SPEAKING UP FOR THE CHILDREN




Violence against children is all too often unseen, unheard and under reported. While the overt forms of violence, such as rape or murder, do get reported and also elicit instant public outrage, some of the more covert forms of violence, such as beating or reprimanding children, are seldom talked about either because they are not perceived as violence or they have been given traditional sanction, as in the case of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Oftentimes, they also remain hidden due to the shame and stigma attached, particularly with incidents of sexual violence that take place within the 'so-called' confines of the home. Discrimination against children on the basis of caste or particular personal characteristics or disability; child labour, especially involving girls, who are forced to take up domestic work at an early age to supplement family income, exposing them to maltreatment and sexual harassment; and trafficking and prostitution, are all forms of violence against children that undermine their physical and psychological wellbeing.

UNICEF is spearheading an initiative that calls on conscious citizens, lawmakers and the Indian government to speak out more forcefully and fight violence against children, with a special focus on sexual violence against girls, as part of its 'End Violence against Children' campaign. This series of features aims to visibilise the 'invisible' violence against children and engender greater awareness and understanding on the issue.




INDIA:
Freeze Frame On Child Abuse
By Smita Deodhar

Making movies can be exciting, engaging, epic, heartfelt, purposeful… and that's what young film students from 17 colleges across Maharashtra discovered as they got on to doing a very important assignment: creating short films to sensitise viewers about the heinous, yet totally invisible, crime of child abuse. Eight months later, as everyone gathered in Mumbai recently for a special screening, film after film brought up sombre yet subtle nuances of the kind of abuse that children and young people encounter in their everyday lives. Dramatic, sincere, reflective, deliberate and inspirational, the movies achieved what they had set out to do – raise awareness and spark a conversation around addressing child abuse.

* “It was distressing to research for this project. It gave us an opportunity to reflect, and more importantly, to decide to do something about this rampant crime.”


WFS REF NO: INDQ123U                                     1,200 words
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INDIA:
Together, Boys And Girls Demystify Gender Issues
By Dilnaz Boga

Yuvraj Sidam, 14, is unmistakably bold. The Class 10 student from picturesque Dewala village in Chandrapur district recently turned heads as he worked towards de-stigmatising menstruation and promoting menstrual hygiene. Located on the eastern edge of Maharashtra in Nagpur division, Chandrapur lies in the Vidarbha region and in such a rural set-up, it’s unusual for teenage boys to address gender issues, especially sensitive, ‘embarrassing’ subjects like menstruation. But not only is Yuvraj comfortable with openly talking about it he knows it’s important to spread awareness around it. Moreover, he has no hesitation in routinely getting together with his classmate Sanjeevani to come up with interesting activities and educative materials to demystify ‘women’s issues’. What has empowered the young boys and girls of the district to set aside their conservative cultural prejudices and stand by each other? Read on.

* “When I talked about menstrual hygiene in my village, the older women started shouting at me. They asked me if it was alright for boys to talk about such issues. I clearly told them that menstruation is natural and there is nothing good or bad about it.”


WFS REF NO: INDQ109U                                     1,290 words
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INDIA:
Teens Who Have Ideas, Gumpton, And A Voice
By Dilnaz Boga

Kalyani Vankar, 16, is outspoken, proactive and persistent. A Class Ten student of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Vidyalaya in a Chandrapur village, 200 kilometres from Nagpur in Maharshtra, patiently coaxed a fellow student, who had been drugged and raped, to speak to her parents about it and then stood by her as she went public with her situation and bravely faced the social stigma that came with the tough decision. Kalyani today is very glad that she was able to motivate someone fight for justice instead of giving in to the pain, shame and suicidal thoughts. Indeed, young teens in the area have learnt to navigate inter-personal relationships, be better informed about their bodies through sex education, HIV awareness, good hygiene and sanitation practices, and figure out how to address gender issues and have a voice with the support of a special programme initiated under the aegis of the Chandrapur Zilla Parishad.

* “It wasn’t just song and dance. We were learning so much and we felt empowered. We were mixing around with children we had never met before. We all became close friends.”


WFS REF NO: INDPC19U                                     1,200 words
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INDIA:
When Children Think Abuse is ‘Normal’
By Alka Gadgil

‘When I was in the village, I was totally neglected. I wanted to go to school, but my parents disregarded my pleas. After I continued to insist, I was ultimately enrolled into one, but my parents didn't provide me with anything… no school uniform, no books… nothing' ; ‘I feel unsafe at home as there are angry fights between my mother and grandmother’; “I don't like to go to school as there are no toilets' ; ‘I feel scared at school as students throw stones while fighting.’ – Reactions like these were common when researchers from UNICEF, Nine Is Mine and Mumbai Smiles decided to fan out across the length and breadth of Maharashtra to conduct a one-of-its-kind opinion poll among 5,000 children in the 13-17 age group in the state. The idea behind ‘Play it Safe’ has been to identify and track violence against children, encourage youngsters to break the silence around child abuse, and work towards creating safe spaces for them within homes, schools, institutions, and their communities. Whereas many facets of violence have been unearthed in this exhaustive survey, the one overwhelming revelation is that violence and abuse are such an intrinsic part of everyday life for the young ones that they can't figure ‘what's there to report about violence?’

