Even after 71 years of independence, 1 in 11 children in India is a child labourer, 1 in every 3 is malnourished, only 3 in every 10 children complete education age-appropriately
“I remember how my fingers used to hurt. We had to stitch continuously for hours, my sister and I, for the embroidery work we used to do. There’s nothing much we could have done, could we?” Nazima spreads both of her hands and shows her small, tender fingers, puffy and swollen with red patches, as she recounts her story.
“I have no story, for that matter. Do all children have to have one? Abba works as a labourer, and there are days when he doesn’t even get work. We had to do our bit to support the family, hadn’t we? When you have to fight hunger all the time, it is hard to think about studies. And so, I dropped out of school when I was in my fifth standard. Not that the school was a great place to be in… there’s no one at home who can help me with my studies, they don’t know how to read or write. We could not afford tuition and I would lag behind in my class works. My teachers would scold me all the time. I used to be sad. And finally, I left school. I never thought of pursuing studies any further,” recounts Nazima, a teenager from Chandergare village of Baramulla district in Kashmir.
Well, freedom means different things to different people. Ask Nazima, and she would ask for freedom to go out and play, without having to care for her next meal. The others among the millions of child labourers in our country would probably ask for something else.
Nazima’s life took a turn for the better, though. “Life began to change since I started visiting the child centre in my village. I began enjoying reading and studying again. In the beginning I was too scared of learning and went just to be with my friends. But the method of teaching here is different…we play a lot of games and learning becomes so much of fun before I know it. I love the story telling classes and my teachers are always trying to make things easier for me to grasp. When they told me I was ready to go back to school, I knew they were right. I felt so much more confident! My eagerness to study convinced my parents to send me to school despite difficulties, and now I am in the eighth standard. When I grow up, I want to be a teacher at the centre just like the ones who taught me.”
To give you a background, these centres, run by Jammu and Kashmir Association of Social Workers (JKASW), a project supported by Child Rights and You (CRY), help child labourers like Nazima get back to school; and are meant for children who’ve never been to school, who dropped out somewhere in the middle and the ones on the verge of dropping out, through remedial classes and bridge courses.
Trust me, when I say Nazima is one of the lucky few. Even after 71 years of independence, 1 in 11 children in India is a child labourer, 1 in every 3 is malnourished, only 3 in every 10 children complete their education age-appropriately and 1 in every 3 child brides in the world is an Indian. For a huge section of the 474 million children in India, the struggle for freedom is not yet over. While as a country we have made huge progress in myriad fields and are now a formidable economic power to reckon with in the global arena, our children are still waiting for freedom from exploitation, abuse and neglect, freedom to go to school and be healthy, and yes – freedom to have a happy childhood irrespective of socio-economic status. Don’t you think it is high time we step up to bridge this gap between the two Indias?
This is not to say that the future looks bleak. The Indian government has put together policies and is actively making amendments to laws, strengthening the legal system to deal with every kind of violation of rights that a child could face. But India still has a long way to go to ensure that 39 per cent of the population of our country – our children – can say “Happy Independence Day”, and mean it.
The access to a happy, healthy, creative and safe childhood is a basic right that children deserve. And CRY believes in every child’s right to a childhood – to live, learn, grow and play. It is needless to say that children are the most vulnerable section of our society. Through its non-profit partners at the grass roots level, CRY works with communities to make them aware of their role in ensuring that their children’s rights are not violated and also empowers them to advocate for it. While it is true that there is a huge gap between the India that is making a mark in every field and the India whose children are struggling for the childhood they deserve, it is also true that the only agency that can help bridge the gap is the agency of the people.
In short, to ensure that pregnant and lactating mothers get proper health care; newborns get right immunisation and nutrition; children are enrolled and retained in school; all public and private spaces are safe and protected where they are not abused physically, mentally, sexually and economically; and they have the right to voice their opinions and concerns, every adult has a huge to role to play to create an enabling environment.
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