On this #GirlChildDay we wish for every girl…
An equal chance to come into this world, without being discriminated in the womb.
The pride of a graduation hat on her head, instead of bricks and pots of water;
The might of a pencil and book in her hand, instead of the burden of caring for her siblings;
The choice to become a doctor, writer or artist instead of a child bride, and;
The love and respect of her community, instead of an unequal footing in her own home.
“If we are to teach real peace in this world…we shall have to begin with the children.”
Remembering Gandhiji on the International Day Of Non-Violence. #gandhijayanti
Children and youth were once expected to be passive followers, obedient listeners and dependent members of society. Today, they are quite the contrary. Dissatisfied with waiting for the older generation to sort out the world’s problems, more and more youth (millennials and Gen Z too!) are noisily questioning the world they’re inheriting and demanding that things work differently.
Here are stories of 6 motivated and passionate youth who through their perseverance are showing us how to make the world a better place.
1.PAYAL JANGID, INDIA
The girl who strives tirelessly to challenge status quo
Child marriage is no anomaly in India. It is the reason why many girls drop out of school, become young mothers, take on domestic chores at home, creating a vicious cycle that strips them of opportunity and equality. Tirelessly striving to break this cycle is 15-year old Payal Jangid, from Hinsla village in Rajasthan.
Encouraged by Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s Bal Mitra Gram, and Bal Panchayat (Children’s Council) that pushed children to participate in social change, Payal began taking charge from early years. Her passion and zest to tackle child marriage, child labour and the archaic tradition of ‘Ghunghat Pratha’, got her elected to the Pradhan (Chief) of the Bal Pnachayat. Payal’s diligence ensured no child marriages took place in her village. “Until and unless children themselves realise that they have some rights, they won’t feel unyoked. A child must have some agency which enables her/him to decide,” she said despite facing conflict from the adults in her village.
Payal was awarded the World Children’s Prize in 2013 for her fight against child abuse, and was also one of the few children who was selected to meet Former US President Barack Obama when he visited India.
2. SOPHIE CRUZ, MEXICO
The youngest face for Immigration reform
“My friends and I love each other no matter our skin color,” wrote Sophie in a drawing for the Pope. 6 year old Sophie, personally presented the Pope with a letter she wrote, with a humble request to protect her parents (originally from Oxaca in Mexico), now living in Los Angeles as undocumented immigrants.
Living in constant fear of her parents being deported, Sophie had many questions to ask her parents about why they could be taken away from her. Backed by a community of immigrant, Sophie was pushed to the fore, to bring about a change in the way immigrants were treated and their rights protected in the US.
Today, Sophie is hailed as an influential Activist for Immigrant Rights (She even has a giant sized mural in her name) This acknowledgement led to her giving a speech at Women’s March in Washington in 2017, where she urged people to form “a chain of love to protect our families.”
3. SONITA ALIZADEH, AFGHANISTAN
The teen who raps to end child marriage
As a young girl who barely escaped becoming a child bride, Sonita Alizadeh is well acquainted with the devastating consequences of forced marriage, like 1/3rd of girls below 18 years across developing countries.
Born in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, Soni grew up as an undocumented refugee in Iran where she faced the trauma of being sold for marriage in exchange for a bride for her brother. Still unsure of her fate at the age of 16, she wrote the song Brides for Sale to express her grief and share her experience and the experience of so many other girls like herself.
Popularly known at Sonita (a documentary film based on her story), this young girl has transformed from a teenager with no formal education into a high school graduate and become the face of a global campaign to end the regressive social custom of child marriage, by arming herself with an unlikely weapon — rap music.
4. MUHAMMAD NAJEM, SYRIA
The boy using selfie videos to highlight the conflict in Syria
Stuck in the midst of the ongoing Syrian Civil War are millions of innocent children, whose prayers for a normal life free of violence and war goes unheard everyday. Unlike most teenagers, 15-year old Muhammad Najem, uses the might and magnitude of social media to showcase the extensive damage that is caused to families living in this war-torn country, to people across the world.
Najem’s videos have a common theme: an appeal to the world to bear witness to what is happening in Syria. He frequently posts on twitter, pleading the rest of the world to step in and help. “People should know about everything happening in Syria. I want to follow my studies. I want to become a reporter when I grow up,” he says.
