solutions rather than the symptoms. For instance, illiteracy, malnutrition, female feticide, and child labor are symptoms of larger problems of gender bias, caste, livelihood, displacement and lack of access to public schools and health care. By addressing the latter, we work to eliminate the visible symptoms.
Take the case of Kilugu Rama hailing from a small village of Kilugupeta in Andhra Pradesh. She dropped out of school while studying in Class 3 citing non-interest in studies as the reason. Her uneducated farmer parents did not probe much and decided not to send her to school anymore. When CRY America supported Project ‘Sneha’ intervened, they found that the little girl was asked to clean toilets daily in the school. It was no surprise that she quit school as she could not bear the humiliation from other children and teachers. ‘Sneha’ along with the support of the Village Child Protection Committee ensured that Kilugu was re-enrolled in school and a person was hired for cleaning. To avoid re-occurrence of such instances, they ensured that public schools in the area had the right infrastructure which included classrooms, toilets, drinking water and sufficient staff, so children could focus on learning.
CRY America and its Project Partners ensure that thousands of children like Kilugu go to school and issues such as girl child discrimination, child labor, child marriage and healthcare are addressed. The change is brought about by sensitizing not just the school, but the parents, local community and highlighting the issues with local government bodies. Strengthening our grassroot Project partners and mobilizing underprivileged communities has irreversibly transformed the lives of 422,383 children living across 2395 rural, tribal and urban communities. Close to 9214 children have been removed from child labor, 56,483 children integrated into public schools, 156,848 children have been immunized and 36,663 covered through regular health check-ups. A number of children’s groups and village committees formed have helped us attain these numbers over the last decade.
CRY America has one simple aim – to put children ahead. We are hopeful that these numbers will witness a steady rise as we embark in the New Year. By understanding the root cause, creating awareness, mobilizing volunteers and communities, raising resources, we ensure measurable on ground change, and we also sensitize the general public about children’s rights.
Now is the time to put India’s children ahead. Our collective efforts will give a million faces a lot more reasons to smile in the new year and for many years to come.