Monthly Archives: May 2019

World Cup Cricket 2019

Was cricket your favourite game as a child too? #WorldCupCricket2019 Tell us who your cricket hero was!

#AgeOfAdolescence

#AgeofAdolescence – In Conversation With Clinical Psychologist Sonali Gupta On The Growing Trend Of Therapy Amongst India’s Adolescents

Growing up an adolescent and being a parent to one has always been challenging. But with the changing world we live in, one cannot deny the multifold challenges that present themselves in a tech-driven world – cyberbullying, self-image, anxiety, peer pressure, amongst others. Parallelly, family structures are altering, communication gaps are increasing and parenting styles are evolving. In this constant state of flux, life becomes difficult to handle for most of us, especially young adults, adolescents and their parents. 

Over the years, the stigma and taboo attached to mental illnesses is reducing, discourse is increasing, pushing parents to seek help for their adolescents through therapy and counselling. 

Drawing on real-life stories from her clinical work with children and parents across the country, Sonali Gupta, Clinical psychologist and columnist for Mumbai Mirror, offers insights on the growth of therapy amongst India’s youth and adolescents in addressing looming mental health challenges they face. 

Q1. Tell us about your work as a cynical psychologist. Why do you believe there is a growing need for therapy in the lives of young adults/ adolescents today? 

A: I have been working for about 14 years now, of which I worked with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) for about 9 years as a student counsellor. I have also worked with young adults, teenagers and with an NGO that worked with children of commercial sex workers. Today, I have moved to the private practice where I work with young adults, adolescents and children.

Today, there is a growing need for therapy amongst young people, far higher than it used to be, for a couple of reasons. One of the primary reasons is exposure, that is in context to technology and the access to information. Things happen at a much faster pace and people are more aware and connected. To add to this, there is also an interplay of issues of anxiety, peer pressure, bullying, self-image that have led to the rise of the need for therapy. While this need has always been there, in the last four to five years, there has been more conversation around it. When I started work, there wasn’t as much awareness on the need for therapy amongst different age groups, but in the Indian context today there are a greater number of people reaching out. 

Another reason for this growing need for therapy has been a culture shift. We all know that people have been suffering for generations, it’s part of being a human being. But with a change in our environments, be it the economy, role and influence of media, smart phones and social media, evolving parenting patterns amongst other things, problems are rising and so is the need to access therapy. 

To give you an example, the media has been talking about mental health issues which has led to increased awareness amongst the public. Movies such as Dear Zindagi may not portray therapy in the best way, but it still led people to think about therapy. The last 5-6 years have seen a surge in awareness levels on mental health issues and the need for intervention around it, due to its portrayal in mainstream media too. 

Adding to this is the change in family structures – especially in metros and cities. More people are living alone, family sizes are smaller, and issues like loneliness are far higher. Hence, there is a greater need for people to reach out to others for help. The narrative of a family is also changing quite dramatically. Many people are still wondering if they should get married and others are raising children as single parents. In the last 15-20 years, the number of working women has risen too. 

Therefore, one cannot deny the role of this culture shift and its effect on how children are raised, how they understand and comprehend these changes, how they adapt to the barrage of influences in the ever-changing environment…and that is why the coming together of all these factors has led to a growing need for therapy. 

Q2. How do you believe this trend was different maybe 10 years ago as compared to today? 

A: Trends today are quite distinct from how they used to be. Like I mentioned, children and adolescents had problems ever since we knew of their existence. But the changing ecosystem has also significantly affected how we raise our children today and how parents are able to cope with external influences on their children. 

Today, while the age gap between a parent and child might seem larger, parents are more aware of what their children are going through (not necessarily equipped to deal with it). In the Indian context today, the therapist now has greater acceptance. Parents do not attach as much of a stigma to taking their child to a therapist as they would’ve a few years ago. 

Honestly, for the longest time, adolescent issues were never addressed and parents didn’t know what to do. Today, there are newer kind of pressures while growing up, changing how adolescents behave, that parents are not equipped to handle. 

Teenagers are very conscious of their appearance, they have a heightened sense of awareness especially with the advent of social media, the selfie culture, countless apps, daily consumption of information make this generation very aware, thus, pushing parents to become more aware too. 

Q3. In your experience, what are the issues that come up most frequently amongst adolescents in India? 

A: The topmost is anxiety, followed by body weight issues which are constant across genders. Also, the inability to regulate moods where teenagers may not have control over what and how they are feeling. Peer pressure is yet another issue that comes up frequently when it comes to adolescents – from where to go on a holiday, how they look on social media, wanting acceptance in a group in school to the dilemma of whether to date or not date someone. 

Another issue specific to adolescents is the huge communication gap with their parents and family – from lack of understanding each other, academic pressure, space and privacy, dating rules. At times, parents demand too much from their children, put them into tons of classes and so there is a constant pressure to always perform. Even with the access to information and awareness, the number of children or parents that reach out is far less than what it should be. If there are supportive families, they reach out on their own. However, the primary concern of the parent is typically different from the underlying issue. Some of the more complex issues sometimes come out through a different context altogether. For instance, I was approached by a parent for a child facing peer pressure and being unable to perform at school. Through the therapy session it was gathered that the child was not fitting in and being accepted, and therefore addressing issues of self-image became imperative. Therefore, the underlying issue is often overlooked by parents at times.

As far as gender-specific issues between boys and girls are concerned, the number of girls who come to therapy are much higher than boys so it is hard to pin down the gender-specific issues or reasons for therapy. 

To understand adolescents from a bird’s eye view, the underlying issue is of low self-esteem, because many of them are unsure of who they are, who they want to be, pushing them to act in ways either to fit in, stand out or figure out themselves better through trial and error, lending itself to the chaos and confusions that go with being an adolescent.  

Q4. How do you believe therapy can act as a preventive tool for mental health amongst adolescents? Provide us with examples from your work. 

A: Preventive work is something I strongly believe in and have seen is healthier for the long-run, as it addresses issues at an early stage, that have the ability to go out of control. I have worked with clients (adolescents) before they go abroad to study, understanding how they can take care of themselves, deal with apprehensions of moving to another country and make a smooth transition. 

I often get adolescents who want to know how they can manage their temper better or cope with anxieties. There are adolescents who have come to me to understand how to sustain friendships or how to maintain healthy relationships too. 

For example, there was a 13-year-old girl who came to me as she was confused about what friendship means. Her primary issue was of knowing what sustains friendship and whether friendships last or not? All of this was making her anxious. There were also some adolescents who came to me because their parents felt they were over-using their phones and mobile apps. Another time, an adolescent came to me as she was affected when her best friend was harming himself. Self-harm and cutting are far more complicated and layered issues, therefore one can’t pin it down to a single underlying cause for the same. 

Therapy always works better when people come to us on their own, willingly. It could be a simple issue or sometimes a complicated issue of bullying that has led to further bullying. Sometimes, children who have been bullied become bullies. The attempt is to change the narrative in a way to prevent these things from happening, not only intervene when the worst crisis has hit them. It is important to equip the child with skills so that he is better aware of how to cope. Any preventive work in therapy helps to build resilience, and skills to assert themselves better (in the case of bullying) and learn to say no. 

