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What We Must Do To Protect The Rights Of 2 Million Children On India’s Streets

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STC logoEditor’s Note: With #TheInvisibles, Youth Ki Awaaz and Save the Children India have joined hands to advocate for the rights of children in street situations in India. Share your stories of what you learned while interacting with street children, what authorities can do to ensure their rights are met, and how we can together fight child labour. Add a post today!

By Merril Diniz:

We meet them on the streets every day, smiling faces, selling us balloons, asking for a bite of our sandwich, or washing utensils at our favourite dhaba. We do not know their names, and as a society, we have categorised these children under one neat label – ‘street children’, barely flinching as we say the words. Little do we realise that this label has perpetrated a sort of invisibility that has catastrophic effects on the quality and duration of these young lives. Lack of documentation and a permanent address leads to the denial of basic rights. From the right to go to school to access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and even schemes they could be eligible for, and because of this the cycle of poverty continues. This is the story of over 2 million and more children who live on the streets of India.

To help nurture a better understanding of the issue, Youth Ki Awaaz and Save The Children India, came together on October 8, 2016, to host ‘#TheInvisibles: A Dialogue’.

On the occasion, five changemakers talked about how we as a collective can make a difference, while the audiences, comprising students and professionals, were eager to understand how they can do their bit to advocate for the rights of #EveryLastChild on the street.

Our first speakers were youth advocates Salmaan And Nisha.

15-year-old Salmaan used to live on the streets of North Delhi, while 14-year-old Nisha used to work as a domestic helper. From them we heard firsthand, what it’s like to live a vulnerable life, to have your dreams crushed, for the purpose of survival.

Salmaan, who is now an aspiring actor and actively participates in theatre shared his experiences of feeling “invisible” during his life on the streets. Nisha was determined to get an education and now studies in Class 8 in an English medium school; however, the journey to reach school was long and paved with roadblocks. The audience was no doubt moved by her convictions and spirit.

Next, we heard from Anju Talukdar, a seasoned legal professional. She has defended the rights of various marginalised communities for years. Currently, serving as the Executive Director of Multiple Action Research Group (MARG), Anju talked about the legal framework that affects the lives of children who live on the streets and those from underserved communities. Interestingly, she awarded our legal framework a “Perfect 10”. But only on paper, and not so much in reality. She went on to dissect the Right to Education Act and observed that ‘child of the street’ has the right to go to a govt/private school. “But there is a huge gap between policy and practice,” she reflects.

While life on the street is paved with harsh realities, it is important to understand how children end up living on the street. Harsh Mander, an IAS officer for two decades, and currently Director of The Centre for Equity Studies in New Delhi, broke it down for the audience. “Many children run away from home to escape from violence. This violence never gets addressed,” he shared. There are other reasons too – children who are lost, those who get trafficked, those who are impacted by natural disasters and orphans. He also spoke about the stark inequities between the child living on the streets and children of born into privilege. For instance, the attitude of law enforcers towards the two is starkly different. The former has neither rights nor safety nets. “There isn’t a single policy dedicated to safeguarding the rights of street children,” he says, a statement that encapsulates the vulnerability of children on the street to multiple forces.

While legal frameworks and work on the ground is one piece of the puzzle, policymakers have the power to hone policies that influence lives. In this regard, Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo, a two-time MP from Bolangir in Odisha, held a mirror up to the politics that wins votes but doesn’t honour its promises. “What we have not managed as a nation, is to have accountability when we talk about ensuring rights,” he observed. The rights of children are especially at stake since they are too young to exercise their franchise. Deo narrated an instance of how a personal intervention helped facilitate the education of a young girl, the child of a migrant labourer. “But singular interventions not enough,” he shares, and much needs to be done on a systemic level to ensure the education of children living on the street.

“Youth voices can help bring visibility to these children. Demand change from your lawmakers, organise yourself and use yourself to create change,” was Kalikesh’s final message to the audience, who seemed eager to galvanise into action, in their own individual capacities.


Image courtesy: Save The Children
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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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