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How Does A 29% Budget Cut Solve The Problem For 8Mn Indian Children Who Never Start School?

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By Sanjana Sanghi:

We usually say, “Let’s save the best for the last.” But I’d say, let’s not. And with this in mind, let me give you the bright side first, because the dark side is overwhelmingly frightening.

On the bright side

India does have the largest youth or child population in the world, that of 470 million. In other words, one-third of our total population comprises of individuals below 18 years of age. What an invaluable asset that could be to our glorious democracy, no? Especially when enrolment rates of children between 6 and 14 years are something like 96%, with enhanced “basic infrastructure” in schools. Almost 42% of schools in India are meeting the Right to Education (RTE) Act’s norms of an ideal teacher-pupil ratio. Over 70% have drinking water facilities, there has been an increase of 20% in “usable toilets” in schools, and the mid-day meal scheme is operating in 87% of the schools in the country.

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The dark side

This situation is complex, and its components are many. So let’s break this down. As for students, 8 million, that is 4% of the total in number, never start school. 172 million, that is 90%, do not complete secondary school. 30% of our children are illiterate even after attending five-six years of school. Only 46% of class 5 students can read even a Class 2 level text.

This situation is not just alarming; it is a full blown disaster. Out of which, barely 10% emerge survivors. I use the term survivors here to refer to those who manage to scrape through school, but do not manage to fit basic criterions of reading, writing, mathematical skills or socially acceptable behaviour that could fetch them meaningful and economically sustainable employment.

A major cause for such outcomes is the “no detention” rule stipulated by the RTE till Class 8. It has led to a complete relaxation in classroom teaching, and loss of incentive for students. Scrapping of exams till the above notified level has contributed to the reduction and eventual removal of any form of performance pressure in the classroom. Teachers’ salaries have remained stagnant since years, and contract teachers with little or no professional training are deployed across states.

These factors together, have resulted in a speedy deterioration of education standards. Once we subtract the number of students who fall into various categories of failure of our education system as mentioned above, what we are left is roughly over a 100 million children who are rendered entirely deprived of any form of education, further raising the question of how they will be prepared for life beyond 18 years of age.

Of many other things that these children who are deprived of any form of education are subjected to, I’d like to familiarize you with just one such trend in India. That of underage marriages. As though this in itself is not gruesome enough, almost 4,50,000 of all the teenage girls who are made to enter these marriages either lose or are separated from their spouse and find themselves in an inescapable web of malnutrition, poor health and ignorance. Along with their vulnerability to sexual violence, they are socially ostracized and made a part of a vicious cycle owing to, at the root causal level, a lack of literacy amongst them and their immediate social surroundings. They are then left to fend for themselves, often becoming victims of child labour, human trafficking, or forced into becoming sex workers.

So who is going to be the saviour?

UPA’s “knowledge economy” and BJP’s “Make in India” electoral planks will remain distant dreams if the situation doesn’t improve. Let me explain.

In a democracy, we usually place our bets on the government in power, that is, our elected representatives entrusted with the responsibility of wholly dedicating themselves to greater public good. I found it necessary to spit out their role because it seems to have been forgotten. The free compulsory education for children between age six and fourteen under RTE was a great endeavour, but would only be of any use in creation of the UPA’s “knowledge economy” if implementation had been proper.

The BJP government, that had promised 6% of the GDP to be allocated to the education sector in their election manifesto, has failed to fulfil its promises too. In fact, they seem to have digressed in an entirely counterproductive direction considering the 29% cut in the 2015-2016 budget allocation for schemes pertaining to education, health, child and protection. Arun Jaitley recognizes the need for upgradation in over 80,000 secondary schools but current allocations will fail to cover even primary schools properly.

An increase is seen in allocation to programs addressing child labour. Child labour is the most direct and immediate effect of lack of education amongst children, therefore providing protectionism against this evil while keeping the problem of poor educational facilities entirely unaddressed will result in mere perpetuation of this trap.

The gap between the ambitious Make in India scheme proposed by our new government and the Right to Education act is one of the most pressing issues in India today that needs immediate attention.

Poverty, exclusion, social evils, malnutrition, and lack of opportunity are all problems with a single solution – education. If the 470 million children of our country could receive a basic standard of proper education, not just limited to examination certificates and certain years spent in school, then they will be capable of contributing positively to our economy, transform from liabilities to valuable assets, and make India a force to reckon with.

References:
Ninth Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2013) released in New Delhi
10 things you need to know about RTE Act

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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