Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India

by Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA)
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India
Transform childhoods of 500 slum children in India

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children have been the worst affected. In the ‘stay home, stay safe’ scenario, it is assumed that the home is a safe haven. However, are children really safe at home? The rising cases of domestic violence and abuse show how children are often at the receiving end of the crisis. Children, especially from the vulnerable and marginalised sections, face numerous problems like inadequate access to resources, forms of abuses both physical and mental, among others.

In the view of these rising incidences of child rights violations and increasing vulnerabilities of the children during the pandemic, and to highlight the roles and responsibilities of citizens, government, non-profits and society for providing safe and protected environments for children during the lockdown, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) organised the ‘Webinar on Child Protection during Lockdown’ on 6 July 2020.

Vijay Kharat, project coordinator, YUVA, opened the webinar by welcoming a diverse room of civil society organisation members, Childline and ICDS staff, children leaders, interested individuals from the corporate sector and other fields. He highlighted how each one of us have an important role to play in child protection to ensure safe and violence-free communities.

Child participation and representation for the protection of their rights is very important. We have seen that majorly adults are involved in conversations around issues from the right to food, livelihood or even discussing the impact of the lockdown. Children are rarely heard and there is a lack of representation of children’s voices while discussing these basic issues. Children are affected physically, psychologically, and there is need to strengthen the support system for children within the community to deal with this situation, including the role of mandated groups like the ward-level Child Protection Committees (CPCs), civil society organisations, local networks and forums, parents and community members.

Pooja Yadav, program coordinator, YUVA, brought to light a more nuanced discussion. With over-exposure to the internet, social media and virtual engagements, children are exposed to newer threats like cyber-bullying, online abuse. In the light of the new normal, with the existing issues and cases on a continuous rise, systems officials and civil society can play a proactive role in ensuring that protective mechanisms reach every child to ensure their safety.

To first hear from children about their own experiences, the representatives of the children’s collective Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sanghatan (BASS) spoke of the scenarios of their communities and the status of child protection.

Pratiksha Ambore, a 14-year-old from Malad, Malwani, drew attention to her concerns regarding the unsafe environment for girls in her locality. A resident of Ambujwadi in Malwani, (located in the P/N ward, MCGM, Mumbai, a ward with low human development index), with lack of proper sanitation and water facilities, she described the increasing insecurities during this crisis. The girls are unable to concentrate on their studies with the increasing responsibilities of household chores. Making things worse is the lack of access to online study resources and materials due to inadequate internet accessibility in the area.

Ruksat Sheikh, a 15-year-old from King’s Circle, Matunga, shared a similar experience of the unsafe environment for children, especially girls when on roads and pavements. Matunga King’s Circle and its extended areas house many homeless families, located in F/N ward, MCGM, Mumbai. She expressed the need for livelihood for her parents and those of others living in her area. She emphasised that children are facing difficulties even to access the basic need of food. Furthermore, she shared an incidence of her friend who was forced to get engaged during the lockdown.

Children’s experiences offered an eye-opening ground-level narrative to better understand the dire need for their protection, especially those in vulnerable situations during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The first panelist, a child member of the BASS core group, Hrishikesh Khanvilkar is a resident of Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, a resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) colony of Mumbai. He stressed on the paucity of healthy nutrition for children, in turn, hampering their immunity and increasing their vulnerabilities to COVID-19. He also stated the rising stress levels of children due to uncertainty and lack of clarity regarding education, together with violent conditions at home. Also, the students from government schools and colleges are facing more difficulties with the closing of the education institutes and unavailability of online lectures. He also shared incidences of youngsters resorting to substance abuse.

The next panelist, Ms. Shobha Shelar, District Officer, Department of Women and Child Development, shared her experiences on the issues and challenges during the current crisis. Ms. Shobha Shelar stressed on issues faced by children residing in informal settlements, such as child marriage, child labour, and abuse. She also highlighted the need for counselling the caregivers and residential staff at the children shelter homes. The situation of distancing should not led to hopelessness among children, she said. She pointed out that, with the challenges of isolation, physical distancing, and scarcity of staff, the shelters are facing difficulties with the admissions of new children in shelter homes. Further, she laid emphasis on the need for the establishment and activation of CPCs at the village level as well as at the ward level in cities. CPCs include members from the local community, children, government officials and members of the Panchayat. Their work at the grassroots level can play a crucial role in protecting children at risk and providing assistance to unprotected children as they are localised systems and can reach out to every child in the local area.

