UNICEF: Indian boy mirrors plight of millions of kids

NEW DELHI — Arun Kumar was born to disabled parents, beaten by his grandparents, ran away from home, got a job in a garment factory and had all his savings stolen by the police.

He was only 11.

Today, at 13, he shares a cramped, dingy shelter with 63 other runaways and former street kids in New Delhi.

He is one of the lucky ones.

Twenty years after the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, multitudes of children across the globe are still suffering from poverty, abuse and disease.

Each year, 4 million babies die before they are a month old, 150 million children are engaged in child labor, more than 500 million have been affected by violence and 51 million have fallen so far through the cracks they have not even had their births registered, according to the United Nations.

In China, infant mortality rates are five times higher in rural areas than in the wealthier cities. In Mexico, more than a million children under the age of 14 are working.

The U.N. convention, adopted Nov. 20, 1989 and ratified by every country except the United States and Somalia, calls on nations to protect children from abuse and sexual exploitation, reduce child mortality and give children access to health care and education.

Somalia’s transitional government announced Friday it intends to become a party to the convention. Rozanne Chorlton, UNICEF representative to the war-torn Horn of Africa nation, said the government’s commitment comes at a crucial time when “no child in central south Somalia has had the experience of living in peace.”

President Bill Clinton’s administration signed the convention but never submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification because of claims that it infringed on the rights of parents and was inconsistent with state and local laws. But President Barack Obama says he wants to try again for ratification.

There have been successes. Fewer young children are dying or underfed, more are attending school and getting vaccinated and dozens of countries have adopted laws recognizing child rights.

In Russia, an epidemic of homeless children in the 1990s was beaten back by a concerted government effort. In South Africa, some children infected with HIV are getting lifesaving medicines that were out of reach only a few years ago.

The convention “has had positive impacts across the world, but we need to say it hasn’t had as much impact as we’d have hoped,” said Jennifer Grant, a child rights specialist with Save the Children in London. “Children are not a political priority for governments.”

At the U.N.’s official commemoration of the 20th anniversary, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told more than 300 diplomats, activists and young people at U.N. headquarters in New York that realizing the rights in the convention “remains a huge challenge.”

“Children must be at the heart of our thinking on climate change, on the food crisis and on the other challenges we are addressing on a daily basis,” he said.

In her travels, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said she has spoken to girls in eastern Congo who have been raped, to boys who were abandoned by their families as witches in central Africa, and to a girl forced into marriage at the age of 10 to a man over 30.

She urged people to remember “the unspeakable violations of rights that occur almost daily to the most innocent of innocents, children.”

Mayra Avellar, 18, who lives in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, was on hand to address the crowd.

“I stand for the beggars, I stand for the 8-years-old boy who died at 8 a.m. when he was going to the bakery, I stand for those who die without even knowing why,” she said.

Some of the worst abuses play out every day on the dusty streets of India, where government and aid groups’ efforts to help children are overwhelmed by the staggering poverty and the dislocation of millions of rural villagers who flood the cities in search of jobs.

Two million children under 5 die every year, more than 20 million are not in primary school and child marriage is routine in India. Children, some as young as 3 and clutching baby siblings, work the traffic-clogged streets begging for money. Others are constantly on the move, living on the construction sites where their parents work, with no access to education.

Arun was born in the northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh to parents who cannot hear or speak, and grew up in his grandparents’ crowded house. He was so ignored his family thought he had inherited his parents’ disability, until at age 7 his grandfather sat down with Arun and taught him to speak.

As he grew older, Arun, a short, slight boy, began skipping school and fighting with his younger cousins, who teased him about his parents and his own late development. His grandparents started abusing him and one Sunday – after he was beaten for losing a family goat when he went off to play – he took 2,000 rupees (about $40) he had collected over nearly three years and fled to Delhi.

Many runaways become street children, picking pockets, begging or scavenging to survive. Others end up in the sex trade. But Arun had the good fortune to befriend an older boy on the bus, who brought Arun to a garment factory in New Delhi, the capital, where they both got jobs.

Arun was trained on a sewing machine and stitched together jeans. He was fed, given a place to stay and wasn’t beaten, he said.

After a year, he collected his 13,000 rupees (about $260) in earnings, gave 2,000 ($40) to his friend, and quit. He bought new clothes, shoes, a small radio, and treated himself to a lavish meal of chicken curry and rice, he said.

At the end of the day, a police officer confronted the 11-year-old, frisked him and stole his remaining 9,000 rupees ($180), he said.

Arun was then sent to a shelter that he compares to a prison. Finally, after insisting on going back to school, he was moved to a boys shelter run by the Salaam Baalak Trust in Paharganj, a slum.

Now he lives with 64 other boys in a gray room on the second floor of a dank community center. A world map is painted on one wall.

