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Article 31 And Its Relevance To India’s Children

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By Havovi Wadia

Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of Children pertains to the child’s right to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities and free and full participation in cultural and artistic life. Concerned that the article was neither fully understood nor engaged with, particularly by governments, the Committee on the Rights of the Child produced a General Comment in 2013 that fully explains Article 31 and details the kind of support children require in order to be able to access this set of rights.

The general comment takes each word of the Article, and explains its meaning. For instance, recreation is explained as a “broad umbrella term for voluntary activities or experiences chosen by the child for immediate satisfaction or perceived personal or social value. While many such activities may be organized and managed by adults, recreation should be a voluntary activity.” In addition, it surfaces the fact that the Right to Play is differentially available to children basis their contexts – children who live in areas characterized by conflict, children of families that are migrant/ refugee – and identities -age, gender, race, caste, class and ability.  It recognises challenges in implementation such as unsafe spaces, the marketing and commercialisation of play, the pressure put on children for educational achievement and resistance to children’s use of public space.

Finally, it clearly articulates government responsibility towards enabling this set of rights – the obligation to respect Article 31 (by challenging cultural attitudes that might undermine these rights); the obligation to protect Article 31 rights (through legislation, regulation, promotion of online access and safety, review of policies related to commercialisation of toys and play and effective child protection mechanisms for those children who feel that their rights under Article 31 have been violated; and the obligation to fulfil these rights (legislation, data collection, inter-departmental collaboration, budgets, design that promotes inclusion, appropriate school environments and training for those who work with children).

Magic Bus India Foundation began to use play as the primary medium to engage with children, 20 years ago in 1999. At the time, and indeed even since then, most Indian adults are unsure how much play is suitable, relevant or necessary for children. The focus in India has always been on glaring conditions of poverty that make education, health and safety feel far more urgent and important, vis a vis play. Over time, the organisation has been a critical stakeholder in influencing the practice of using play as a medium to enable better education and health opportunities for children.

For instance, in poor neighbourhoods in urban India, a primary obstacle for the actualisation of Article 31 is access and attitude – there are no playgrounds; the small empty spaces in the community are characterised by garbage that is rarely removed by the municipality; the little space that is left is usually taken up by older adolescent males and young men who often use it to smoke, consume drugs and alcohol or partake of collective activities that may or may not be socially desirable. Younger boys and girls of all ages simply do not have access to these spaces.

In 2010, in a study that used participatory tools to assess the impact of the Magic Bus intervention in two such communities, all those who were part of the programme were found to be participating in a minimum of 2 hours of play per week, while 22% of those in a corresponding control group did not get to play at all. A daily activity chart exercise with both treatment and control groups, divided into older and younger adolescents with age 14 as the mid-point revealed that as girls move beyond the age of 15, very few continue to play. Interestingly, among the boys, the control groups seemed to spend more time playing, while among the girls, those in the older cohort in the control group got absolutely no play time, versus the minimum 2 hours that Magic Bus girls got.

The report said, “Children who are with Magic Bus show awareness that playing a sport can teach valuable life skills. These include not teasing the losing team, how to deal with pressure, time management, mutual respect, the importance of listening and concentration, encouraging each other and ‘imandari’ (honestly). Respondents in the control group mentioned that sports teaches them perseverance (“gir ke phir uthna”) and solidarity. Both groups acknowledged that playing/participation is more important than winning.

This last statement is most significant – children know and understand that play teaches many things, but most of all, that participation in more important than winning. It is an aspect of Article 31 that is most underserved in our current national and international contexts, and that those invested in teaching-learning processes are increasingly reverting to.

Havovi Wadia is the Director, Impact at Magic Bus India. She is also an enthusiastic parent, reader, writer and researcher. She is committed to an understanding of Childhoods and the rights of children. In recent years, her work has focused on measurement and she focuses on finding ways to make it relevant to programmes.

#PlayMatters is a micro-campaign by Leher, a child rights organization working to make child protection a shared responsibility. The aspiration of this campaign is to start conversations and draw collective understanding and action towards a child’s right to play. You can follow us on twitter, instagram and facebook to participate. 

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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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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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
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