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What’s The Point Of Children’s Day If This Is How Millions Of Indian Kids Live?

Chacha had mentioned in his ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech, “We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.” But never had the children imagined in their wildest dreams that the mansion would be too expensive.

According to the 2017 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 97th out of the 118 countries experiencing a severe hunger crisis. The 2015 Integrated Child Development Services report has stated that 19.8 million children under the age of six years in India are undernourished. Based on the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16, only 9.6% of the children between 6-23 months receive an adequate diet and only one in five of the pregnant mothers receive full prenatal care in India. According to the 2009 World Bank Report, the number of underweight children in India is among the highest across the globe. More than 44% of children under the age of five years are underweight, 72% of infants and 52% of married women are anaemic, thereby increasing the risk of future diseases, cognitive inabilities and physical retardation of those yet to be born.

The balika vadhu is a reality too. According to the 2011 Census, 30% of girls below 18 are subjected to this darkness. A radical depiction of this curse has been aptly displayed in “Bandit Queen” in 1994. India has more than 45 lakh girls under 15 years of age who are married and have children. Out of them, 70% have two children.

According to the NFHS 4, in 2015-16, the total immunisation coverage of the country stands at only 62%. The increase in the number of pox affected children is a testament to this reality. On the other hand, in face of the Trinamool government’s reluctance in acknowledging the occurrence of the disease, the death toll of children suffering from dengue is on the rise in Bengal.

Increase in infant mortality rates in the BJP-led states is a grievous affair. In Yogi Adityanath’s empire, more than 1000 children have died due to lack of proper medicines and shortage in oxygen supply between January to August 2017. The under-five mortality rate of Uttar Pradesh for the year 2015-16 is 78 per 1000. The government hospitals of Jamshedpur and Ranchi have also recorded many deaths in 2017. Maharashtra has recorded 17,944 infant and 4,041 child deaths in the last two years. According to NFHS, at least 64 children below the age of six years die every day in Madhya Pradesh and its present infant mortality rate is worse than that of some African countries.

Na ana is desh mein lado. Female infanticide and foeticide is a social evil, well-reviewed in academic circles. The report of the District Crime Records Bureau 2014, every eight minutes, a child goes missing in India. Kidnapping and subsequent link to prostitution is a major cause. Of 2 million sex workers in India, about 20% are minors. Of them, nearly 15% came into the occupation below 15 and 25% between 15 to 18 years of age. In Bengal, some women leaders of the BJP have been recently accused of being involved in the trafficking business associated with different hospitals and NGOs!

According to the District Information System for Education Report 2014-15, out of every 100 children, only 32 can finish their school education, age appropriately. This is in compliance with the tendency of the central government to allocate for education about 80% less than that reserved for politics of border and defence in their annual budgets. India has failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015. The Kothari Education Commission (1964-1966) had recommended a 6% allocation of GDP on education – that which has been presently achieved is only 3.8%. According to an IndiaSpend report in the year 2016, the quality of learning has declined despite heavy funding of the ‘Sarva Siksha Abhiyan’ scheme.

Though the central government boasts of its Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, its major setbacks clearly depict the real intentions of the administration. Despite its elaborate claims. There are examples which show how the allotted money is misused; in Panipat, the state administration has spent the allotted money in building theme gates or diverting them to other schemes avoiding legal procedures.

According to the UNICEF, there are 33 million child labourers in India and as per the 2011 census, 80% of them are Dalits and 20% are from the Backward Classes. With a majority of poor families in India trapped in their transgenerational bondage of debt, such statistics are worth reckoning. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, is dangerous as it does not define the hours of work but simply states that children may work after school hours or during vacations. According to official reports, 63 lakh children, between six to 17 years of age are working for more than 180 days in a year. The controversial bill has even empowered the government authorities to amend the list of hazardous occupations to be excluded from the ambit of child labour at their own discretion!

While the government claims with futility that to strike a balance between education and India’s economic reality, such a reform is needed in which parents would rely on their children to help with farming or artisanal work to fight poverty or carry on their family trade, an important remark of a bearded philosopher and economist seems more relevant. “A general prohibition of child labor is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization — if it were possible — would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labor with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.” The subtle difference of either notion has been left to the readers for deliberation.

Keeping aside such statistics, literature and mainstream cinema have turned their face away from the children as well. Despite its rich heritage, Bengali child literature is presently facing a stage of stagnation. Our childhood ‘Ghanada’, ‘Nonte Fonte’, ‘Handa Bhonda’ still endure us with a sigh of relief. ‘Shukhtara’, ‘Kishore Bharati’, ‘Chandmama’ and a few others still continue to nourish the child’s intellect. Our childhood ‘Shaktiman’ has made way as ‘superhit’ in school discussions. There has even been a decline in the international production of cartoons which we, the 90s kids used to enjoy 24X7. On the contrary, parallel cinema is outrunning the mainstream in this aspect: “Jadui Macchi”, “Two Solutions To One Problem”, “Two and Two”, “Chanda Ki Jutee”, “Stanley Ka Dabba”, “The Song of Sparrows”, “Baran”, etc.

Amidst such ignorance, the little ones seem to debunk their childhood and grow up early, to face the dire reality in advance. Therefore, in the present situation, when the country faces the possibility of a nationwide ‘chaddi march’ of the chillar party, let us struggle for a new world where an apt answer to ‘Nanhe munne bacchae teri mutthi mein kya hai’ would be ‘hamari mutthi mein akaash sara, jab bhi khulegi chamkega tara’.

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Image source: jithin .l.r/ Flickr
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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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