The next panelist, Mr. Tanaji Patil, President of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Raigad District, expressed alarming concern over rising incidences of sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children. He also spoke about the rising number of cases being reported in the current period. Additionally, he mentioned that school dropouts are going to increase by 50 per cent, given the heavy migration of people from cities to villages. He appealed to everyone to report incidences of child abuse or children at risk to the Childline 1098, 24-hour helpline for children in distress. In the wake of such violations and increasing risks faced bychildren, he called for the critical need of form and strengthen CPCs. Such locally operating committees at the village and ward level can bridge the gap between children and the State mechanism. Concluding his speech, he laid emphasis on the co-operation of several stakeholders like parents, community, civil society and state for the protection of the children and their future.

Many of the attendees of the webinar agreed with the government authorities on the formation and activation of CPCs across the city and also suggested building a working/pressure group around the same. The webinar concluded with a vote of thanks to all the panelists and attendees with a strong vision and take-away of a collective approach towards child protection and an activation and strengthening of existing mechanisms.

 

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Taking a closer look at the discourse on child rights — multiple dimensions, progress, and further efforts needed to help ensure child-rights friendly communities, cities and nations.

Nobody would question why special rights are conferred to children. Children are not just ‘adults-in-the-making’ but are young human beings. They have the same rights to dignity, equality and physical integrity as adults. However, children are born as entirely dependent on human beings and only become independent over time. Protection of their human rights, therefore, requires more extensive measures as well as special attention.

So far, so obvious; it is probably for the plausibility of these considerations, that the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child succeeded as a legally binding entity nearly all over the world. The Convention’s main principles are to guarantee rights to protection, special care, participation and non-discrimination to children and to make their best interests a primary consideration. Each state is obligated to regularly send reports about their progress in implementing the Convention to a UN Committee, which publicly reviews them, thereby drawing attention to the topic. In December 2019, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of this Convention, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Its international impulse led to further national measures with many states implementing provisions regarding child rights. As for India, the Constitution already emphasises that the State shall direct its policy towards protecting childhood and giving children opportunities to develop.

Despite all these formal guarantees on child rights, inappropriate treatments and dangers still shape the reality of vast numbers of children, on the global as well as national level in India.

Adequate health and nutrition continue to be primary concerns hindering the development of children. Although the mortality of under-5-year-olds decreased by almost 50 per cent in the last 18 years, more than 5.3 million (53 lakh) children died in 2018 before reaching the age of 5. Undernutrition and malnutrition contribute to these numbers and are in any case likely to have lasting effects by harming cognitive and physical development of children.

Another major issue that prevails at a global level are the various instances of child labour: Of the 218 million working children (21.8 crore), 152 million (15.2 crore) are affected, i.e. the work interferes with their education or is harmful to their health and overall development. In India, more than 10 million children work even though they have not even reached the general minimum working age of 15 years (data of 2011 Census). The worst forms of child labour worldwide include slavery, child trafficking, child prostitution or pornography and children forced to conduct illicit activities like drug trafficking or highly dangerous work like mining and quarrying (Art. 3 of C182 — Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention).

The list of threats is far from comprehensive. All these issues directly violate the children’s rights to development and education, in severe cases even their rights to life and survival.

In India, home to almost 20 per cent of the world’s child population, this divergence of formal status and realisation of child rights is well-known.

Indian governments have undertaken legal measures in the past years to improve the children’s situation, for example, with the installation of a National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and corresponding state commissions starting from 2007, the introduction of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (2012), the amendment of the Child and Adolescent Labour Act, prohibiting economic employment of children under 14 years etc.

However, violations of child rights are strongly linked to larger, interconnected issues in the society and thus cannot be effectively tackled in an isolated manner. Many political issues and many (often implicit) decisions on how we have shaped and continue to shape our society, include child rights aspects and heavily affect them. This becomes hardly as visible as, for instance, cases of discrimination of the girl child (e.g. abortions, neglect, lack of education due to household chores etc.), linked to the lack of opportunities for women in Indian societies.