For instance, a parent approached us because the child was being pushed into a corner by a friend. The friend kept asking the child for her laptop to copy her project. The adolescent was unable to say no in this situation. A lot of work during the therapy sessions was focused on how to set healthy boundaries and maintain them. By being able to do this in one situation, it becomes easier for the child to address this across circumstances in life as he or she grows older, before it snowballs into a massive problem. 

Another 15-year-old boy struggled to say no to his best friend who would eat his tiffin every day. So much so that the 15-year-old would remain hungry every day, till one day that he was giddy out of hunger. The other child who ate his tiffin did not mean ill. Here, the parents handled the situation delicately and went to the school counsellor and he suggested therapy for the child outside the school. They said that they cannot blame the other child and it was important that their child learn how to set his own boundaries, also because he was his best friend. As parents, they did not want to pass a judgement on the other child. I worked with the child for six months until he developed skills to become assertive. 

What is evident through years of practice is an attitude shift in parents and the community as a whole, which is a great start! Therefore, the merit of addressing a problem in its early stages, and using preventive tools for therapy for young people cannot be emphasised enough. 

Q5. How have attitudes of parents changed today towards mental health challenges faced by their children? What do you believe has brought about the shift? Also, how does one maintain confidentiality with details shared by adolescents? 

A: Today, parents hear stories of issues faced by other adolescent children – from academic pressure, suicides, panic attacks, bullying etc. It is by awareness created by the media, and fear that this could happen to their children too, that parents have come to accept and appreciate the role of therapists in their lives and the lives of their children. 

In the last few years, there has been a rise of children coming into therapy, before and after the exam results. At this time, they deal with anxiety issues. Parents have realised that in today’s time mental health is fragile, which makes them even more worried, pushing them to start the process of therapy earlier. Nowadays, schools too, organise talks and workshops where parents learn how to take care of their child’s mental health. Having said that, it is still the upper and middle class that bring their children for therapy, of which the number of children from the middle class who come for therapy is far lesser. Very few children from lower middle class have access to therapy. 

In all of our cases, we always maintain confidentiality. In the first session, itself, we draw the boundaries and explain to the child and the parent what we will and will not share. In extreme cases, when the adolescent has spoken of suicidal thoughts for example, we inform the parents, so that they are vigilant at home. There exists a fine line between what we should and should not share, and it becomes that much more difficult when parents are not respectful of these boundaries. 

Q6. With the advent of social media, how do you believe the dynamic of relationships has changed in the lives of young adults/ adolescents? 

A: I think with the advent of smartphones, there has been a greater pressure in the context of how adolescents perceive and portray themselves in the context of social media. It has also led to issues like cyberbullying. To add to this, there is an added anxiety and a constant pressure to look perfect all the time, say the right things, appear in a particular way, get more like and followers, which constantly consumes the minds of young people. 

As the author of the book The Big Disconnect mentions that for children today, their biggest competitor is the screen when it comes to parent’s attention. I personally feel it’s not just social media but also technology which is responsible for how parents and children react and respond to each other.

Q7. While an increase in the discourse around mental health is a positive welcome, how do you believe the labels associated with mental health that children/ adolescents carry to their adulthood affect them?

A: If children are raised in environments where sadness or feeling low is associated as a weakness, it makes it harder for them to seek help. Also, children who grow up in families where there was lack of emotional love and attention, might have normalized those narratives. If our anxiety and mood issues are seen as reflection of our inability and a problem, it would make it harder or almost impossible for children to seek help. To begin with, we as a society and parents need to work towards acknowledging and accepting that it’s okay to struggle with mental health issues.

Q8. In your experience, how important are childhood experiences in shaping one’s adult life? Please share an example. 

A: Childhood trauma has a deep and lasting impact in shaping one’s adult life. It can impact a child’s sense of trust towards others and how they perceive the world. Today, many clients who come to me as adults talk of anxiety saying that they have always struggled with it, but it was never addressed. When they reached out to their family members, they were told that “Ghabrahat hai, chali jayegi (This is fear, this will go away). As a result, sometimes people have reached out when they are having massive breakdowns as the anxiety has lingered for years and spiraled in to massive debilitating illness.

The childhood trauma whether it’s physical, sexual abuse or emotional neglect, living in households where there is violence, or a parent struggling with drug problem has a deep far reaching impact on a child’s life.

Q9. In the India context, there are not many adolescents who have access to therapy or counselling. Often, we hear/ read of children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, receiving no social protection from the Government, growing up in unstable families, being subject to severe abuse, violations and violence right through their childhoods, who often turn rebellious or grow into juveniles in conflict with the law. What are your thoughts, comments, insights on the state of juvenile justice in India, and what role do you believe therapy and counselling can play if made accessible to all children?  

 A: A lot of work I do with NGOs is with the underlying objective of reaching out to underprivileged children in rural areas and urban slums at a family, school, community level or within formal structures such as Aanganwadi, village or the Panchayat level. Here, we emphasise on making them understand what skills parenting may entail. Or, when it comes to directly work with adolescents, we engage with them in group therapy sessions, work on concerns that may be challenging for them such as low self-esteem, difficulty regulating moods, impulses via workshops or using creative outlets such as art or drama.

For troubled children, in particular, either with no family support or limited access to basic services, one needs to work with them on developing their core skills, resilience, helping them find social support through community initiatives and helping them manage their mood amongst other things. 

At the grassroot level, we need more mental health professionals and greater funds to execute some of the initiatives and being able to sustain these programs in the long run. 

While therapy and support services are far from being made available to all children, a lot more work is happening today that it was a few years ago. The ambition is to reach those children and people who need it the most. 

Q10. At a policy/ advocacy level where do you think India lags behind? What do you see as gaps in the mental healthcare space (specifically for young adults) and which direction do you believe the country should be headed?

A: In 2016, for the first time, the Mental Health Bill was discussed in great detail and thus there was a lot of discussion both at a policy and advocacy level. Even at the state level, we saw work happening. However, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to bring the larger issues of mental health at the forefront. 

There are about 5-8 helplines initiated by mental health advocates, government, NGOs and forums that can be accessed by anyone. 

Of course, there is a lot more work to be done so that mental health has greater accessibility and people can get timely help, without being stigmatized. But India is definitely making headway. 

Sonali has written features for The Swaddle about parenting and relationship issues. She also used to write a weekly advice column for DNA focusing on parenting and teenager concerns. She uses, television, podcasts, her writing and social media to promote mental health narratives.

To know more about Sonali Gupta’s work, you can read her weekly column for Mumbai Mirror titled ‘Terms of Engagement’ which focusses on love, intimacy and relationships, follow her on youtube channel – Mental Health with Sonali or follow her Instagram, twitter, youtube and her website.

#AgeOfAdolescence – What It Means To Be An Adolescent Girl In India

Adolescents today, face a unique set of challenges. In a world riddled with poverty, violence, inequity, crises and conflicts, climate change, rapid urbanization and evolving technology, the 1.2 billion adolescents at the juncture between childhood and adulthood, stand the chance of transforming their societies or losing out on the potential of their most critical years, defining how societies will emerge down the road. 

While the age of adolescence is also hailed as the age of opportunity, with many young girls across the world taking on the baton to fight for their rights, dignity and equality, many others still await collective responsibility towards ensuring their rightful place in society.

Here’s what life looks like for many of the 120 million adolescent girls in India, comprising 10% of India’s population. 

