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‘Children Deserve Songs Of Love – Not Bombs And Guns’

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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!

Blood soaked streets-

That’s my ground,

That’s where I play around.

Sound of gunshots –

That’s my song,

That’s my lulla – lullaby.

– “Lullaby” by Manipur-based band Imphal Talkies, dedicated to all children growing up in conflict zones.

Acts of violence affect children in all the ways it affects adults, but also in devastatingly different ways. Children are the most-vulnerable population in a conflict zone. Since they are dependent on the care and empathy of adults for their survival, their attachments are frequently disrupted in times of wars. Children exposed to violence are more likely to suffer from attachment problems, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and aggression. Academic and cognitive problems, delinquency, and involvement in crime are also associated with early experiences of violence.

Every year, thousands of children die or suffer a range of injuries in war-related violence all over the world. For instance, children become easy victims of landmine explosions or drone attacks. Conditions for the maintenance of child-health services like water, sanitation, nutrition, access to medicines (among others) deteriorate in war-like situations. Refugee children are also particularly vulnerable to deadly infections and malnutrition.

Wars leave long-lasting effects on the children who are caught in it. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In cases of ethnic cleansing, sexual abuse of women and children is frequently resorted to, as a weapon against the targeted community. The genocide in Rwanda perpetuated by the majority Hutu community had horrific tales of sexual violence on Tutsi women, committed with the intention of spoiling their blood line. In fact, the UN passed the Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security to draw attention to the gendered nature of conflicts and to protect women and girls from gender-based violence. Children born from acts of rape are often raised in neglect and shame, leading to emotional stress and identity disorders. During wars, girls are often forced into prostitution and are subject to gang rapes and beatings.

The two World Wars witnessed unprecedented levels of violence and destruction. Many a child was pushed into adulthood during these times. Since many men went out to fight on the battlefront, women and children were left to fend for themselves. Children were compelled to take up arduous and exploitative jobs in factories for survival. The Studio Ghibli masterpiece, “Grave of the Fireflies”, narrates the story of a young brother and sister caught up in the devastation of World War II.

The rise of Nazism under Hitler led to completely different experiences of fear and alienation for Jewish children. Anne Frank’s diary is one such brave account of a Jewish girl while she was in hiding with her family for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The diary entries, written in a child’s authentic voice, trace her teenage years amid the hideousness of rising fascism. Her innocence and optimism is revealed in the line, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Another powerful Holocaust account, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” explores the horror of a Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of two eight-year-old boys – Bruno, the son of the camp’s Nazi commandant, and Shmuel, a Jewish inmate.

The Vietnam war, remembered for the widespread use of Agent Orange, left a devastating impact on the combatants and their families alike. The following poem titled “War: from a Child’s Perspective” by Angela Brown describes the struggle of an American child trying to make sense of his father going to war in Vietnam:

Daddy went off to war one day

To play the big boy games

And fight the countless enemies

Who also have no names.

While I sat and played outside

And mommy baked her pies

I said to my little playmates

My daddy will not die!

He’ll fight the ones who want to take

Our freedoms and our dreams

He’s gonna blast those commies,

Though I don’t know what that means.

But daddy’s strong, he’ll survive,

My mommy told me so.

So I was brave and did not cry

When he said he had to go.

My mother told me once again,

That daddy would not die,

So I gave him a smile to carry

When we had to say goodbye.

I was right, but oh, so wrong,

To think he would not die

Because although he still walks and talks

There’s nothing in his eyes.

When daddy came back, he looked the same

And hugged and kissed my head

But soon I knew his heart was gone

His love for me was dead.

This Vietnam, that he went to

Was oh, so far away

And while he did his duty there

I learned how to pray.

“Lord, please bring my daddy home,

And keep him safe at night,

And if it’s dark and cold outside

Give him warmth and light.”

What I should have prayed instead was this:

“Lord, protect my daddy’s heart,

And don’t let the war he’s fighting

Tear his soul apart.”

Yes, daddy went off to war one day

Mommy said he would not die

But that was not completely true,

‘Cause now he’s dead inside.