Visibly shaken in one of his videos, his voice breaks, coming out strangled and emotional as he continues: “Khamenei killed our childhood.” Najem talks to the world on behalf of the children of Syria, who sustain missile attacks, bombings, loss of families and extreme violence and devastation on a daily basis. This youth activist hopes for intervention by people across the world, so that children like him can have a better life.
5. GRETA THUNBERG, SWEDEN
The youngest, most influential climate change activist
“Our Leaders Are Behaving Like Children”, said teen climate activist as she confronted World Leaders.
Greta’s interest in the effects of Climate Change developed in the third grade, during a class on the subject. Ever since, this 15-year old and her family have taken several measures, such as using electric cars and installing solar batteries, to do their bit in conserving natural resources.
In 2018, Thunberg went on strike from school in order to protest climate policy, and after her protest gained attention around the world she has gone on to give talks and write articles for international titles, influencing young cohorts across the world and putting pressure of governments.
At the COP24 held recently in Katowice, Poland, Thunberg, made headlines for her now-weekly school strikes to urge her home country to take bold climate action. Addressing world leaders as the climate conference kicked off, she said, “We have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”
6. PARAVEE ARGASNOUM, THAILAND
The trans gender non-conforming activist helping his community
19 year old Paravee Argasnoum is a young trans and gender-nonconforming activist in Thailand. As a teen this led to a lot of struggle for him, both emotionally and physically. He was often alienated and bullied by peers, questioned repeatedly by his family and not accepted for who he was.
Counseling helped Paravee deal better with the stress and pressure that came with being gender nonconforming. He decided to channel his energy and help others like himself. He strongly believes that being an activist provides him with an opportunity to express ideas that can prove beneficial to the society.
“I want the perception of them to be positive, for them to be taken seriously and treated as ordinary humans. Members of society need to be aware that LGBTI people are not for comedy value and deserve respect,” he says, advocating we are all equal citizens of the same community.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70 today. This milestone declaration documents the most basic rights that every person is inherently entitled to. Yet, time and again, children continue to be exploited, abused and violated, reiterating that human rights do not always translate into child rights.
War and climate change are two major humanitarian emergencies which have had a catastrophic impact on children of the world. Childhoods are being uprooted and cut short. There has never been a more urgent need for communities and countries to pull together and work collectively to guarantee human rights for children.
This Human Rights Day we look at some of the major crises over the world that continue to infringe the rights of children across the world.
FLOODS IN KERALA, INDIA
In August 2018, India’s southern state of Kerala faced one its most devastating floods since 1924. It impacted 23 million people, approximately 70% of the state’s entire population, of whom 7 million are children. Many lives were uprooted, with houses collapsing and normalcy being disrupted, leaving hundreds of children homeless. Health and sanitation issues due to the contaminated water, closure of schools, and an acute loss of safety and security as an aftermath of the floods are some issues that these children are still struggling to come to terms with, besides the trauma of losing their family members.
REFUGEE AND MIGRANT CRISIS ACROSS EUROPE
Termed as the biggest child refugee crisis since World War II, the refugee crisis across Europe still persists. Children from war zones – Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Yemen, continue to flee their home countries in search of a safe place to live. While most embark on these endless journeys with their families, some even set out alone. According to UNICEF, last year 25000 children entering Italy arrived alone. Of the few families and children that make it to safer countries, most are denied asylum as countries all over the world are putting in place stringent anti-refugee laws. Extremely vulnerable, these children are often exploited for illegal labour, including sexual exploitation. The USA’s refugee policy of separating migrant children from their families has been an urgent humanitarian issue brought up time and again in 2018, yet to see a solution.
EARTHQUAKE IN INDONESIA
On 28 September, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia triggered a tsunami, affecting approx. 1.5 million people in Sulawesi. Of these, 665,000 are children. Children have been displaced, worse, many of them have lost their families. More than 2700 schools have been affected, directly impacting the education of 2,70,000 children in the region. This is also an area where acute stunting and wasting is common amongst children. With climate change making increasingly making its impact felt, it is time to engage with issues of human rights and concerns vis a vis climate change, and to realize that adopting sustainable lifestyles is ultimately in the interest of leaving a safer earth for our children.