When a girl hits puberty, begins the potential of a vicious cycle of vulnerability, deprivation and injustice..

In many scenarios, she might drop out of school due to an unsafe journey to school, no separate toilets for girls and boys, or poor economic conditions…

She might be discriminated towards at home, made to undertake household chores and look after her younger siblings, while her brother goes to school or work…

Coerced to marry at a young age, against her will, to follow age old traditions of society

Without sex education and knowledge of reproductive health, leading to early pregnancy, complications from child bearing and in some cases unsafe abortions, taking a toll on her health..

Or vulnerable to abuse and violence, getting trafficked across borders under the false promise of a better life, to take on domestic jobs and support a living…

Leaving her a deprived and dependent young woman, unable to reach her potential

Often meaning an abrupt end to her childhood, with lost opportunities and little choices for the future 

But, if caring families, communities and governments come together and invest in their girls, they will go to school, marry later, delay child bearing, earn higher incomes, lifting their families out of poverty, becoming a force for change for generations to come…

#AgeOfAdolescence – Supplementing or Substituting? Adolescent Views On Participating In The Digital World

The Pew Research Centre surveyed over 1000 American teens (aged 13-17) in two survey rounds in 2014 and 2015 to explore how they engage online, and what commands their time and interest in the online world. The survey found that boys tend to use Facebook, girls tend to use Instagram; that those from lower income backgrounds tend to use Facebook while those from wealthier families lean towards Instagram and Snapchat. An average teen in America reportedly sends and receives 30 text messages each day. Interestingly, African American and Hispanic teens reported a higher instance of being online constantly, as opposed to white teens.

Other research has indicated that the use of phones for activities other than communication is relatively more common among those in their teen years. Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai has declared that teens are susceptible to cervical spine damage due to long and sustained usage of phones and other wireless devices – they call this ‘text neck’. It is pointed out that among those aged 15-29, the number owning cell phones does not vary significantly with age. 

As teenagers have retreated (or advanced?) into the digital world, there’s been a flurry of adult concern over safety, health and behavioural issues. Of course the same concerns exist for adults as well, but given the additional vulnerability of the adolescent years, parents, caregivers, and the well-being community has been invested in unearthing, understanding and addressing the risks for them. 

In an attempt to focus more on their perspective on these and other issues, I did interviews with five adolescents in Mumbai, all belonging to the English-speaking upper middle class. Three of the respondents were female and two male. Two were over 15 years old, and the others aged 13-15 years.

Mrittika and her brother had a phone when they were in Grades 3 and 4 – their parents were both working full time and the children were given the phone (dabba phone) so they could be in touch as they managed their everyday routine. In ‘those days’ there was no WiFi, so the use of the phone was restricted to SMS-ing friends and listening to FM/ pre-loaded music. The Facebook account was in place by Grade 6, around the same time as she got her smart phone (though the two instances aren’t causally related). 

She acknowledges several risks among her peer group – the careless ticking off on the T&C ‘Accept’ box, the lack of care in sharing personal data and images on social media, the tendency to text someone instead of speaking with them because it makes tougher conversations ‘easier’, and the preoccupation with number of followers and ‘likes’ that spurs teens to accept ‘requests’ even from those they don’t know. 

In these is a series of areas that one would think demand caregiver attention – a conversation about dos and don’ts; an awareness session on what social media can potentially open one up to (in terms of risks). Yet, Mrittika hasn’t had any such formal conversations – most of it she’s picked up along the way. 

It’s the same for Riya (aged 14). There’s no formal education on digital interactions, but she’s figured out that it works on the same rules as the ‘real world’. “You don’t talk to strangers, you don’t say anything hurtful, and if you see something that is wrong, you report it.” She has access through her mother’s phone, and will only be given her own phone once she’s passed her Grade 10 exams. As a result her screen time amounts to less than an hour every day. 

But Riya is the exception. Her friend Kamya (also aged 14) has had a phone since she was 12. She acknowledges the pressure of the peer group in this – ‘all my friends had one and I really really wanted one’ she says. She’s conscious that there’s a certain amount of digital engagement that precedes the physical interaction among friends. So even the simple event of going out to a movie involves a great deal of prior communication – so if one doesn’t have access to a phone, one simply loses out. Additionally, you need to know what celebrities or your favourite band is up to, else you’re left out of conversations. 

Amogh (aged 16), got his phone at age 12. But he dismisses that one – it was a ‘dabba mobile’, given to him largely because he’d begun tuitions and his parents needed to be able to reach him on his way between school, tuitions and home. For him, when he was given a phone at age 13, (a smartphone), it became his source of games, texting friends and accessing Instagram so that he could view jokes and memes. 

Through Amogh I learn another reason that young people require phones – when at tuition, they wait for the teacher to finish writing the notes on the board and then they take a photo. That photo is circulated among the friends’ group. The notes are then transcribed – neatly and in an organized manner – onto the notebook. 

Jamshed got his phone at the age of 13. But by the age of 8 he was accessing games and music on the family tablet. He learned quickly how to go to Playstore and download the games he required. Where he didn’t learn intuitively, he had his friends or supportive adults to guide him. Through his conversation however, we keep coming back to music – the tablet was for him, the only access he had to the ‘new kind of music’. Even once he got his own phone, music remains the most important use for him – he subscribes to his favourite artists and receives regular updates. He does however mention Google, and how it helps to be able to look up whatever you want easily, without having to look through books/ newspapers hoping to find what you need. 

Through these conversations I realise five key things about adolescents and their digital lives:

1. The risks of engaging digitally are real and current. Yet, almost no conversations happen either through the education system or via caregivers on simple dos and don’ts.

2. Phones will be given to adolescents at a progressively younger age, as their lives begin to involve more than school and home – a spate of co-curricular and hobby activities require them to commute, and make caregivers anxious about being able to reach them through their day

3. The phone is like an adolescent’s room – personalized, private. In that sense, and given a shrinking amount of physical space available to them, the phone is also an important window for information, expression and entertainment, where the control lies with them

4. Phones are giving teens a way to avoid tough face-to-face conversations. These are being dispensed with, and instead simple text messages are taking their place. They give the teen a screen to stay behind; this reduces vulnerability, awkwardness.

5. Teens like to think visually – most use Instagram. There’s a reluctance to use many words or read many words.

#AgeofAdolescence – The Age Of Becoming

Navigating through life as an adolescent can be hard. The pressure and stress of fitting in, embracing bodily changes, seeking autonomy, learning about intimacy  and sexuality, making new relationships and struggling through old ones, can be daunting and somewhat liberating at the same time. Somewhere in between all the chaos that almost defines the age of adolescence is the magic of metamorphosis. Yet, central to this time is the search for an identity, the quest to find oneself. More often than not, this quest is a rollercoaster ride of emotions and hormones and the culmination of answers they seek along the way. 

1THE EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE

No one can be prepared for puberty. From changes in one’s body and the awkwardness that goes in dealing with the change, unanswered questions in one’s head, uncontrollable and inexplicable mood swings, experiencing attraction for the first time, performance at school, acceptance by parents and peers, low and high self esteem compels adolescents to often act rebellious or compulsively or wither into a shell, see sawing between confusing and contradictory behaviours. This hormonal imbalance, physical and emotional rollercoaster ride of stepping into an unfamiliar space (in one’s mind and body) marks the start of one’s adolescent years. 