* ”I never considered yells and swears as violence. We had got so used to those. I now know that verbal abuse too is violence against children.”


WFS REF NO: INDPC05U                                     1,250 words
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INDIA:
Talking and Reporting Child Abuse
By Smita Deodhar

For months, Sunny, 14, would get thrashed by his teacher in a government school in Mumbai. Anything could trigger the violence – indiscipline, not running the teacher's personal errands, not attending his private coaching classes. Fed up, Sunny sought the help of a volunteer at a children's activity centre, dialled Childline 1098 and lodged a complaint. Within an hour, a team member from a field partner of Childline India Foundation reached the centre. After verifying the details of the abuse, she visited the school and posing as a stranger, spoke to the principal about the teacher and laws concerning corporal punishment and child abuse. A few more visits and a threat of legal action later, the school finally issued a warning to the offending teacher. Statistics reveal that nationally about 53 per cent children are abused but even that number, activists insist, is a gross misrepresentation of the magnitude of the crime. These days, fortunately, not only is there growing consciousness about reporting abuse but the reporting mechanisms too are child friendly, prompt and promise action, whether it's the 1098 helpline, the anonymous e-box service of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, or the Aarambh initiative which deals with the growing threat of cyber abuse.

* “Every case of child sexual abuse that we have handled in the last five years has had some technology input. Either pictures of the child are taken, or the child has been shown sexual content.”


WFS REF NO: INDPB29U                                     1,290 words
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INDIA:
Anjana's A Graduate, Not An Underage Mother
By Suchismita Pai

Anjana Kashid is a bright young woman; she's finished her graduation and enrolled for her M.Com. degree even as she studies for the banking exam. The aptitude tests she took a while back concluded that a banking career would be perfect for her. In addition to her already hectic study schedule, Kashid recently travelled to Germany to represent the country at a seminar organised by Terre Des Hommes Germany, which promotes child rights. As exceptionally talented as she may seem to be, there's something even more special about her: she’s grown up on construction sites and had to overcome many hurdles to secure this life. For, had things gone her parents' way Kashid would have been a child bride, a construction worker and a mother by now. What enabled her to change her fate? Some concerted activism and quick thinking by a non-profit organisation that is working to ensure that girls like Kashid, children of migrant construction workers, don't end up with the same struggles their parents are living with today. These youngsters are being provided educational opportunities, among other services, in order to escape early marriage and a lifetime of abuse, ill-health and penury.

* “She stood firm through all the heat, the anger, the physical abuse, and insisted that she would study rather than get married.”


WFS REF NO: INDPA31U                                     1,250 words
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INDIA:
Friends Who Look Out For The Kids
By Alka Gadgil

It is 4 pm and the school has closed for the day but the children linger on, hanging around Sudarshan Waghmare, 35, seasonal farmer by profession, dedicated Balmitra (children’s friend) by passion. As the little ones cheerfully play around and loudly recite poems and sing rhythms by turn, the young man look on indulgently. He is responsible for ensuring that each one of them completes their education and also enjoys their childhood. Waghmare has been trained to do this as part of an innovative intervention that is focused on preventing unsafe seasonal migration of children in the area for sugarcane harvesting. Today, be it Waghmare, Bhagwan Bhise or Sulabha Bam, the only female Balmitra, each one of them is ready to put in the time and effort that's needed to “monitor their studies and extra reading; spend quality time with them, playing games, singing, doing arts and crafts; and visit their home everyday to ensure they eat right and get to talk to their parents who migrate for nearly six months in order to find viable livelihood”.

* “Balmitras like me are educated but unemployed; most of us are seasonal farmers. However, this responsibility has given our life a new purpose. I have realised that there's so much to do in the village itself.”


WFS REF NO: INDP823U                                     1,240 words
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INDIA:
Together They Make Rights Real For Children
By Sruthi Kutty

Unfolding one of the many letters dropped off in the Samwaad Peti (Dialogue Box) set up to address students' grievances, she stared at the paper; the handwriting seemed oddly familiar but Gopika Gadekar, 40, couldn't remember whose it was. The note was anonymous. It narrated a school girl's horror and agony at the thought of her imminent marriage planned by her family. Gadekar knew the task at hand wasn't going to be simple. She studied the handwriting, narrowed down a few possible names and called a meeting with these girls. After some discussions and probing, she managed to identify the author of the note. Anita Sawant, a nursing student today, would have ended up a teenage bride, like many others in the area, had it not been for Gadekar's intervention. It took a while but she managed to convince Sawant's family to call off the wedding. Gadekar is the anganwadi worker of Deulgaon Tad village located in Maharashtra's distressed Marathwada region. In an area where crippling poverty compels families to force their little girls to work in cotton fields and then marry them off as soon as they step into their teens, fortunately there are vigilant community leaders like Gadekar, who as part of the child protection committee in their village, are consciously protecting the interests of children.

“When we hear that a child marriage is about to take place, we first counsel both the bride and groom's families. We tell them about the negative impacts that a union like this can have on their children. If that approach fails, then we inform the police so that necessary action can be taken.”


WFS REF NO: INDP802U                                     1,150 words
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