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The Plight of Our Children

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!

I remember driving down the streets of Delhi, India one day. It is a usual routine for me now, but I remember noticing something one day that has completely changed me. I had observed a poor family huddled closely together towards the sidewalk. The mother, who was wearing tattered clothes and had dirt all over her face, was breastfeeding her new born baby. The baby was crying, completely accustomed to the nature of the real world. Her other two sons were seated next to her, their clothes ripped and faces miserable. I strained my neck back slightly as my car started turning around, but that is about as much as I did. Did I look beyond my car window to find out more about the conditions they were living under? Did I get out of my car and offer them my help? No, I did not. I merely gazed at them, engulfed my a tremendous sense of sadness and sympathy. But that’s about it.

Around the world today, there are over 150 million street children, according to UN sources. Due to poverty, abuse, violence, the death of a parent, family seperation, natural disaster, or a socio-economic collapse, children are often forced to live out on the streets. It can be sweltering hot or freezing cold; they may have no food, water and shelter. They have no control over any factors, and instead, live a life where anything may go wrong. They may never escape the vicious cycle of poverty as they have no hopes of getting an education. Moreover, these children are vulnerable to various kinds of diseases, abuse, violence, trafficking and child labor. Without education, healthcare and hopes for a better future, the life expectancy of these children become incredibly low, and their chances for a bright future diminishes.

Child Labor is one of the most prevalent forms of child abuse in the world today. According to a South Asian report by ILO, there are 30 million children in employment, 17 million engaged in child labor, and 50 million out of school. Worldwide, there are over 168 million children who are employed, 85 million of whom are engaged in hazardous work. Furthermore, there are 5.8 million child workers aged 5-17 in India alone. All these statistics are shocking, but how did it get to be this way? How did so many of the beautiful youth in our world end up as victims of the brutal reality of child labor? Poverty and its correlates are the root cause of child labor. If a family is poor, a child often has to end up working up to 18 hours a day to earn a living. A child does not deserve to work under hazardous conditions. They deserve freedom, education, healthcare, and most importantly, the right to live a life.

Though street children and slavery are prominent world issues, there are ways to combat them. As a citizen of the global community, it is important for us to be well researched on the topic before we can take action. By watching informative documentaries and reading reliable news articles, you will be informed on the situation at hand. This is the first step to taking action. Furthermore, using our consumer power can go a long way. If everyone researches about companies that use child labor, and try to boycott them as much as possible, the demand for those products will slowly decrease. Along with this, the child workers will be out of employment. That is when it is up to the government and other NGOs like GoodWeave to rescue and rehabilitate these children. The government should also start encouraging companies to label their products Child Labor Free to inform consumers that no children were utilized for the making of these products. Moreover, by providing cash incentives to families, they will be willing to send their children to school. Cash incentives are temporary rewards given to poor families in order to help them stabilize as their child is sent to receive a formal education. But aside from all this, it is up to us to lend a helping hand to the vulnerable children of the world. This includes working with victims of slavery and spending time teaching and bonding with them.

My passion for youth development has only grown over the past few years. I strongly believe that young men and women like us can make have an immense impact on the lives of these victims and children. I encourage everyone to go on service trips to work with children, educate them, play with them, and most importantly, bond with them. Your attention and care will go a long way in their hearts. They will remember you and the experience forever. Living in the Philippines, I have been fortunate enough to attend various service trips. These include Cottolengo Filipino , Make A Wish Foundation, Kids International Ministries, Gawad Kalinga, as well as the Prabartak Circle in Kolkata, India. I have worked with special needs children from Cottolengo multiple times. They bring light to my world; their joyful smiles, their enthusiasm, their kind hearts and their persistance, never fail to amaze me. Though the other service trips I have attended do not directly deal with victims of slavery, they do deal with less fortunate people and children. Working with them and education them may decrease their risk of falling into the trap of slavery in the future because they will know what is right and wrong.

To conclude, the issue of contemporary slavery and poverty (street children) is a pressing concern in the world today. Though there have been vast improvements due to the advancement of different countries and through international and worker aid, we still have a long way to go. In my short essay, I have listed a few ways that we can alleviate slavery and poverty, and implementing a few of those methods will definitely help improve the situation at hand. I encourage all of you to find a passion for service learning and helping the less fortunate people. It is a selfless and wonderful thing to do, and it makes you so much more open minded and thankful to the world around you. Just seeing a smile on a child’s face is enough to boost your motivation to help those around you, and give them the life they deserve. So go out, and make a child’s day ! 🙂

 

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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.

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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.

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