2. WHEN SELF-WORTH BECOMES SKIN DEEP

The sudden growth of facial hair, breasts, acne and noticeable physical changes makes one’s outward appearance a constant trigger for stress and concern. These triggers change the way an adolescent sees him/herself, and the way that others see and treat him or her. Looking good and being noticed are the driving forces for ‘feeling worthy’. Constant selfies, counting likes and views on every social media post, attention seeking actions, are all based on the growing need to feel good about oneself.  

3. IT’S ALL ABOUT PERCEPTIONS (AND PEER GROUPS)

Whether it is real or not, adolescents’ perceptions are closely linked to what is considered ‘cool’ or acceptable by their peers. Peer influence plays a critical role in determining how one views oneself, shapes one’s opinions, and takes action (whether risky or not) to feel accepted and part of a group. Be it the kind of music one listens to, the pick of school subjects or bad habits, the way one dresses and speaks are also closely intertwined by this strong influence. Adolescents often adopt behaviours of a peer group they want to be part of, to feel normal and accepted, that can largely shape their lives. Or, they look for a role model and imitate their outward behaviours, as a result, losing track of their own identity. Social media being the modern-day hangout place today, makes their every move judged by their peers, putting immense pressure to be popular (social anxiety) and perceived in the so-called right way.   

4. EXPLORING AND EMBRACING ONE’S COMING OF AGE

Adolescence is the age to explore and understand sexuality. Sexual curiosity often leads to exposure to pornography, indulgence in sexual activities, and also increases the vulnerability for sexual abuse. The confusions of feeling attracted to a girl, a boy or anyone else, understanding the layers of those feelings, identifying one’s sexual preferences, mustering the courage to come out, and the curiosity of exploring a sexual relationship are predominant experiences during adolescent years. One’s cultural and social environment and childhood conditioning colours one’s attitude, thoughts and perceptions toward sexuality, determining adolescent romantic and sexual relationships of all kinds — happy, tragic, mutual, one-sided, healthy or abusive. Today, digital sexual activity including sexting had opened new avenues for adolescents to explore their sexual identity. 

5. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME

The age of adolescence is largely an age of disconnect and detachment from one’s parents and families, while one struggles to discover oneself. The change in oneself, the growing generation gap, the inability to understand and relate to others, leaves one at logger-heads with one’s parents, who are often on tender hooks, worried that their adolescent will indulge in bad habits and risky relationships. The advent of social media, its new language and way of life has further alienated children from their parents, under the common perception of “you don’t understand me”. 

#AgeOfAdolescence – Girlhood Campaigns To Follow On Instagram

There are 1.1 billion girls in the world, and each one of them deserves equal opportunities in their lives. India alone has 120 million adolescent girls, accounting for nearly 10% of its population. Despite their numbers, girls in India are a largely invisible population. 

Yet, young girls today are source of energy, power and creativity. Based on the belief that intergenerational patterns of poverty, violence, abuse and discrimination can be broken in a single generation, here are some organizations who are investing in adolescent girls across the world, working to bring focus to issues of skewed sex ratio, female foeticide, child marriage, unequal and abusive treatment, young girls caught in conflicts, and gender disparities, promoting girl’s empowerment and fulfilment of their human rights and aspiring to create agents of multi-generational change.

Don’t miss these inspiring girlhood campaigns making their presence across the world.

1. GIRL EFFECT

Girl Effect is a creative non-profit – experts in media, mobile, brand and international development – working where girls are marginalised and vulnerable. They build youth brands and mobile platforms that millions of girls and boys love and interact with. From apps that build skills, to TV dramas that explore vital issues, to magazines written and distributed by girls.

Girl effect uses media and mobile tech, namely girls connect, springster, to empower girls to change their lives, in formats and ways in which girls love to interact. 

2. I AM LIKE OTHER GIRLS

I’m not like OTHER girls” – a phrase too familiar to most young women trying to be individual. Too many of us try to achieve individuality by distancing ourselves from our gender but who decides what girls are like? And who decides that they’re all the same?   

I Am Like Other Girls is an Instagram based project that strives to redefine what it means to be like other girls. Started in 2017 by Ellie Lee and Tara Anand who discovered that they shared a sense of loathing towards statements like “You’re not like other girls” or “I’m not like other girls.” Statements like these thrown around so casually and doing so much damage to one’s perception of girls and femininity, their aspiration was to disassemble the negativity associated with femininity and make it clear that femininity is whatever one wants it to be.

I am like other girls is project that addresses a multitude of perspective and voices on girlhood, encouraging girls from different backgrounds to participate and share their illustrated stories. 

3. BECAUSE I AM A GIRL

Around the world, girls continue to face unique barriers that violate their rights and keep them from achieving their full potential. Discrimination against girls leads to grave injustices like gender-based violence, being forced to drop out of school, child marriage and early pregnancy. Because I Am a Girl is an international movement by Plan International that aims to address this discrimination, and promotes the rights of girls, bringing millions of girls out of poverty around the world. 

Because I am a Girl focuses on giving girls equal opportunities, whether that means changing laws, improving education, improving sexual health services or providing support by creating pathways for them to become leaders and make change happen. They work with all community members and leaders, including men and boys, to help girls learn, lead, decide and thrive – empowering girls to achieve gender equality.

4. GIRL UP

Started by the United Nations Foundation, Girl Up started with the belief that girls are powerful. Girls have limitless potential. Girls can change the world. And yet in certain places around the world, girls continue to lack access to opportunities.

Girl Up is a global movement of empowered young women leaders who defend gender equality. Through leadership development training, Girl Up gives girls the resources and platform to start a movement for social change wherever they are. Working with the belief that no matter their background, girls have the power to transform themselves, their communities, and the world around them, this initiative has brought together Champions and Global Advocates that represent a diverse group of individuals – celebrities, athletes, business executives, philanthropists – who actively work to empower adolescent girls around the globe.

5. GIRL UPRISING

Girl rising is driven by the mission to ensure that girls around the world are educated and empowered. This campaign works with partners to change attitudes and behaviors, and spark community-led initiatives, together, advancing towards a future where every girl has the opportunity to go to school, stay in school, and reach her full potential.

In 2017, Girl rising launched a 24-week gender sensitization curriculum designed to reach 50,000 students and 1,700 teachers in India. The curriculum empowers participants to address local norms, question stereotypes and drive change within their school environments, families and in their communities.

Girl rising uses a host of tools to engage and change deep rooted mindsets that hold girls back in communities across the world. They primarily use Storytelling as a catalyst for impact and long-term social change, told through film, television, social media videos, graphic novels, radio, curricula and more.

6. TOO YOUNG TOO WED

The advent of this campaign traces back to Heart, Afghanistan where visual journalist Stephanie Sinclair was working on a story about girls and women who set themselves on fire. There, she discovered a disturbing pattern amongst the scarred patients in the hospital’s burn ward: Most of them had been forced into marriage as children. A common practice across communities throughout the world, Sinclair started too young to wed, a transmedia campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problem, supporting girls who were already married and ultimately halting the practice that affects one girl every two seconds. 

This campaign’s traveling photo exhibit is the crux of their advocacy efforts, featuring haunting stories of child brides across Nepal, India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and the United States. Besides partnering with potent organizations on the issue of child marriage, this campaign also provides on-ground support to girls in their communities. 

