Monthly Archives: December 2018

18 Reasons Why 2018 Wasn’t the Year for India’s Children

As we step into 2019, maybe it’s time to take a look back and see why 2018 wasn’t the year for India’s children. We need to review some of the major child protection violations that made headlines (and some that didn’t), reflect on why children fell through the safety net and renew our determination to do all it takes to protect them. 


As the Air Quality Index in the national capital continues to plummet well above the “very poor” category, the ones who suffer the worst consequences are children. A WHO report cites that “As high as 98 per cent children under five years of age in low- and middle-income countries like India are exposed to toxic air.” According to the study, over 1 lakh children died of air pollution in India in 2016. Childhood cancer, asthma, poor lung function, pneumonia and other kinds of respiratory diseases are some of the ailments children suffer from due to reduced or toxic air quality. If there was ever a time to take climate change seriously, it is now. Our children are gasping for air.


One of the deadliest accidents of 2018 has been of a speeding school bus falling into a gorge in Himachal Pradesh, killing at least 23 children. Poor infrastructure, lax safety measures and lack of road safety measures kills almost 43 children below 18 years every day on our roads.  Yet, the Maharashtra government is the only state in India to have adopted a school bus safety policy. While Supreme Court guidelines have been made mandatory for school buses, implementation and action against the lack of enforcement is still riddled by the blame game. How many children must we lose before we hit the brakes on unsafe bus rides for children?


30 years ago, novelist R.K. Narayan raised the issue of heavy, burdensome school bags children carry, in the Rajya Sabha. Today, his debate is still relevant. Seeking to abolish school bags, he said, “More children on account of this daily burden develop a stoop and hang their arms forward like a chimpanzee while walking…. It is a cruel harsh life imposed on her and I present her case before this House and the Honourable members to think over and devise a remedy by changing the whole educational system and outlook so that childhood has a chance to bloom.” While the HRD ministry passed an order disallowing schools from asking children to get extra books, materials, and prescribing maximum limits for the weight of the school bag based on the age of the children, recent incidents in Delhi-NCR prove otherwise. In the age of virtual classrooms, must back breaking school bags be a necessary burden for children?


Recently, a teenager convicted of raping a six-year-old was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment by a Gurgaon court. The 2016 amendment to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015, allows for teenagers between the age of 16 and 18 to be tried as adults in the case of heinous crimes. Media reports hint at crimes by children being on the rise. But little is done to understand why the child took to crime and what measures need to be taken to prevent it. If the state and society has not intervened to protect children from violence in their early years, how will they grow up to know better? Is sending children to adult prison, without a fair chance at reformation, really the answer to curb crime?


It took a case like the Muzzafarpur shelter home case, revealing that at least 1575 children have been victims of child sexual abuse in shelter homes across India, illustrated by a survey done in 9589 child care institutions in the country. Earlier this year, it was found by an audit team from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences that 34 girls in a Muzzafarpur shelter home had been continuously sexually abused. It was also found that a girl had been beaten to death and buried in the said shelter home. A dilapidated house, with no windows and barely any ventilation was the site of unthinkable and gory violence against the inhabitants it promised to protect– children. While these crimes have been possible with the direct complicity of the very stakeholders responsible for child protection, it has opened up a can of worms. When protectors turn perpetrators, how will children remain safe?


The 2018 Union Budget came as a disappointment for India’s 472 million children with the total allocation declining from 3.32 in the last financial year to 3.23 in the current financial year. Some of the major sectors in child welfare which have been hit include education, with a decrease from 3.28 percent in 2014-15 to 2.48 percent in 2017-18; the child health and nutrition budget which has decreased from 1.26 percent in 2014-15 to 1.15 percent in 2017-18 and the child protection budget which has remained almost stagnant between 2014-15 (0.04%) and 2017-18 (0.06%). As a country, can we not foresee the serious repercussions of poor investments in protecting our children?


The Global Hunger Index findings of 2018 rank India at 103 out of 119 countries in the index, with the hunger levels being categorized as “serious”. The four main indicators that measure this index are undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. It has been found that the only other country with a higher prevalence of child wasting in comparison to India, is South Sudan which is in the midst of a bloody civil war. Is it not a paradox that hunger and malnutrition in India continues in large proportion despite robust economic growth?


The State government in Delhi has hastened its work towards the completion of its project for installing CCTV cameras across government schools in Delhi and providing with real time access to view their children in the classrooms. The move to prioritize this project comes after recent, and repetitive incidents of crime – committed by children, and against children within school premises.  While the Chief Minister of Delhi assures that “This will make the whole system transparent and accountable. It will ensure the safety of kids,”, one cannot help but ask… Why are CCTV cameras being projected as a panacea for all the challenges related to school safety? What about the reality TV like scenario CCTVs will create in classrooms that will kill a child’s pranks and play, only to steal his carefree interaction with his peers and teachers? Will classrooms built on mistrust ensure better safety and education of children?


In 2018, the world has witnessed some of the worst natural disasters triggered as an impact of climate change, and India has been no exception. Devastating floods in West Bengal, Assam and Kerala have ravaged the lives of thousands of people in these states. Thousands of children lost their families, belongings, homes and schools putting their lives to a standstill, struggling to fulfill their most basic rights.Climate change has too often been discussed and debated in abstract terms, negating the childhood costs and placing little attention on its intergenerational impact. How many more warnings do we need before we act for the sake of our children?


The recent Global Education Monitoring Report 2019, launched by UNESCO states that “about 80% of seasonal migrant children in seven Indian cities lack access to education near worksites, and 40 per cent of children from these households are likely to end up in work rather than school, facing exploitation and abuse.” The report brings out the sheer enormity of the lack of access to education for a significant proportion of India’s child population – it’s migrant children. “The report titled ‘Building bridges not walls’ said 10.7 million children aged 6 to 14 in 2013 lived in rural households with a family member who was a seasonal worker and about 28 per cent of youth — aged 15 to 19 — in these households were illiterate.” If the premise of the RTE was “Education for All”, why are migrant children still being left out?


