In Rohith Vemula’s suicide lies the sordid reality of dalit children across india. In his first and final letter, lies the dejection and exclusion felt by children who are often treated as sub-human by their ‘upper-caste’ teachers, peers and by the society at large. Today 80 % of out-of –school children are from dalit and Adivasi communites. Rohith was one of the few who made it to higher education. Yet, he was killed by deep-rooted hateful discrimination that dalit children continue to face. Here is an appeal written by Valay Singh based on a conversation with a dalit student. Dear PM Narendra Modi, I remember the first day of school very well. I was nervous as everyone else but excited at the same time. My parents like parents of all children like me believe education is our only way to live a life of dignity. But my school is not what I expected it to be. Now I am no longer in school as I had to drop out but by then I had learnt to read and write well. I learnt despite being treated like an untouchable by my teachers and other students. We were given food in different plates, made to sit at a distance and scolded and beaten more than children from ‘upper-caste’ families. Now, I know that it isn’t just me who went through this torture. Last year, a dalit child in a jodhpur government school was beaten badly by his teacher for touching a plate meant for ‘’non-dalits’. In south indian state of Tamil Nadu, dalit children are made to wear wrist bands in green and red and other colours while students from ‘upper-castes’ wear wrist bands of other colours. Sir, your government is claiming that it is building toilets for girl children in all schools of India. But, do you not know that it is dalit children like me who are made to clean toilets and wipe the floors in schools? And last year in October, two Dalit children were burnt to death by Rajputs in a village in Haryana. Sir, such incidents are too many and too frequent for me to list here, therefore I have shared only a few recent ones that made it to the media spotlight. You are a very tech-savvy PM and we are proud of it, India’s leader should be as good at facebook and google as anybody else after all. But do you know, how many results does google throw up when we look for “upper-caste student discriminated against”? Zero! They have it so easy in our society. Sir, the murder or you may call it suicide, of Rohit bhaiya from Hyderabad is the worst thing to happen this year, and the year has just begun. What will you do make sure those who forced him to make this supreme sacrifice are punished? The Minister who forced the VC to take action is himself from a ‘Backward class’, if I am right he was even a child labourer! How could he be so merciless against us Dalits? Don’t you know that most of us dalit children end up working in the homes of rich city people? It’s not the children from ‘upper-castes’. And, one Rohit bhaiya made it to a University but the society and the system didn’t let him finish his studies also and even killed him. I think to myself how brave he must have been to have made it to a university despite being a dalit like me. I want to end by saying, we are Dalits but we are no longer weak, at least I want to fight back and help other dalit children study as much as they want. I hope as OUR Prime Minister who said, sabka saath sabka vikaas, you will not let us DOWN, the children of Baba Sahab. Thank you
What will the odd-even scheme in Delhi mean for children?
Delhi’s rising air pollution poses health risks, especially for its children. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal introduced the odd-even scheme as an experimental initiative towards bringing down Delhi’s pollution levels. While the scheme did not have a very significant effect on the pollution levels, it did meet with some success in-terms of creating awareness and deeper engagements on the issue of pollution and its impact. A lot remains to be done to make the drive to bring down pollution more sustainable and long term. Serious measures disincentivise people from owning and driving private cars, exponentially increasing quality public transport and last mile connectivity for commuters, disposal of dust on the streets are some to name a few. We hope that this initiative snow balls into something serious, bigger, and sustainable.
Children, Chennai and Unplanned Urbanization
The city of Chennai suffered its most devastating rains in 100 years, affecting its children gravely. While the effects of climate change are apparent across the world and India, the Chennai floods were a result of extreme weather conditions couple with unplanned urbanization that sank the city and washed away the basic rights of many people, especially children. The irony is that in the race for development, even the most basic rights to food, shelter, clothing and school become difficult, making children more vulnerable.
Politics, Paisa Or Priorities Where Do Children Fit?