 

#AgeOfAdolescence – Unleashing Her Potential

“Little girls with dreams become women with vision.” – Unknown.

In India the number of girls and adolescents who are married off early, trafficked, out-of-school, underage domestic workers, victims of abuse, violence and discrimination, run into millions. A long-standing patriarchal society has contributed largely to the bleak status of the girl child who grows up to become dependent, unhealthy, and deprived of opportunity… the consequences of which reverberate throughout their lives, affecting societies and generations to come.

Today, girls are changing the story. Smiling, confident and energetic, adolescent girls across India are breaking stereotypes, battling age old mindsets, challenging traditional roles, benchmarking their own standards, building a life away from discrimination, violence and neglect.

Meet the girls of Madhubani whose new thoughts and actions are slowly gathering steam, translating into social, economic and political independence and proving (against popular belief) that adolescence is an age of opportunity. 

Follow us Little Humans this week for these stories.  

RADHA KUMARI

“Have you thought about getting married?
She giggles and responds very self-assured, “I am only 14! I am not going to think of marriage now. My older sister is 19 and still not married!”

RAKHI KUMARI

“There are so many girls in this village who marry young and then get beaten up by their husbands. When I get married, if my husband tries to hit me I won’t even give him food… why should I? And I wont change the childs clothes also! Bhai! Hum kyun kuch bhi karenge? If you don’t do that’s the only way the husband will learn!”

SATYAVATI

“Where is your school located?”
“My school is 4 km from here, in another village.”
Has the distance been a problem ever?
“It is far, but I have a bicycle, and I ride it to school every day.”

GUNJAN KUMARI

“They have a problem if I dance… why but? I love dancing!”

CHANDINI

“Are there separate toilets for girls and boys in your school?”
“No, there are no separate toilets for girls and boys in my school. In fact, the one common toilet we have is also not in use, as it does not have a running supply of water.”
“What do you do during your menstruation cycle?”
“It gets difficult to attend school during menstruation cycle, but I manage somehow. I love studying, so I go anyway.”

SHRUTI KUMARI

“ Ladki ko ghar mein hi padhai karni chahiye…par kaise?”

SHALU

What do you want to become when you grow up?
“My friends want to grow up to be teachers, but I want to be a model!” she poses

SARASWATI KUMARI

“A boy can hit a girl, so then why can’t a girl hit a boy?”

RAJNANDINI KUMARI

“What do you think about getting married?
I will think of marriage only when I have done something in life,” she says rather confidently.

#AgeOfAdolescence – 5 Youth Led Movements Across The World You Must Follow

“We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference,” said 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student who began a solo climate protest by striking from her school last August. It was not surprising to see UN Women on Twitter sharing “She is proof that we need to listen to the young generation for a sustainable future.” 

Around the world, young people are becoming a power in their own right. Millions them are now engaged in what has become the civil-rights struggle of our time. It includes girls in India demonstrating against police inaction over sexual assaults; Pakistani school children marching through Lahore after the latest Taliban attack; young people on the streets of Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, supporting refugees; and Yemeni students demonstrating against a war that has destroyed their childhoods. 

It is an important moment. The torch is not being passed to a new generation; this new generation has had to seize it. Here’s how some of them have done it.

1. #FRIDAYSFORFUTURE

A large float featuring of climate activist Greta Thunberg at the annual Rose Monday Carnival parade in Dusseldorf, Germany. Photo courtesy-The Guardian


#FridaysForFuture is a movement that began in August 2018, after Greta sat in front of the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral. The hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #Climatestrike picked up and millions of people from across the world began to protest outside public spaces, schools and even their parliaments.

According to the #FridaysForFuture website, 1.6 million strikers across all 7 continents, in more than 125 countries have been in 2000 different locations.

If you want to become a striker in India, here is where you can begin. 

2.  MARCH FOR OUR LIVES

People hold their hands up with messages written on them during the March For Our Lives rally in support of gun control March in Washington. Photo courtesy-AP


Advocating for gun control reform and better school safety, March of Our Lives began in Feb 2018, a day after a mass shooting that occurred at a school in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen students and staff members were killed in this gun fire. 

Emma Gonzalez, a student activists, led the crowd in 6min 20secs of silence to symbolise the amount of time it took the gunman to commit the 17 murders. The movement picked up so rapidly that even Barack Obama tweeted – “Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for social change.” Several Hollywood celebrities such as George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, donated $50,000 to March For Our Lives. 

3.  INTERNATIONAL INDIGENOUS YOUTH COUNCIL

Standing Rock, North Dakota Water Protectors.  Photo courtesy-  Socialist Alternative


Dakota Access Pipeline, a series of constructions of controversial pipelines that were designed to deliver oil through the United states, were posed to destroy the land and water. Therefore, in 2016, this led to a peaceful protest- Standing Rock Indigenous Uprising of 2016. 

The project was opposed by youth activists such as Iron Shell-Dominguez and Thomas Dominguez-Lopez.  International Indigenous Youth Council was established while the protests were at its peak.  The objective of IIYC was to organise youth through education, spiritual practices and civic engagement to create positive change in their communities. The IIYC has several chapters including youth and young adults under the age of 30 who can join the local chapters.

4.  #BLACKLIVESMATTER

Protesters walking during a Black Lives Matter rally in Minneapolis Photo courtesy-  Black lives Matter


When 17-year-old Trayon Martin was shot by 28-year-old George Zimmerman in the name of self-defense and was later acquitted, it created a big uproar in not only the United States but across the globe.  In 2013, three Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter calling for freedom and justice for all black lives. 

The movement is not centered around a political ideology but supports a race-conscious reform. Today, the movement is a member led organisation with 40 chapters. At the core, the members organise and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.

5.  PINJRA TOD

The graffiti outside north campus of Delhi University. Photo Courtesy- Indian Express.


In 2015, an anonymous letter was sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia protesting a woman’s right to stay out late at night. This protest led to पिंजरा तोड़ (Break the cage) #pinjratod, a collective effort by women students and alumni across colleges and hostels in Delhi. Pinjra Tod demands that ‘safety’ and ‘security’ not be used to silence girls and women’s right to mobility and freedom.

It seeks to discuss, debate, share, mobilise and collectivise struggles against restrictive and regressive hostel regulations, demand access to safe and affordable hostel accommodation and pro-active functioning of Sexual Harassment Complaints Committee Cells. In 2016, girls and women from across the country joined Pinjra Tod to protest the ban of a curfew time in hostels, girls being told to not wear skirts and to cover their heads with dupattas. 

Have you heard of or started a youth movement yourself? Or does this inspire you to create a movement within your neighbourhood, community, school, college? Remember, change begins with YOU! Write to us at contact@leher.org if you’d like us to feature your movement.

#AgeOfAdolescence – Let’s Talk About Drugs

The Rastafarian reggae star Bob Marley was once famously quoted saying, “When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.” When we put aside the casual camaraderie (greatly glorified by pop culture) around the use of drugs and substances, we are forced to face the dystopic reality it has given rise to. With a lack of national level data to show the status of drug abuse amongst India’s youth, journalistic accounts such as this supplement as evidence to show the extent to which drug abuse amongst India’s youth and children has grown:

“According to New Delhi-based de-addiction expert Keshav Palita, five to 10 new adolescent patients crop up each day and more than half of them were introduced to drugs when they’re below 15. Cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, mephedrone and other pharmaceutical and party drugs are the most common among children.” 

