Food, health and education are the basic rights of every child. Yet our government allocates only 3.23% and 1.06% of its GDP to education and health respectively. (Even Malaysia allocates 8% to education and Bangladesh 2.3% to health). So it is high time that the government fulfils its promise of increasing this at least to 6% for education and 3% for health (a total of 9% of its GDP) by the year 2014. This is exactly what the ‘Nine is Mine’ campaign about. Spearheaded by Brother Steve Rocha of the Christian Brothers, it is a participatory advocacy initiative of the children across India, to stir up public support to press the government to fulfil its promise of allocating 9% of the GDP for education and health. The campaign seeks to create a committed consensus and political will within the entire nation to put quality education and basic healthcare on priority, with a view to end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination.
Loreto Convent Intermediate College, Lucknow, recently played host to the members of the Nau Kadam Yatra, comprising 18 children (nine of whom are visually/hearing/physically challenged) who are traversing through nine different states of India, garnering support for their just demand that 9% of the country’s GDP be allocated for education and health. This yatra is a part of the ‘Nine is Mine’ campaign, and is being led by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (Do Not Break The Promise). It aims at giving children an experience of advocacy, lobbying and participation in governance and accountability.
The focus of this event in Lucknow (held on 16th November, 2011) was on the urban poor child, where three ‘out of school children’ spoke on their life experiences as part of the ‘children’s hearings’ programme of the yatra. The school provided a platform to hear the voices of the unheard, and reverberated with the testimonies of Neelam, Sitara and Shivam-- children of rag pickers and beggars—who echoed the voices of millions of underprivileged children across India, demanding a more equitable and just social order. Their pleadings were joined by the voices of the school children, underprivileged children, teachers, politicians and media present in the audience.
The delegates of the Nau Kadam Yatra also presented a soul stirring mime show, wherein without uttering a single word, they focussed on various problems faced by the children in our country-- like child labour, commercial sex, malnourishment, lack of education, discrimination of the girl child—compelling the audience to take up their call for action, and raise voices with them (and not just for them).
This Yatra or journey started from Shillong on 8th November and would culminate in Delhi on 20th November on Child Rights Day passing through nine states. At each halt they are holding ‘children’s hearings’ on stories of various focus groups like tribal/adivasi/dalit children, children living in conflict, vulnerable urban/rural children, the girl child, children with disabilities, thus exploring different facets of Child Rights issues. In Delhi they would be joined by two other yatras traversing through other parts of India. Together they hope to have an audience with the Honourable President of India, and would collectively present a memorandum to the policy makers for allocating 9% of the GDP for education and health with a view to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals of ending chronic poverty and hunger by the year 2015.
In an interview given to CNS, Brother Steve Rocha confided that, “The seeds of this movement were sown by the Loreto Sisters of Ireland, who introduced me to the Millennium Development Goals, in an event organized in Loreto Bowbazar, Kolkata, in 2006. I went back and shared these goals with my students, at St Columbus School in Delhi, and one of them remarked: ‘Thank you very much, Brother. But what are we going to do about it?’ This stumped me. Here was a child asking me to do something, rather than just talk. So we started by painting our school walls with the 8 millennium goals. Then we felt that this was not enough, and thus began this advocacy campaign for social justice, to pressurise the government to fulfil its promise of allocating 9% of its GDP for education and health towards the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals of ending chronic poverty and hunger by the year 2015.”
“We are living in an age where children need to be heard, not just seen. The Convention on Child Rights acknowledges that they have the right to be heard and the right to have their opinion taken seriously. Every child has the right to quality education and basic health facilities. It is not only about budget allocations, but also about how the programmes are delivered. We need to look at the various flagships of the government and keep the government accountable to keep its promises and deliver them well. Children should be involved in the process of policy making, as well as its implementation. We need to interact with our elected members, convey to them what our hopes and desires are and we need them to speak out on behalf of millions of vulnerable children.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the forces behind the anti apartheid movement of South Africa had rightly remarked—if everyone who wishes to see the end of poverty and human suffering, speaks out, the noise will be deafening. Politicians and everyone will have to listen.
Children may not have votes but they have voices. They have the right to quality education and to good health. They have the right to live. It is high time we joined their voices and held their hands. We have no right to kill the dreams of children. In fact, they will have to keep us elders alive with their aspirations, and keep us reminded as to what ideals are, what the real human spirit is all about. We have to take this movement forward and keep shouting, till deaf ears hear us. Only then nine will be ours.
Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught Physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent for over three decades. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: http://www.citizen-news.org)
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