India is one of the first countries in the world to have a separate budget for children, yet, in the Union budget presented by Finance minister, Arun Jaitley, children received a little over 3% of the total budget in 2015-16 compared to 4.52% in the 2014-15 budget, with a 29% cut in the budget for programme for children. The cuts were seen in schemes launched to address a range of issues including malnutrition, right to education, health, child protection and to support disadvantaged groups – the scheduled tribes and castes. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme was hit by a 54.19% cut. The Shiksha Abhiyan and the Mid-Day Meal scheme saw cuts too, as indicated by HAQ centre for child rights. While the world community declares its commitment towards better investment in the rights of children at the UN Human Rights Council, the consistent fall in the share of children in the Budget in India raises concern about the government’s political commitment to its children.
Children legally allowed to work in home based work
The Cabinet cleared amendments to the child labour law allowing children below the age of 14 to work in select ‘non-hazardous’ family enterprises- helping their parents after school, and during vacations in fields, home based work or forest gathering. The Government envisages that this provisio will help impoverished families earn a living and give children an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. India has 10 million children who work. There are no systems or services in place to monitor, rehabilitate or even obtain justice for children who have been exploited at their work places. Such an amendment allows for millions of children to fall into the ambit of work. In the Indian context where definitions of family are ambiguous (everyone is an uncle and nephew), the provisio in the amendment will deny children who are being forced to work, the right to legal recourse. We would be fooling ourselves if we think that children who work under these conditions would be in a position to attend school, and have time left over for study and recreation. The bill now awaits approval from the Lok Sabha.
Selfie with daughter
A small initiative taken by a village in Haryana was noticed by the Prime Minister, and went viral across India – “Selfie with daughter” campaign- an attempt to recognize and celebrate the girl child as part of his Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) initiative. India, a patriarchal society, though joining in the bandwagon of taking a selfie with their daughters to post on social media, is in no hurry to dismantle patriarchal norms and systemic discrimination against girls and women. From skewed sex ratio, female feoticide, education, child marriage, discrimination, abuse and violence, the selfie with daughter campaign didn’t resolve the the problems of girls rights even slightly.
The deworming drive
In an attempt to improve overall child health and address malnutrition, the Government launched the national deworming initiative, focused primarily to reduce the threat of parasitic worm infections and other forms of stomach worms seen in millions of children across India. Parasitic worms in small children interfere with nutrient uptake and can cause severe complications for them resulting in anemia, malnutrition and improper mental and physical development. The Union Minister declared that after making India polio free the target was to make India worm free by deworming all pre-school and school age children between the ages of 1 to 19 years, aiming to cover 48 crore children across the country. Yet, children in drought-hit UP are known to be eating rotis made of grass to fight hunger.
Girls and the Khap Panchayat
The unelected council of elders ordered that Kumari and her 15 year old sister — both members of the low Dalit caste in Uttar Pradesh — be raped and paraded naked with blackened faces, after their brother eloped with a married woman of a higher caste. Village councils in northern India aka khap panchayats, comprised of senior male members of the community’s high castes, although declared illegal by the courts, their edicts are still observed in many parts of rural India, controlling the lives of girls in their villages. Kumari went ahead and moved the Supreme Court seeking justice for herself and her family. A global petition seeking justice to the sisters has collected thousands of signatures for the protection of the girls. Meanwhile, the Khap Panchayat has imposed the ban of jeans and mobile phones for girls.
Child rights activist for Nobel Prize
“The Nobel Peace Prize is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change. I’m here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice. It is not time to pity them. It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action, so it becomes the last time … that we see a child deprived of education.” Said Malala, representing millions of children across the world, denied their basic right to education, and becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize. This award brought children issues to the global discussions and will encourage others to fight for young people’s rights too. India had a big win with activist Kailash Satyarthi being awarded the Nobel prize for his work on child labour in India. We hope that his voice will contribute to the ongoing struggles for children’s rights in India—currently the child labour bill which will bring millions of children into the ambit of work, and the long battle ahead for juvenile justice as a result of the passing of the new juvenile justice law.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad jointly launched the website ‘Khoya-Paya’, a platform for citizens to report children sighted as abandoned or lost. On paper, the website seems like a good idea. Any parent whose child is missing can update information on this portal which will be shared with the cops and authorities in real time. Anyone in the country can also update information on any missing children they are aware of. But how effective is this on the ground? Is this another idea to protect children that shall never be implemented effectively?