The film Udta Punjab brought into focus (albeit for a short while) just how devastating the consequences of substance addiction can be. It also exposed the audience to the disturbing reality about the nexus between various state and non-state actors which actively perpetuate substance addiction by allowing and indeed facilitating easy access, amplified by a dearth of both preventive and rehabilitative facilities, and highlighting its adverse effects on the youth of Punjab. 

Punjab, Karnataka, Mumbai, Manipur, Odisha, Tamil Nadu – no part of the country is untouched by the menace of drug abuse and addiction. And yet, there is so little done about it, and even lesser dialogue on the issue. Given the emotional, social and psychological vulnerabilities of being an adolescent youth, they make for easy targets for substance abuse and addiction. In India, the drug problem is largely interpreted from a law and order and legal perspective. A preventive and community based approach to the issue is the only lasting solution, and countries like Iceland are leading the path by example. 

To be able to find solutions to an endemic problem such as drug abuse, perhaps one of the first steps is to find ways to have uninhibited dialogues about the issue. This narrative captures the honest accounts of two adolescents (speaking as adults today) and their foray into the use and abuse of drugs. 

“For the next few days after you do drugs, your body temporarily loses its capacity to produce endorphins. Which means you don’t have the capacity to feel happy. You feel existential.”

SAILESH, A 21-YEAR-OLD STUDENT

1. How old were you the first time you tried a drug? What was it?

I have been smoking pot for a while now, but the first time I tried a chemical drug – MDMA, was last year. I was twenty-one at the time. I don’t remember much of the trip, I was extremely exhausted from alcohol. I tried it again after a couple of months when I was at a concert with my friends. It made me feel extremely positive and energetic, almost euphoric. This drug is also known as the love drug.

2.  Tell us a little more about the effect of this drug, and any other drugs you may have tried so far.

When the drug kicks in, it makes you feel euphoric and you enjoy that state while it lasts. The drug infuses a great deal of energy into you, so you need to keep moving to feel like you are in control. If you don’t, it might make you feel nauseous. The problem is, if the ratio of the ingredients in the drug is messed up, it can have serious repercussions, and there is no way to know what you are consuming. Some side effects that I have felt are severe jaw clenching – the ache has lasted up to two days, and lacerations resembling ulcers on my side lips – which have lasted up to five-six days. These are common side effects for almost enough who has tried them.

When I tried acid, I had an ‘out of body experience’. The whole thing last for 12-14 hours. The first 2 hours were the worst hours of my life. I thought I would die. I thought I was dead. I realized I wasn’t when I had to go to the bathroom to pee.

For the next few days after you do drugs, your body temporarily loses its capacity to produce endorphins. Which means you don’t have the capacity to feel happy. You feel existential.

3.  The decision to do drugs is a very defining moment, often influenced by your state of mind. How did you get to making yours? 

I had begun smoke pot with friends when I was in college. Over time you start talking about these things with your friends when you are chilling. I knew the effects of MDMA, I knew they would predominantly give me good vibes. So, I was confident about. My decision to finally try it was influenced by the occasion of my farewell party. A lot of us did it together. For me the decisive factor was to just ‘experience’ it, trying it wasn’t a coping mechanism for me.

4.  How easy is it to score drugs for a teenager/ adolescent to score drugs?

It is easy. Even if the person may not know someone directly, there is always the friend of a friend. In terms of order of access, it is easiest to score pot, followed by cocaine, MDMA, ecstacy and acid. More youngsters prefer going to the hills to score and experience a trip. Technology has also contributed hugely to how accessible drugs are.

5.  Have you ever been caught by your parents/ police?

Never by my parents, a few times by the police.

6.  And how did you get away?

You know they want a bribe, they know they want a bribe. But if you act smart they can really make things difficult for you.

7.  If you could go back and take a different decision, what would it be?

My decision wouldn’t be any different from what it was. I know my reasons for it, and I don’t fear I will get dependent on it. 

“When I got into drugs I got there out of curiosity, I was vulnerable, and it took me to a lot of dangerous places…we need to let our children express themselves more freely, we need to let them know that it’s okay to speak about feelings and emotions.”

ARBAAZ, A 25-YEAR-OLD FILM-MAKER & THEATRE PRACTITIONER/ TEACHER

1. Tell us a little bit about how you arrived at your decision to try drugs.

I was nineteen the first time I did drugs – it was weed. Later I tried substances like Ecstasy.
When I started college, I wasn’t the kind who liked doing any of this. Even people smoking cigarettes around me would bother me.  But over time, with peer influence you begin to think “it’s okay” to do this, to try these things out. And that’s a trap. Besides, there is always something or the other that is bothering you. Later I realized there were a lot of unresolved emotions within me and drugs seemed the easiest way to deal with them.

2.  Can you put substance addiction into perspective for us, based on your personal experience of having battled it?

There is a lot of psychology involved to understand peoples’ relationships with drugs. One says one is not ‘addicted’, no one likes to acknowledge addiction. Everyone thinks they have the situation under control until one day it all spirals out of control. Because of what I have gone through and come out of, I can safely say when people say these things they are mostly in denial. They might say their habits of drug abuse are “occasional”, it doesn’t take long for that to develop into a habit. Not surprisingly, you start to develop a kind of resistance to the quantity of drugs you are used to consuming. After which you start increasing the dose. Even that doesn’t feel enough after a point. And then you start mixing. Nothing is enough. You do it for a ‘feeling’, you want to feel a certain way and because you are internally capable of invoking those emotions. And then there they are at your command – the drugs.You need to deal with the bad emotions. They don’t go away.  Just like a bodily would will heal only under hygienic conditions, you have to allow your emotional wounds to heal in a healthy manner. And drugs won’t help with that. They just help you escape temporarily.

3.  You have been to some very dark places through your fight with substance addiction. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey, and the point at which you realized you needed an intervention, and how you went about it?

One day when I was sober, I saw gray dots around the pupils of my eyes. While I had noticed it before, I had not really paid attention to it. A few days later, when I did Ecstasy, I started bleeding from my nose. I read up about it and found out that it happens because of cysts that form as an effect of the chemical, and then burst – causing the bleeding. I also found out that the cysts could form in your brain, and if they burst you might lose complete motor control.

That day I realized if I didn’t do something about myself, I would probably die.

I quit my job and went home. I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me. I couldn’t talk about my alcohol or substance addiction. My parents would never understand. We have very conveniently developed the knack of sweeping things we find uncomfortable to speak about, under the rug. We term them as ‘inappropriate’. We do not have a culture where we can speak about these things frankly and seek help and support. I went to a doctor but obviously couldn’t even tell him what was wrong. Maybe if I had told him the cause of my state he would have been able to contribute to my healing, but there was no way I could tell him I was facing withdrawal symptoms.

4.  What were some of the challenges you faced during your recovery?

I got out of it completely through self-healing and repair. It took me a little over a year and a half. One day I felt as if my brain had completely stopped working. I could not make sense of anyone or anything. Worse, I could not visualize. And for a film maker to not be able to visualize is perhaps the worst thing that could happen. I needed to start sleeping, that was something I realized I had to fix. When you are working for ten hours and partying for five hours, you end up passing out. And passing out is not equivalent to sleeping. Your body crashes and gives up. I realized I had not really slept in months. I started making myself sleep forcibly. And slowly I could feel the difference. It took a long time, but I helped my body heal. Slowly I got back in charge of my mental faculties.