Not all wars are fought on the battlefields – some are fought in courtrooms and newsrooms. The 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, India’s major industrial disaster that turned the city into a cremation ground overnight, is one such war for justice, fought between a powerful business corporation and the affected people. Bhopal was struck by two tragedies – the one that happened immediately, and the other that unfolded in the years that followed. Even after 30 years, the effects of the gas leak have claimed a third generation of victims. 2500 children have been born with possible birth defects to parents who have had acute exposure to toxic gas or chronic exposure to contaminated water. Children born to families suffering from the effects of exposure are lighter, thinner and with smaller heads. Countless unknown children in Bhopal are still suffering from a range of congenital defects, malformations, growth disorders, and other health problems. Their needs aren’t acknowledged or paid attention to.

The Bhopal gas tragedy is still affecting children in the region. 10-year-old Shyam (in the picture above) suffers from cerebral palsy, supposedly from water contamination. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

The Israel-Palestine conflict, one of the longest ongoing conflicts in the world, has sealed the fate of Palestinian children. Ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children are widespread, systematic and institutionalised under the Israeli occupation. In a 2010 newspaper report, Al-Hasan Muhtaseb, a 13-year-old Arab boy, described how he had been ‘interrogated without a lawyer late into the night, forced to confess to throwing stones against the Israeli forces, made to sign a confession in Hebrew that he couldn’t read, jailed with adults and brought before a military court’. He was only released on bail eight days later, after considerable legal effort by several human rights groups.

The Israel-Palestine conflict continues to haunt the children who survived it . (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Renowned photographer Brian McCarty worked with children in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, which produced a variety of heart-wrenching drawings. Some children drew the keys their families kept as symbols of the homes they had fled. A few boys portrayed heroic militants with homemade bombs. Young girls in Gaza City often drew mothers and babies near scenes of carnage.

Today, wars have shifted from the battlefield to the home and neighbourhood. Civilian casualties have increased in wars – majority of them being children. For instance, civilian areas have been systematically targeted by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and by the Sri Lankan government in its fight against the LTTE. A rise in conflicts and targeted attacks on medical facilities and personnel have resulted in increased injuries and deaths of children from preventable conditions – including acute malnutrition, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases.

The Syrian war has witnessed chilling scenes of children being directly affected by bombings and chemical weapons. Numerous women and child Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh. Myanmar has acted as ruthlessly as the ISIS or Boko Haram in its persecution and massacre of Rohingya children. According to a news report, even babies have not been spared by the Burmese military.

It’s never a good sign when we see children taking up arms in this day and age. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Children often take different sides in a war – they can be passive victims or unwilling participants or even perpetrators. In her recent book, “For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914-1918”, Shrabani Basu reveals that the British deployed Indian children as young as 10 years to fight wars against Germany in World War I. The kids, mainly from poor families, were found under-reporting their age to earn a salary of ₹11 a month. They were taken to France where they worked towards support mobilisation for Britain’s war efforts, often getting injured in attacks.

Children were also active, enthusiastic, and critical participants in the American Civil War. Persons below 19 made up a major portion of the US population back then. Children played an important role on the home front supporting the war effort, and many soldiers on both sides invoked the issue of the futures of their children to justify why the war should be fought and won at any cost. A number of children took up arms with their elders and served as enlisted soldiers or regimental musicians.

Yet, every cloud has a silver lining. Children, while being the most-affected, are generally also most sensitised to the ill effects of war. They have begun to play a constructive role in anti-war consciousness, turning into peace activists and human rights defenders. Children are speaking up for other children in an increasingly hostile world of adults.

The most heartening initiative has come from war-ravaged Congo, where children created an organisation known as the Children’s Parliament to defend and teach human rights. The Children’s Parliament is a group which takes action against the rampant rape, murder and assaults that occur in the country. When they were 11, Junior Museke and Junior Alimoasi both started the parliament at the insistence of some NGOs. Now, Museke teaches in classrooms about issues related to basic human rights, rape and inappropriate conduct. Closer home, Malala Yousafzai has become an inspirational figure and a champion of female education, braving the threats and diktats of the Taliban.

“And when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful,” said Ruskin Bond. Children epitomise everything that is beautiful and joyful. They deserve songs of love, not bombs and guns. A world that fails to protect its children and their innocence is unfit to be called civilised and humane. A world that is not safe for children is not safe for anybody. If the wailing cries of a child do not break your heart, I do not know what will.

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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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 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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