On the 31st December, 2015, the President gave assent to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, killing the spirit of ‘juvenile justice’ by introducing a judicial waver that allows children in the age group of 16-18 years apprehended for heinous crimes to be tried in adult courts, given adult sentences, and sent to adult prisons. In enacting this new legislation, the government ignored facts and pandered to public pressure based on a single case. Data on juvenile crimes tells us that since a decade juveniles apprehended for crimes have stayed at a constant 1% of all those arrested for crimes. 0% of the total population of children. Almost 80% of them come from uneducated, economically and social backward families. As the law begins to take effect, it is a serious worry that thousands of children who live on the fringes of society, struggling their whole lives for survival, will have no one to fight for them and will end up in prison. We need society to better understand the issue and support the struggle for juvenile justice. Sending children to prison is not going to make the country a safer place for women. #noprisonforchildren
Even as Delhi is showing serious intent to curb air pollution with the odd-even scheme, the air quality readings are still almost 19 times and eight times above the prescribed limit – children being the highest at risk. According to experts approximately 22 lakh school children in the national capital are growing up with irreversible lung damage. Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Research and Advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment tells us why we need to make children’s health the driver of public opinion and public policy when it comes to air pollution.
1. What kind of pollutants effect children’s health most severely?
The air that children in Delhi breathe is dangerously toxic. According to a World Health Organisation study published in 2014, levels of fine particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, or PM 2.5, exceeded the WHO standard by 15 times. To give a better picture of how tiny these particulates are we should know that one single strand of hair is also around 50 microns. So you can imagine that it is virtually impossible to even see PM 2.5. Particulate matter is spewed into the air due to human activities like vehicular traffic, trash burning, and construction activity. The other kind of most dangerous pollutants are toxic gases like nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide(SO2) which are emitted by industrial units. In many cases the particulate matter combines with these gases and then it becomes a lethal cocktail which is extremely harmful for everybody, particularly children.
2. Why are children the most vulnerable to air pollution?
You see, it is very simple and yet we seem to be blind to it. Children are at a greater risk because their organs are still growing, their lungs are still developing. Additionally, most children live a more active life than adults, they play, they jump around and as a result their intake of air is much more than us. This is why our children are more susceptible to the effects of toxic air. When they breathe this air, the toxic particulate matter enters their bloodstream causing serious lung problems because these particulates embed themselves deep inside children’s developing lungs. When they inhale air loaded with carcinogens they can even get cancer later in life.
3. How severely are Delhi’s children affected by the air pollution?
It is a catastrophe! In an unprecedented study by the Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI), which tracked 11,000 school children in Delhi for three years, it was found that key indicators of respiratory health, lung function to palpitation, vision to blood pressure of children in Delhi, between 4 and 17 years of age, were worse off than their counterparts elsewhere — the figures were twice to four times as bad. It’s not just the CNCI study that has red-flagged this danger. Another study by the World Allergy Organisation Journal in 2013, reported high respiratory disorder symptoms among students living in Chandni Chowk (66%) in North Delhi, Mayapuri (59%) in West Delhi and Sarojini Nagar (46%) in South Delhi. Basically, our children are breathing extremely toxic air and are developing illnesses at a very young age. Our report, Body Burden 2015, also quotes Dr Sanjeev Bagai, Nephron Clinic, as saying, “The number of people with respiratory problem has increased by 10-15 per cent in the last decade. Adolescents who had never wheezed as children are wheezing now. Children born healthy are coming back to us in four to six weeks with wheezing.” And we must remember that the impairments in lung function at the age of 17 years found in a large number of school children of Delhi will not be reversed even when they complete the transition into adulthood.