5.  Tell us a little more about your journey of self-healing and self-acceptance.

There were good days and bad days through out that self-healing journey. I got worse before I got better. There were times when I felt suicidal. I couldn’t seem to remember my purpose or remind myself what I was worth. But I am glad I went through it. I am glad I let myself feel. I cornered myself and told myself that all I had was time and that I needed to relax. I tried to work on accepting myself. It took a lot of looking back. When I got into drugs I got there out of curiosity, I was vulnerable, and it took me to a lot of dangerous places.

6.  So many adolescents and young people today consume drugs ‘casually’, not knowing when it turns into a habit. What do you think needs to change for us to handle this problem better?

Drugs have been so conveniently shut out of popular discourse because of the illegal status accorded to it. No one talks about it. So many children and adolescents fall prey to it, but no one wants to have conversations around it – on how you have support and it is possible to come out of it. There is absolutely no education on this. As younger people/ adolescents we at times have no idea what we’re doing or getting into. Nothing in school or college prepares us to deal with things like these. We are always taught to repress ourselves and our emotions. There needs to be more education on this – we need to let our children express themselves more freely, we need to let them know that it’s okay to speak about feelings and emotions. 

7.  If you could go back and make a different decision, would you?

Yes, I would definitely change my decision. But this journey too has taught me a lot about myself. It has brought me closer to myself, the realizations I have had through this journey have been very important. Today I can successfully say no to anyone offering me any kind of substance, and that has come with a lot of hard work and conviction.  
I am now addicted to food, sleep and laughter.

*The names of the respondents have been changed to protect their identities.

5 Journalists Changing The Child Rights Discourse In India

Dialogue about the rights of children is slowly gaining momentum, making its way into our whatsapp groups, Netflix movie content, dinner table conversations, PTA meetings, email forwards, prime time news and even discussions with our own children.

It has been the earnest effort, responsibility and the genuine intent of several journalists, who have used the power of the written word to tell the real stories of children that needed to be told, exposing to the world the plight of millions of them in India, changing our collective understanding and empathy towards children today.

Here’s 5 journalists changing the child rights discourse in India, in their own unique way. 

1. TANMOY BHADURI

Tanmoy Bhaduri is a multi-award winning writer and photojournalist based in Kolkaka, West Bengal, whose passion has been documenting under-reported issues and breaking news. His stories have shed light on issues of development, human trafficking, women and child rights, insurgencies, natural disaster, climate change, land rights, strikes and conflicts.

He has worked with a host of news publications and with numerous development sector organizations that have lent to his flair and depth of knowledge in the space, and is a regular contributor to The Citizen, The Wire, The Quint, Huffpost, YKA and The News Minute. Additionally, his work has appeared in all leading publications across the world.

This TRF Media Alumni and Writer for Pulitzer Centre, is also the recipient of the Shishushree Award for Best Reporting in New Media by West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Government of West Bengal in 2017 & 2018, for highlighting key Child Rights & Social Justice issues in the region.

From Why Northeast witnesses highest rates of child marriages in India, how a teen sex trafficking survivor demands Indian courts to act, The brick kiln kids of Bengal, The Jharkhand sisters singing their way to victory, the paradox of Bihar’s school budget, how football gives hopes to Chennai’s slum children, Tanmoy, not only tells stories of children in remote parts of India, who remain silenced by their circumstances and geography, but also optimistic and encouraging stories of how underprivileged children are benefitting from opportunity and intervention.

2.  ANURADHA NAGARAJ

Photo – Thomson Reuters Foundation

Anuradha Nagaraj has spent over two decades sniffing news – dissecting, decoding and presenting it so that it continuously finds relevance among the reading public. From the Indian Express, Open Magazine to Thomson Reuters Foundation, Anuradha Nagraj has explored in-depth and touched upon many subjects that often don’t make it to mainstream publications. Anuradha started her career at The Indian Express as a reporter and rose to be the city editor of its Delhi edition within a short period. During this journey, she has been state correspondent in Rajasthan, extensively reported from North Maharashtra and New Delhi. Anuradha also covered the Indian sub-continent for the Deutsche Presse Agentur, a German news agency. Anuradha is the winner of the 2018 Ulrich Wickert International Award for reporting on child rights.

This Chennai-based journalist is presently the anti-trafficking correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Anuradha has been one of the few journalists who has covered the breadth of trafficking and its severe effects on children. Be it a series of drawings by children who have been trafficked, anti-trafficking efforts at the Kumbh Mela, to a sex trafficked teen survivor who takes on the Indian system, her first-hand narratives and real life experiences illustrate the voices of children who have been never heard. 

From Sold for $7, child slave lifts lid on life as Indian maid, Traffickers recruit child labour as Indian schools break for summer, campaigners warn, Child Workers in India Are Making Pickles and Fireworks Before They Even Turn 6, Suicide at Indian spinning mill sparks child labour investigation, India’s Kumbh Mela festival steps up anti-trafficking efforts, to Missing children in southern Indian state raise trafficking fears, Anuradha’s work acts as an eye-opener for many children’s issues that don’t make it to the public domain.

3.  DILNAZ BOGA

Photo – Dilnaz Boga

Indian photojournalist and reporter, Dilnaz Boga won the Agence France-Presse Kate Webb Prize for her courageous work in the troubled region of Kashmir, back in 2011. Prior to winning the award, she had spent a year in Srinagar working for the Kashmir Dispatch as well as a number of international publications and websites, the culmination of a decade covering the region. Dilnaz Boga’s stories on Kashmir talk about how people, especially children, think and feel while growing up in a conflict area. She was chosen for the AFP award based on ten human interest stories she had submitted, most of them focusing on crime, women, children and youth.

Dilnaz has also worked for the Hindustan Times as Chief Copy Editor on the International Desk in Mumbai, prior to which she worked for a few city-based newspapers, covering issues like health, women’s and children’s issues, human interest, civic issues, education and crime. She has covered conflicts in Kashmir, the North-East, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for several publications.

In July 2004, she completed her MA in Peace and Conflict Studies on her dissertation ‘Cycles of violence: The psychological impact of human rights violations on the children in Kashmir’ from the University of Sydney in Australia, lending directly to shedding some light on the reality of those who have no voice – especially the children and youth of the region. The following year, she filmed a documentary in Kashmir titled Invisible Kashmir: The other side of Jannat (Heaven), which was screened at film festivals all over the world. In 2019, Dilnaz completed her PhD from TISS on the local, national and international print media in Kashmir.

From why do children throw stones, the long-term effects of curfews on children, India’s illegal detention of juveniles rising, forces occupy India’s schools, there are very few female journalists who have been able to bring the stories of children in Kashmir, that Dilnaz did. 

4.  BHAVYA DORE

Photo – AFP

A regular contributor to various national and international publications, this Mumbai-based freelance journalist has worked for the Hindustan Times, covering education and then legal issues and has since then written for others like Caravan, Quartz, Forbes and the BBC. She spent a year reporting on juvenile justice issues through the Prabha Dutt Fellowship from the Sanskriti Foundation. She has also reported on LGBT issues on a Humsafar Trust Media fellowship and from Germany as a fellow of the India Germany Media Ambassadors programme. She has received a RedInk award from the Mumbai Press Club in 2014 and a Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitive Reporting in 2018.