It is important to note that tackling simply the increasing numbers of sex-selective abortions by prohibiting prenatal sex determination, does not change the girl’s, let alone women’s role in society. Responding to the abandoning of children with more severe penalties will hardly ever motivate struggling parents to provide parental care. Such governmental measures aiming at ensuring child rights in a particular situation, might be helpful to mitigate present threats and to state society’s expectations symbolically. The structural problem will however continue to reoccur, as long as the underlying thinking and behavioural patterns persist. Challenging the latter requires serious, persisting efforts not only from the government, but also from us as a society. It means to no longer focus on easing primary, visible harm to children only, but to consider children’s best interests when making decision on non-child-specific policy fields as well (e.g. on housing or development issues) and to dare to substantially treat the fundamental causes threatening child rights: poverty and an exclusive, unequal society.

As the change of perspective on child rights on a larger scale as well as effective laws consolidating it are yet to come, it continues to be critical for us to systematically fight for children’s protection. YUVA therefore works towards furthering child protection and child participation in the society. Regarding child protection, YUVA supports the formation of Child Protection Committees, a government-mandated body that needs to be set up, resulting from the Government Resolution passed by the Maharashtra State government on 10 June 2014.

The topic of child rights must not be limited to the goal of protection though: Children do not enjoy the same rights to participation in our society as adults, when it comes to voting etc. A child however is not a premature adult to be developed by the parents, until maturity grants them affiliation to our society. On the contrary, the denial of equal participation rights with regard to voting, party membership etc. makes the involvement of children in other formats even more crucial, as it is necessary to compensate (or at least mitigate) their lack of representation.

The UN’s Convention of the Rights of the Child confers on children the right to participate in decision-making especially those concerning them and recalls their human rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Children constitute a population group with specific needs, which need to be considered. The best way to identify and prioritise those is to let the children speak for themselves, whenever possible. Therefore, they need to organise as other population groups do, in order to articulate and advocate their interests in public.

YUVA facilitated the creation of Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (BASS) (check page 5 of the hyperlinked document) in 2002, a children’s collective led and run by children. BASS encourages the formation of children’s groups from marginalised communities. They represent children’s opinions on different policies and approach various governmental actors and non-governmental entities to communicate about the same. The work focuses on child rights issues but may extend to all topics that affect a community and the children within it.

Participation in BASS incidentally constitutes an empowering experience for most of the children, as they get to know the feeling of being heard, of their concerns taken seriously, of being more than a mere resident but a member of their community. Furthermore, the collective creates an incentive for the children to improve their own understanding and knowledge of child rights.

It is not only every child’s individual right to participate and to be heard. Only a generation of children who experience being respected and participate actively in society will be sufficiently confident, resilient and trusting to believe in and practice the principles of non-discrimination, rule of law, democracy and non-violence, ultimately forming a truly integrative society.

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Public awareness and street play at Dadar station.

The children in the caravan in collaboration with Railway Childline rallied on the railway station and performed a short street play and were addressed by the senior authorities of the Railway force, distributing pamphlets and brochures on child rights awareness. This event was organised with the support of other civil society organisations, NGOs, Childline and Railway authorities.

Around 10-12 authorities and railway police present.

Reach out to more than 500 people at the railway station. 400 brochures and bookmarks were distributed.

Dadar railway station event was organized in collaboration with GRP, RPF and Station Director.

Station Director - Kakde sir, station manager - Panda Sir shared that it is very important to provide safe environment for children. On station with the help of CHILDLINE, they are trying to make the station child-friendly.

They also appreciated the efforts that YUVA is taking for spreading awareness about Child Rights and ensuring their participation in it.

Following people were present:

1. Inspector GRP- Prasad Padhte.

2. Avinash Pawar- GRP

2. Sub Inspector RPF -SK Singh

3. Station Director - Kakde Sir

4.station manager - Panda Sir

5. Electric Department- Prakash sir

6. Cleaning supervisor - Amit Kumar

 

BASS performed a street play on child rights and Appealed Travellers to ensure a safe environment and participation of children-

“Badde Badde log… Baatein Baddi … “

Street play begins with the title. Where BASS children showcase that how at various places be it home, locality, factories children are not safe and are denied of their basic rights to:

  1. Development
  2. Protection
  3. Life
  4. Education and
  5. Participation

 

Through the play, it was narrated that at factories they are hired though there are strict rules to prohibit them from working if they are below 18 and fall between 14 to 18 years but in these places, they’re made to work as the labor cost of hiring children is comparatively lesser. Also, at home, they are not safe and are at constant threat and danger of exploitation from their own family members and relatives. At times even when we know that something wrong has happened to the child, we remain silent to not escalate the issue in fear but it actually enforces the perpetrators of such heinous acts. In our society girls are still looked down when it comes to education and are expected to stay inside and do learn and do household chores and be marriage ready instead of aspiring for a better career with the pursuance of education.