4. Among children who is most at risk?
All children are at equal risk, but at the same time children from poor families are much more vulnerable to diseases caused by pollution. Firstly, not only do they face outdoor pollution which is of course toxic, but often their families cannot afford clean fuels and use wood-stoves to cook. This indoor pollution is also very harmful. To give you a sense, one hour of burning a wood-stove produces toxins worth 400 cigarettes! Often these children are also malnourished, have low immunity, high susceptibility to disease and live in extremely unhygienic conditions. Infants in such conditions are especially prone to falling ill because of toxins entering their bloodstreams and in some cases it can even kill them. But all children are at risk because their intake of air is much more than adults.
5. What needs to be done to reduce air pollution?
A lot. And the odd-even rule is only one step in that direction. We welcome it and urge the government to make children’s health the driver of public policy when it comes to combating pollution. We live in a world where we know that climate change is causing new weather patterns and the mean sea temperature is rising. We know that India and its cities are also being affected by it. Today, Delhi has gained worldwide notoriety for being the most polluted city in the world after Beijing and it is a serious concern that there are still some people who are living in denial about the harmful effects of air pollution. This problem cannot be tackled by government alone. As a society we need to take hard decisions for the sake of our children’s health and future well-being. We should build pressure on the government to cut the subsidies given to vehicles instead of supporting them, we should move to Euro VI emission standards immediately and we should cooperate when the government implements rules like odd-even. Do you know that by moving to a CNG car from a diesel car we reduce our personal carbon footprint by 40%? It is going to take both public awareness and a conscious effort to reduce pollution from all sources including industry and vehicles. Meanwhile, some steps that parents can take are ensuring that children don’t play on days when the pollution is too much, or on smoggy days due to winter. Children who have an existing breathing issue should be monitored. Parents should also monitor the quality of air in their homes and take steps to improve it. This is a collective challenge and we all need to work together to improve the air we and our children breathe.
A few weeks ago, the world came together in Paris –leaders of governments and businesses, civil society and religious leaders, sports and entertainment icons and children & youth – to adopt the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) that address the issue of climate change and its dramatic effect on our planet. The Fantastic four, Iron man, Captain planet, Superman and the Avengers have saved the world for us more times than we can count. And we’ve all grown up secretly wishing they existed in real life too. Recently, Unicef, Sharad Devarajan of Graphic India, and comic book legend Stan lee came together and created Chakra the Invincible and the Mighty Girl, to make children understand the complex issues of climate change in a simple and entertaining way, help them find solutions to climate change problems they face in their countries and encourage them to take collective action- making them the real heroes of climate change. Chakra the Invincible reiterates that, often it is the imaginary superheroes that do the real life work… of planting powerful thoughts that have a lifelong impact and fostering a new generation of changemakers, innovators and leaders to tackle the most pressing issues of climate change. If you missed the launch of ‘Chakra, the Invincible” at #COP21, don’t miss the climate action here:
The story begins with children from all countries – India, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Philippines, Maldives meeting in Mumbai for the Model United Nations seminar to figure out how to help with United Nations SDGs.
On discovering that their friend has asthama caused by pollution in Indonesia, each one narrates how climate change has affected their countries respectively.
Overwhelmed by the enormity of the climate problems, Raju and Leena call on their friends who they know can make a difference – Enter Chakra the Invincible and the Might Girl. They begin with trying to fix the surface of the problem using typhoon rains from the Philippines to put out a forest fire in Indonesia.
However, they soon realise that climate change is too complex to address action by action, even with superpowers. Instead, each community has to learn how to work together, and do its part.
They begin to come up with solutions for the problems in each of their countries, realising that each of them is really the superhero who can change the world!