Bhavya is particularly interested in covering culture, sports, gender and criminal and juvenile justice issues, a key conversation in the larger child rights discourse.

From mumbai children’s home still a mess, Why emotional public outrage should not sway the rehabilitation of juvenile convicts, The law’s blindness to teenage sexual consent is criminalising young boys, 17-year-old thief ‘beaten up’ by railway police dies, Some Indian states are considering the death penalty for child rapists. But will it be effective? Sex crimes against children: Few convictions in Assam, several victims turn hostile, finds study, Sent to a juvenile home at age 32: The unique and bizarre travails of Mr X, Bhavya has told the stories of many juveniles in conflict with law from a child’s perspective.

5. SOUMYA DAS

Photo – The Hindu

Presently, a Principal Correspondent with Deccan Herald, Soumya Das has also worked as a Senior Reporter with The Hindu in his previous stint as a journalist. While he primarily reports on the political, social and crime beat in West Bengal, he has also covered a range of stories in context to children and their rights in the region. This Kolkata based journalist has covered issues of child sexual abuse, child labour, child trafficking and cyber crimes against children to name a few.

From good tough- bad touch in West Bengal syllabus, Kolkata school suspends classes, parents agitate, In West Bengal, an app to help counter sexual abuse in schools, Some thoughts on child labour, West Bengal sees 100 cases of child abuse in 3 months, Bengal Commission for Child Rights moves SC against Rohingya deportation, 63% children in Bengal jails from Bangladesh, Another baby trafficking racket in West Bengal, Child rights body to hold international seminar on child abuse, Tech development a challenge to curb cybercrimes, to West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) to conduct mental audit of shelter home children, Soumya’s coverage of the wide gamut of children’s issues in the West Bengal region has been critical to their representation.

#InternationalMissingChildrensDay – PSA’s From Across The World

With an increasingly connected world, driven by technology and the world wide web, come issues of increased access, vulnerability and exposure, proving to be a graver threat to one’s personal safety, especially children. Developed, developing and under-developed countries are all dealing with the high numbers of missing children. In every country, these range from hundreds to thousands on a daily basis. 

India assumes one of the top positions globally when it comes to Missing Children- with one child going missing every eight minutes. The reasons behind such grim statistics ranges from poverty, kidnapping, abductions, disappearing children, child-lifting to trafficking. Many families are made to believe that their children are being taken away for purposes such as education and employment, but more often than not the children are being illegally sold for slavery, unpaid and unsafe labour and other reasons. According a report by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2016, 174 children go missing on a daily basis, and only 50% of them ever make it back home.       

In 2001, 25th May was recognised as International Missing Children’s Day. Ever since, the movement continues to grow, as more and more countries commemorate this day and recognize the need for a harmonized response to protect vulnerable children. 

Here’s a list of PSA’s from across the world that reflect the emotions and complexities that go into tracing a missing child.

1. FOR THE ONES THAT CAME BACK, AND FOR THE ONES WE ARE STILL SEARCHING.

Published in August 2009, this PSA was published on Children’s Day by SV+, an advertising agency based out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. One side of the tree represents children who made it back home, to the safety of their home and family, and the emptiness of the other side of the tree represents the children who are still missing. The message of this PSA is powerful because it reiterates that the children not found have not been forgotten or shrugged aside. 

2.  ‘BANDERA BLANCA’

This series of advertisements was created by El Almacen in 2012, an advertising agency in Argentina. This PSA used the backdrop of common spaces like the beach, street and railway station that are hot spots for children to go missing. The images of crowded places represent the likelihood of children going missing, providing a search tab, indicating how children can be found using the ‘Bandera Blanca’ app. This app was the first app launched to help find children that were missing in Argentina.

3.  DID YOU SEE HER?

This advertisement published in 2013 by Missing Children Europe for Missing Children in Belgium, uses an old mind trick for a cause. This ad tries to explain to the viewer the emotion and trauma a parent goes through when their child goes missing, but whose face remains engraved in their memory. The PSA urges the public to help these children come home safe by sharing clues and details of missing children on their helpline.

4.  THE MISSING STAMP

In 2017, The Belgian Centre for missing children issued National stamps to commemorate their 20th anniversary. The stamps are designed to embody all missing children, without losing the emotional side of these stories. They started off from the central excruciating emotion that all families of missing children have to endure: loss, highlighting the void in the life of these families in its most pure form. They did this by the opposite of what people expect on a stamp: not showing a portrait, using absence as the central design element. Effectively saying everything by showing nothing.

5.  MISSING BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Created by the advertising agency ‘Y&R’ in Mexico for ‘Save the Children’ in 2016, this advertisement shows buildings pasted with ‘Missing’ Children posters, emphasising on the magnitude of this problem, and acting as a reminder to the public about the thousands of refugee children that go missing as they leave their homes in search of a new place to call home.

6.  FINDING A MISSING CHILD IS EVEN HARDER IN REAL LIFE.

Titled “Billy” this advertisement was created by 10 Advertising in Belgium for Missing Children Europe in 2011. The viewer is asked to look for the word ‘Billy’ in a large puzzle, indicating the difficulty in finding a child in the world, and bringing focus to the efforts required to successfully find children that have been missing over a number of years.

7.  MISSING GAME

This augmented reality app created by the Missing Art Project was with the aim to creates awareness about girls who are kidnapped from Indian villages and sold as sex slaves around the world. MISSING is a Role Playing Game designed to put players in the decision making seat and allow them to experience what a ‘missing girl’ goes through when she is trafficked into cruel world of prostitution, a world into which millions of girls are lost every year. Players assume the role of the missing person, making choices and assessing risks for themselves to find their way to freedom. The game aims to expose the player to the dark world of human trafficking and raise awareness about trafficking amongst girls in India and across the world. 

#AgeOfAdolescence – Why You Need A Sense Of Humour To Understand Your Adolescent

Parenthood is one of the most trying journeys, especially when your child reaches the tumultuous age of adolescence. On that rocky road, you’ll experience many moments where you just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. These comics illustrate some of those many moments, understanding why you need a sense of humour to raise your adolescents!  

Dissecting and discovering a teenager’s brain. FAIL.  

Never really trusting a teenager at the wheel.

An everyday face-off in the adolescent world.

Dealing with the tech- brat of the 21st century

Making decisions for dinner through a desktop.

Wondering whether your child needs to attend Adolescent Alcohol Anonymous (AAA)?

When saying NO, means nothing, but you say it anyway. 

Making peace with new age lessons in dating: You snooze you lose. 

Cracking the code for adolescent slang (Is there a handy guide to their lingo?)

Never compromising on the right to free speech vs. the right tone

Accepting the almost-constant response to every question – A grunt. 

Decoding the mind of a confused teenager

Avoiding the discussion on condoms because it means they understand sex. 

Wondering if they ever turn into adults? 

If you are a parent reading this, you may have faced so many and more of these situations with your teenage children. We get you! Would you like to share some funny comics on raising your adolescents? Comment on this blog or write to us at contact@leher.org. We’d love to hear from you!

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