2018 began with the news headlines being dominated by the gruesome gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl child in Kathua, Kashmir. In an attempt to appease and pacify an angry nation, the government implemented the death penalty law for child rapists, with the rationale that this form of retribution will act as a deterrent. As argued by several organizations and individuals, this law is more counter-productive than an actual deterrent. “It has been found that more than 90% of the perpetrators of child sexual assault and rape are known to their victims (NCRB 2016). Studies on the implementation of the POCSO Act also show that conviction rates are much lower in such cases. Child survivors often turn hostile due to family pressure, coercion, and family stigma. Introduction of the death penalty will invariably have the effect of silencing and further traumatizing child survivors who will be burdened with the guilt of sending someone they are related to or know well, to the gallows.Is death penalty for perpetrators in case of rape of girls below the age of 12 years, a deterrent or distraction from actually dealing with the root cause of violence against children?


Girls of a residential school in Supaul, Bihar were playing inside the campus when a bunch of youth and Middle school students starting passing lewd comments and sexually harassed them. The girls resisted their advances, beat them and chased them away with sticks and stones, only to be met by an angry mob of villagers and parents (supporting the boys) who came to thrash the girls. Are we not in a state of emergency when a village comes together to attack girls for objecting to harassment?


Their toil and patience puts food on our tables, and yet the farmers of our country lead difficult, miserable lives. The 2015 NCRB report recorded 8007 farmer suicides across India. The youngest and the silent sufferers of these tragic deaths are their children. “Every time I open the door, I see my father’s body,” says 14-year-old Nikita Surwase, pointing at the iron shaft on the ceiling.” In her article, The Silent Sufferers: on Maharashtra Farmer Suicides”, Jyoti Shelhar collects gut wrenching stories of children left behind as a result of the suicide of a parent, and the urgent need for support and counselling these minors need in order to recover from the trauma and carry on with life with a semblance of hope. With no medium to express their feelings after the tragic death of their parent, aren’t these children going to carry this burden all their lives?


The highly debated Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018, popularly known as the Anti-Trafficking Bill, was passed in parliament earlier this year. It has been argued that the Bill does not take into consideration necessary tenets of child protection, amongst other things. The #every8minutes campaign highlights how rampant child trafficking is in India, with a girl child going missing every 8 minutes. And yet, the question remains, if we are addressing child trafficking in all its entirety. While introducing a bill suggests that the government takes the issue of trafficking seriously, will this bill in its current form push back justice for trafficked children?


The new draft of the J&K Juvenile Justice Bill, proposes questionable changes including lowering age for criminal liability of juveniles from 18 to 16 years, in case of heinous crimes. The draft does not define the term “heinous offences” coherently, making minor ‘stone pelters’ (amongst other) vulnerable to arrests and comparatively stringent punishment. Children of Kashmir have been a direct casualty of the ongoing conflict. Growing up amidst perpetual violence – blasts, encounters, hartals, curfews and shutdowns has also meant no school, no play and being locked up at home, in constant fear, with no sense of security and deep rooted mental health issues. If children witness violence every day, how long before they act violently? Isn’t it therefore critical that a bill built on the premise to protect vulnerable children, be implemented before it is amended to do quite the opposite?


In a recent story of how the politics of communalization are not exempt to even children, two boys aged 11 and 12 were implicated in a cow slaughter complaint and spent four hours in a police station, in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh. Veteran actor Naseerudin Shah’s recent remarks over “India’s culture of impunity” gave voice to the frightening consequences of the increasing cases of religious conflicts and its devastating impact on children who face persecution by dint of their religion. How many more of God’s children shall be punished in the name of religion?


It has taken generations for the frustration, anger and grief against sexual and gender violence to translate into the #MeToo movement. The movement can be deemed to be only partially successful unless we link it to how the lack of any sex education, a repressed childhood and the unwillingness for an open dialogue about what sexual consent really entails, and how it impacts a child’s understanding of abuse, and sexual abuse. As Bikram Vohra rightly states in his article, “To a large extent, we have arrived at this state of affairs because of a deep and abiding repression in matters of sexual understanding and an ostrich-like resistance to arm young girls with knowledge — whether as parents, teachers or elder brothers.” As a society, how do we prevent the need for a #metoo movement for the next generation?


It was a moment of pride and joy for not just the LGBTQI community in India, but also for citizens envisioning a safe, secure and inclusive Indian society. While the battle has been won in repealing the draconian section 377 which criminalized homosexuality, there is still a long way to go before we can truly call our society an inclusive one. With the verdict of Section 377 also comes the responsibility to move towards an open environment in classrooms and at home that encourages questions, a change in curriculum to include sex education, explaining gender beyond boys and girls, and interaction with the LGBTQI community, to help not just LGBTQI children, but all children to grow up in an inclusive and safe environment which respects them for who they are. Isn’t it time for schools, parents, and society to take measures for a safer and more inclusive environment for LGBTQI children?




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.

Gandhi Jayanti

“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

The Rise Of Youth Activists III

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. 

Read more from our series – Part I & II 


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.


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.”


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.


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. 


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.”


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. 

#HumanRightsDay- Climate Change, War And It’s Impact On The Rights of Children

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.


Photo – Indian Express

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. 


Photo – Muhammed Muheisen/ Everyday Refugees

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. 


Photo – BBC

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. 


Photo – The Ground Truth Project

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. 


Photo – Kentucky Today

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: How Not To Teach A Child A Lesson

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.


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.”


“…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.”


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.”