“[Climate Change] is about the survival of my generation. Every generation to come will be affected by decisions made today,” said Roske-Martinez, environmental youth activist and youth director of Earth Guardians at the COP21 in Paris, who was amongst the 20 youth activists to have sued the U.S. government last year, due to their failure to adequately address the dangers of climate change and the impacts that would have direct action on their future. Knowing that they will be living here in 50 years, to bear the consequences of actions taken or not taken by today’s leaders, youth initiatives are working locally and globally to fight the threat against climate change. These earnest, eager, well informed and committed youth are aware that they are a generation gravely threatened by climate change, that waiting on change will lead to further crisis and that hope lies in their action. They believe that every person not only inherits the earth , but has a responsibility to care for it as well. While #COP21 and other climate conferences are still discussing climate solutions, here are a few youth initiatives across the world that are already paving the way for a safer planet.
“The planet doesn’t need saving. We do,” said Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, a 15-year-old indigenous change agent, environmental activist, public speaker, eco hip-hop artist, and the Youth Director of Earth Guardians– Xiuhtezcatl is a powerful voice on the front lines of the youth-led climate movement who is mobilizing his army of teens in 25 countries to demand greener policies from the world’s leaders. ‘Earth guardians’ are a group of young climate change activists, artists and musicians from across the globe stepping up as leaders and co-creating the future that they know is possible. Their mission is to grow a resilient movement with youth at the forefront by empowering them as leaders and amplifying their impact. The Earth Guardians joined the International Climate Strike on November 30th – the first day of the United Nations COP21 climate talks in Paris, along with one million students around the world who walked out of their classrooms and lunchrooms to participate in climate action for their generation and all those to come. They focus efforts to keep fossil fuels in the ground, for an immediate and rapid shift to 100% renewable energy and to support and highlight frontline communities who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The lack of representation of Indian youth in the UNFCCC COP international climate negotiations in Bali, 2007 led to the idea of the Indian youth climate network (IYCN). A country as large as India with one of the highest youth populations in the world was missing from the world forum of one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century. The network’s aim was to knowledge-enable Indian youth as well as encourage countrywide bonding for collective action on matters of climate, ecology and environment. It also works to generate awareness about and establish consensus on what role India should play in the global debate of climate change, and how it should address its domestic issues. . IYCN has active members in 18 states of the country and has partner networks/ organisations in other states of India. Founded in 2008 by Deepa Gupta, IYCN is a coalition of young people & youth-oriented organisations to take action on climate change. IYCN considers its biggest achievement to be the personal transformation of each individual who participates in the network’s activities as well as its contribution in bringing the climate debate to the mainstream. Recently, IYCN and & Alliance of Indian Waste pickers announced its joint delegation for COP21, Paris change negotiations.
The International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM) is a large group of connected friends, campaigners and optimistic humans on this earth lobbying for a fairer, cleaner and healthier world for all. The IYCM is made up of young individuals or groups working on grassroots projects, international campaigns and direct engagement with decision-makers to combat climate change and the threat it leaves millions of people world-wide. Young people around the world are uniting to demand a Paris Agreement that commits to phase out carbon emissions by 2050. They paint a circle around their right eye to symbolize that they are watching decision-makers and demand a commitment to zero. In the #zeroby2050 campaign, zero means no more carbon emissions. No more burning fossil fuels. 100% renewable energy for all. By 2050.
Australian Youth Climate Coalition
AYCC was formed on the belief that climate change is the single greatest threat facing humanity, and puts young people and future generations at risk. Addressing the climate crisis as the biggest opportunity to create a world that is more sustainable, just and fair, AYCC aims to build a movement that gives young people the tools to make it happen. With the next generations future at stake, it’s their creativity and vision that will inspire those around us to act. Since 2007 AYCC has helped thousands of young Australians take action in their schools, their universities, and their communities, and take part in campaigns that put climate change in the national spotlight. They now boast of more than 120,000 members, 100 local groups, and more than 500 regular volunteers.
After he saw Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, Alec Loorz was freaked out about what was happening, and was infuriated that there were people who were preventing action. He applied to be trained by Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project, but was told that he was too young. So he went ahead and made his own presentation and began to give them in schools throughout California. Alec started iMatter (then Kids vs. Global Warming) in 2007 when he was 13-years-old because he couldn’t find another organization to take him and his goal to end the climate crisis within his lifetime seriously. He founded iMatter with the belief that his generation can be the ones to break through the politics and the denial, and inspire current leaders to govern and live as if our future matters. iMatter is a microphone for youth on climate change. It is a youth-driven organization dedicated to listening to and amplifying the voice of the youngest generation, the generation that will be most impacted by the effects of climate change. Their work includes youth leadership training and empowerment to address the climate crisis at the grassroots level.