In the end, everyone took an oath to safeguard and promote these minimum basic rights and practice meaningful participation at every space and approach authorities who are working towards promoting these interests of children like- Police, YUVA, ChildLine, BASS, etc. in case any problem arises.

One of the Passengers at Dadar station after witnessing the street play stated and accepted the importance of awareness generation of the rights of children. And appreciated that though in some way it’s been done and like the efforts of the team.  He said he could relate this as he has a younger sister at home.

Discussion with Local authorities
Discussion with Local authorities
Street Play at Railway station
Street Play at Railway station
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Eco Saviours Campaign led by children and youth

But sooner my regret of arriving late turned to excitement when I heard that we have to take frootis for the program still undergoing in the other part of Ambujwadi which is, for the most part, is 'undiscovered' to me. I went ahead with, one of the youth at Ambujwadi and my fieldwork supervisor carrying 2 boxes of frootis. We moved through the gallis and took a few turns and reached the point.

I got to know that the Eco-saviours campaign is a program for saving the environment comprising of a few elements- household waste segregation into dry and wet waste, clean society through society-level waste segregation and clean lanes, and finally ground cleaning at the community level. Today was the ground cleaning activity.

I saw two YUVA staff being circled by the youths as they were giving them instructions regarding the treatment of waste material and to wear gloves while disposing of waste in a bin. As by that time the waste got binned, it was time for refreshing frootis which the staff distributed them. I couldn't help myself but just witness silently, smile and take out my phone and capture them.

As we moved ahead there was a little ground which was littered less than the previous spaces as the team reached there more youths joined us and this time to my surprise kids belonging to the Bal Adhikar Sangarsh Sangatana (BASS) were there in more numbers. The staff again instructed them, and they wore plastic gloves, collected the litter here and there and disposed of in a small bin. And after the cleanup drive, everyone including the youth and kids proclaimed they will keep it clean time and time again. In the end, they were put in two small queues and were sent to wash their hands and small packets of water were provided to quench their thirst as it was hot and sunny outside.

I was amazed that on a day like Sunday when entertainment, Internet, games, social media are in the reach of their pocket they turned up for the campaign and they were in numbers counting more than 100.

I felt they are more sensitized towards the issue of unclean spaces and taking the initiative towards a cleaner, better community and be the change-makers and leaders of tomorrow. As there were few who could not receive the campaign cap of 'Eco Saviours' but were still present and zealously helping others in cleaning the litter.

While returning back from the community with staff and kids I purposely and inaudibly stepped back to capture them.

"The SAVIOURS of the day"

With what I have witnessed I could say Eco Saviours Campaign is a collective action to save the environment and includes the ecological child rights aspect.

Under this campaign, Children planned 3 parts:

  • Waste segregation and kitchen gardening.
  • Ground cleaning
  • Clean society award
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OBJECTIVE:

  1. To create awareness among children and parents of the starting of a Child Resource Centre(CRC).
  2. To mobilise children to form children's collectives.

SUMMARY OF EVENT:

 A total of 56 children, of all ages groups, took part in the drawing event. Children began arriving at 2.20pm itself, for the 3 pm event. The event went on till 6.20pm. Children were seated in both the new center as well as the BSFC center, due to space constraint. The children were supplied with all the required materials. Once children had completed their artwork, they were provided with snacks. Periodic announcements were made on the opening of the new center and the activities that would be conducted there, to both children and the parents who were present.  Details of all the participants were maintained in a register, kept at the center itself.

 OUTCOMES:

The event was a success. The parents were supportive of their children's interests and brought them to the center. The participants were enthusiastic and showed interest in visiting the center again. All were informed about the availability of the center for all children and that some activities would be conducted in this space in the ensr future.

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Organization Information

Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA)

Location: Navi Mumbai - India
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @officialyuva
Project Leader:
Roshni Nuggehalli
Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra India
$666 raised of $2,500 goal
 
33 donations
$1,834 to go
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