India’s Trafficking Story is Full of Missing Little Pieces

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Chandauli for the first time, a two-hour drive from Varanasi. For the past year, I’ve been following Aangan’s work there with vanvasis, a Scheduled Caste group who live off the forest. I had a mental picture of what I was about to see – deeply malnourished children with too-large heads and protruding bellies, their parents collecting wood and betel leaves from the forest to eke out a living.

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To reach the village, we got off the main road, onto a dirt track, now almost indistinguishable after heavy rain. From there, it was a one-kilometre walk to the village, wading through knee high water to reach the first clutch of houses. The village is in a valley between hills, and transportation is virtually non-existent. In other circumstances, purely as a tourist, the setting would have lifted my spirits – mud houses with low, thatched roofs, a few buffaloes, streams and an air of quiet, bucolic.

At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong. The rudimentary school and malnourished children didn’t surprise me. Nor did the men and women sitting outside their homes all day, no claim on their time, no work to tend to. As I spoke to a group of women from the community, it began to hit home.

Read the full article on TheWire.in. The author, Deepika Khatri, is the Strategy and Advocacy Coordinator at Aangan.

Notes from the field: Hopes and dreams on International Youth Day

The United Nations’ International Youth Day, celebrated every year on August 12, is an opportunity to highlight issues faced by young people around the world.

Bihar
Snapshot from International Youth Day in Bihar

In the current global climate – the refugees fleeing crises in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the instability in Africa, and the financial woes of Greece and the rest of Europe – children and the youth, as always, are the worst affected. Yet, even in such adverse circumstances, it is the youth who are the drivers of development and change.

This year’s theme – “Youth Civic Engagement” – is particularly relevant for the children in the communities that Aangan works in. Most of these children live in bastis or hutments, which have little by way of access to basic services such as water supply, electricity, schools, hospitals or even toilets. International Youth Day is, therefore, also an opportunity to recognise and promote the participation of young people in the development of society.

Snapshot from International Youth Day in Uttar Pradesh
Snapshot from International Youth Day in Uttar Pradesh

Through programs aimed at building their resilience and knowledge, and supporting them to negotiate with adults and the government, these children are empowered to raise their voices on the issues that impact them and their communities. They can play a vital role in shaping their society because no one can represent their communities better than them. Their thoughts and ideas, therefore, matter a great deal, and this idea is something that must be inculcated in both adults as well as children.

Therefore, on August 12, children in 10 communities across four of the states that Aangan works in came together to discuss the issues pertaining to their community that they would like to tackle. Through role-plays, songs and debate, they spoke of how they can use their skills and talents to bring about effective change in their neighbourhoods.

Snapshot from Mumbai
Snapshot from International Youth Day in Mumbai

Raghav*, 15, said his community would be much improved “if everyone kept their own homes clean”, and did not throw garbage everywhere. “It spreads diseases,” he explained. “If we stopped littering and made sure the water supply is not contaminated, a lesser number of people will fall ill, and we won’t be spending so much money on hospitals and medicines.

Apart from more immediately actionable issues such as cleanliness, hygiene and open defecation, children also spoke about the sexual harassment girls faced in their basti, gender equality, and why education for girls was of vital importance.

A mother, a wife, and a sister are all first and foremost girls. No society can function without girls and women. Then, why are we so oppressed and considered lesser than men?” 15-year-old Pooja* asked the room.

Santosh*, a 14-year-old youth representative on his school management committee, stressed on the importance of educating every child, regardless of their gender. “Boys who don’t go to school end up loitering around and whiling away their time. So many of them start doing drugs. Education is important, most definitely for girls, but equally so for boys.

In many of the communities that Aangan works in, children have already worked to get streetlights installed, hand pumps repaired, out-of-school children enrolled in school, negotiated with government officials to improve sanitation services, and helped families gain access to government services and schemes. Through their actions, entire communities have benefitted.

Initiatives such as these most effectively demonstrate the power of youth, and the change they are capable of.

*Children’s names have been changed to protect their identity.

The author, Samyukta Maindarkar, is Communications Associate at Aangan.

Building safe schools: Why child protection is a shared responsibility

The last few years have seen an alarming rise in the overall number of crimes against children. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 58,224 cases were reported in the country in 2013. This figure represents an over 50% rise compared to 2012, when 38,172 cases were reported.

And these are just the cases that have been reported. Thousands of other children suffer in silence.

Yet, the idea of child protection – and that children have the right to remain safe everywhere, regardless of time and place – is still not mainstream, nor is the idea that child protection is everyone’s responsibility. We all come in contact with children every day, be they our own, our nephews and nieces, or the neighbour’s kids. And when we see a child in distress, we want to help out – only to be held back because we don’t know what to do.

The #ActNow campaign by Aangan, an NGO that works on child protection issues, aims to encourage and inspire everyday citizens and the general public to take part in child protection, and to spread the message that child protection is a shared responsibility. As part of the campaign, a group of school principals, parents, heads of education boards and educationists came together for a roundtable discussion on Tuesday at YMCA, Mumbai, to address issues pertaining to child safety in schools. The aim of the discussion was to develop guidelines that schools, parent groups and other interested people can use to formulate their own child protection policies, thus creating safe environments for children.

School has often been termed as a second home for children – a statement that stands true since, next to the home, school is where children spend most of their time and come into contact with peers and adults who influence their behaviour. Children therefore have the right to be safe and secure in the school environment, and to have a voice to speak up if they aren’t. Yet violations of various forms – from bullying and corporal punishment to sexual abuse and rape – committed against children are constantly reported from schools across the country.

The concept of safe schools is important because, as Spokey Wheeler, co-founder of Adhyayan, an organisation that works to improve the quality of learning and leadership in schools, pointed out, the role of a school is no longer restricted to just within its own boundaries. External factors such as smartphones and social media – and their fallouts, like cyber-bullying – have a huge impact on children’s safety, and present new challenges for schools.

It is a matter of great surprise that child protection is hardly ever part of school policies,” said Parveen Shaikh, the head of pre-primary and primary at The Somaiya School, Mumbai.

The participants discussed several child protection issues in schools, including a child’s physical, emotional, personal, social and sexual safety, teacher-student interaction, discipline, identifying and reporting various forms of child abuse, and how schools can be made inclusive for all children, including those with disabilities.

There is a misunderstanding that child protection is only about sexual abuse,” said Father George Athaide, secretary of the Archdiocesan Board of Education. “When we talk about child protection, we need to address issues such as humiliation by teachers or corporal punishment as well.

There is much to be done in the domain of child protection, yet discussions like these can be considered a small but vital start – to share experiences, bring child protection into the collective consciousness and work towards actively being involved with schools to lay down minimum standards for child protection.

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Originally published on Friday, July 24 2015, on dnaindia.com. The author, Samyukta Maindarkar, is the Communications Associate at Aangan.