Arab Youth Climate Movement
The Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM) is an independent body that works to create a generation-wide movement across the Middle East & North Africa to solve the climate crisis, and to assess and support the establishment of legally binding agreements to deal with climate change issue within international negotiations. Established in the lead up to the UNFCCC COP18 Doha negotiations, AYCM is driven by over 20 national coordinators spread across 15 MENA countries and aims to make its presence felt from the Gulf to the Atlantic. AYCM partners include IndyAct, 350.org, Global Campaign for Climate Action and the Climate Action Network (CAN). AYCM believes that it is only through a huge, diverse and committed social movement that solutions to the climate crisis will be realized. As MENA youth, they strongly believe that young people are a core agent of change in such a challenge. At every level, AYCM is led by young people. AYCM empowers young people in their local communities to create change on a national, regional and international scale.
Kids for Climate Action is a Vancouver-based non-profit youth organization advocating stronger political action on climate change. Founded in 2010 prior to the UN Climate Change Summit in Cancun, Kids for Climate Action has organized rallies, marches, school presentations, canvassing groups, and has been very involved in fighting projects including the Enbridge pipeline and the Fraser-Surrey docks coal port expansion. Although they can’t vote, they deserve a say in the decisions that will shape their future. Their mandate is to unite, educate and engage high school students, and to remind political leaders of their obligation to take action on climate change.
“It is clear that a failure to address climate change is a failure to protect children,”- UNICEF UK director David Bull. Climate summits, conventions and conferences across national and international borders have helped establish that human behaviour has largely contributed to the climate crisis we face today. Climate change we realise is not a distant prospect, it is happening here and now. While the world and India in particular, is struggling with problems of poverty, education, health, sanitation and nutrition, what we choose not to see is the interconnectedness and the multiplier effect that climate change has on all these problems. Climate change is not only restricted to the erratic change in seasons but also contributes to the risk of migration, lack of education, slow development, malaria, diarrhoea, hunger and malnutrition amongst children. ‘At its very core, climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is an issue of rights, with the the rights of children at the centre.’ We’ve seen images of the floods in Chennai, cyclone in Tripura, earthquake in Kutch and the cloud burst in Uttarakhand. We’ve witnessed first hand hotter summers, colder winters, unpredictable monsoons, increased floods, droughts, earthquakes, pollution and an overwhelming change in our environment. What we choose to ignore is the frequency of natural calamities and their increasing effects on the vast majority of people, especially our children.
What’s our call to action?
Children, more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than any other population group, should loom large in climate change policy,research and action. While the challenge is huge, India has started taking its first tentative steps, as is evident from its actions in Delhi, to show it cares for its youngest citizens and that it means business in its promise to prevent further damage. We need to follow it up in other towns, other areas and ensure both short and long-term goals are met. We need to ensure specific needs of our children are at the centre of these plans. Failing this, we’re in for some rough weather! Here’s an attempt to build a picture of what climate changes means for children of today and tomorrow:
Loss of life and family members during severe climatic conditions and natural disasters…
The trauma of having to live through devastating experiences impacting their emotional and mental well-being…
Contribution to economic stability owing to loss of land and livelihood of family members…
Living the life of a refugee or migrant… in camps, make-shift homes or on the streets of new towns and cities…
Always on the move… with no permanent homes..
Inhuman living circumstances… having to fight for their basic rights…
Restricted access to education…
Exposure to pollution, green house emissions, contaminated water amongst others…
Limited access to water and sanitation…
And almost no food security…
Compounding their vulnerability to diseases and deteriorating health conditions…
All of which add up to a crippled childhood for our future generation- a result of irresponsibly managed climate change.