CONFLICT AND DROUGHT IN SOMALIA
As Somalia enters its tenth year of civil war, 3.4 million children continue to be innocent victims of the violence and conflict. A drought that has persisted since February 2017, has made this humanitarian emergency even worse, creating an acute food and drinking water shortage, triggering severe malnutrition and mortality amongst children.
HURRICANE IN HAITI
One year after hurricane Matthew caused catastrophic damage in Haiti, the situation continues to be dire. With 779,000 children still in need, there is a long way to go to ensure adequate human rights for Haiti’s children. The country is affected by cholera outbreaks, food insecurity, malnutrition, migration and natural disasters. According to UNICEF, more than “4.8 million people lack access to an improved water source, 1.3 million people are food insecure, and more than 75,000 children under 5 are affected by acute malnutrition, including some 25,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.”
Meanwhile, at the UN convention for Climate Change, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old Swedish climate change activist offers us some hope that if all of us do our bit, we might be able to leave behind a better world for our children. “For 25 years countless people have come to the UN climate conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future. I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.”
Corporal punishment has for the longest time been one of the most favored methods for disciplining children. As the famous and much quoted biblical proverb goes, “spare the rod and spoil the child”, many parents, teachers and care givers have commonly used this to teach many a childhood lessons.
In a more rights driven world today, the belief that inflicting physical harm and causing pain is an efficient form of retribution is being questioned world over. Recently Mongolia prohibited all forms of violence against children in legislation, including corporal punishment at home. However, with only 60 countries having adopted legislation that fully prohibits the use of corporal punishment against children at home, there still remain over 600 million children under the age of 5 without full legal protection.
While India legally protects its children against all forms of corporal punishment, the law is still a long way from being a ground reality. “According to a study by Plan International, an NGO, more than 65% of children in Indian schools said they had received corporal punishment. The report, which was released in 2010, found that the majority of these children attended government schools. Out of the 13 countries which were surveyed by the organisation, India was ranked third in terms of the estimated economic cost of corporal punishment. The study also found that caste and gender discrimination were high in schools.”, says an article on corporal punishment published in The Wire.
Many of the child protection studies conducted by Leher across Madhubani, Leh, J&K and Mumbai have also found that corporal punishment is still widely prevalent and is an acceptable and essential part of raising children and disciplining them.
JUST HOW COMMON IS CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN INDIA?
This UNICEF study tells us, “Two out of three school going children in India are physically abused says the national report on child abuse by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007. The crime is rampant in every single district of the country.
Boys are marginally more likely to face physical abuse (73 per cent) than girls (65 percent). Corporal punishment in both government as well as private schools is deeply ingrained as a tool to discipline children and as a normal action. But most children do not report or confide about the matter to anyone and suffer silently.”
WHAT DO EXPERTS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT CORPORAL PUNISHMENT? WE QUOTE AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY CNN.
“…legislation is not sufficient when it’s not accompanied by changes in individual attitudes and social norms, and that can even become dangerous, because it can push certain things into a secret sphere.”
“Many experts say that spanking is linked with an increased risk of negative outcomes for children — such as aggression, adult mental health problems, and even dating violence — while a few others warn against jumping to such conclusions.”
And, “…corporal punishment sends confusing messages to children about notions of love, control, pain and autonomy. It legitimises inflicting pain on someone you love to control or discipline them, on the grounds of it being necessary for their own well-being… Relationships thus get based on control, not on building autonomy through positive engagement and self-regulation.”
WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE? CREATING SAFE SPACES FOR CHILDREN, FREE OF VIOLENCE, THROUGH NOT ONLY CHANGE IN LAWS, BUT ALSO MINDSETS AND ATTITUDES, TOWARDS BUILDING A CULTURE OF SAFE CHILDHOODS.
“We have to find the right balance, I think. Children need love and positive parenting … but sometimes they also need effective negative consequences, especially when young children are defiant.”
“Before even thinking about discipline, parents need to think about creating a warm, emotionally supportive and loving connection with your children.”
“Legislation alone is not enough to eliminate corporal punishment. It needs to be supported by building a public discourse. Particularly in context of schools, it requires investing in teachers by training them in alternative classroom management strategies and constructive solutions to challenging classroom situations. Schools must be motivated to encourage self-regulation by using student bodies to inculcate adherence to rules and manners.”