At mealtime, the boys roll out long mats on the floor, sit cross-legged and eat. During the day, they pull out desks and take classes. In the evening it becomes a recreational room and at night, they scatter the mattresses across the floor and sleep.

“This is their home, and we are their family,” said Anjani Tiwari, the shelter’s director.

The children get supplemental schooling and vocational training at the center, and some have gone on to work as photographers, tailors and cafe workers, he said.

Everything that is Arun’s – clothes, books, a karate poster, a broken camera – is jammed into a tiny rusted locker hidden in the corner of a stairwell.

“I’m going to show you one of my favorite things,” he said with a smile. He dug through his locker for several minutes, but couldn’t find what he was looking for – a small toy elephant.

“Maybe I left it outside the locker last night and someone took it, or maybe I lost it,” he said quietly.

From MiamiHerald

Chennai: Rain hardly dampens children’s colourful spirit

418 children take part in finals of The Hindu Young World Painting Competition

CHENNAI: Even as heavy rain lashed the city early on Sunday , enthusiastic children armed with sketches and crayons poured into the Periyar Science and Technology Centre. The occasion was the finals of annual The Hindu Young World Painting Competition, in its 18th year now. The competition saw participation from 418 children of class IV to class X from schools across the city.

The children in the junior category were given two topics — ‘Going to School’ and ‘Magic Show’ — for the painting.

The senior category students had to paint on the subject ‘Science exhibition’ and ‘At the Shopping Mall’.

ENGROSSED: Students give shape and colour to their creativity at the finals of ‘The Hindu Young World Painting Competition in Chennai on November 15, 2009. — Photo: R. RAGU.

Ten-year old Uma Maheshwari, one of the participants, said her brother and sister had participated in the competition earlier and so she was here too.

Most children displayed bold use of colour and an eye for detail. A clown entertaining a group of young children, an elephant playing with a ball in the circus ring, a little boy running after his school bus were among the several images that came out of the children’s hands.

The judges P.Narasimha, illustrator, India Today and artist Ranjan De chose the winners. It was a tough decision to be able to pick the best out of the lot. “All the children have great talent and it is really difficult to decide which the best is,” Mr.Narasimha said.

In the junior category, R.Aditya of Chettinad Vidyashram, S. Jayaprabha of CSI Bain Matriculation School and C.T.Valli of St. John’s Residential School won the first three places respectively. In the senior category, G.Sajana of SBOA school won the first prize, while S.J.Jayagowtham of Velammal Matriculation and R.Shalinishri of Vidya Matriculation won the second and third prizes.Seven consolation prizes were awarded.

The title sponsor was Lotte Caramilk. Other sponsors included Pepsico Cheetos, Nimbooz, Repute and I Ads and Events.


Unicef: India has the largest number of stunted children

NEW DELHI: Underlining the dismal state of health and nutrition in Indian children, a UNICEF report says that the country has a whopping 61 million stunted children, the largest in any country. In other words, 3 out of 10 stunted children are from India distantly followed by China that has 12 million children.

Stunted growth is a consequence of long-term poor nutrition in early childhood. Stunting is associated with developmental problems and is often impossible to correct. A child who is stunted is likely to experience a lifetime of poor health and underachievement, a growing concern in India that is demographically a young nation. Astoundingly more than 90% of the developing world’s stunted children live in Africa and Asia.

The findings of the `Tracking progress on child and maternal nutrition’ also point out that undernutrition contributes to more than a third of all deaths in children under five. Undernutrition is often invisible until it is severe, and children who appear healthy may be at grave risk of serious and even permanent damage to their health and development.

Linking malnutrition to gender equality, the UNICEF report also says that children’s health suffers not just due to poor hygienic conditions and lack of nutritional food but also because the mother herself is suffering from anaemia and malnutrition during adolescence and child-bearing. "They become trapped in an intergenerational cycle of ill-health and poverty,” says the report.

Of all the proven interventions, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months together with nutritionally adequate foods from six months can have a significant impact on child survival and stunting, potentially reducing the under five child mortality by 19% in developing countries. The report includes data showing that 16 developing countries successfully increased their exclusive breastfeeding rates by 20%, in periods ranging from 7 to 12 years.


Cuddalore: Rain, waterlogging no dampener on children here

With schools closed, they have fun at Children’s Park

CUDDALORE: Whenever it rains in Cuddalore, Children’s Park at the Silver Beach gets a beating. Even a light shower leaves the area waterlogged. Owing to intermittent rains, the park is covered is in knee-deep water. But it did not dampen the spirit of a few children who ventured into the water to climb on to the swings and glide down the slides, little realising the health hazards posed by the inclement weather.

Thanks to the closure of schools on Monday, because of rain, few children went to the park to spend their time. The inundation is due to the raised cement pathway that leads to the seafront on one side and the elevated road on the other.

IRREPRESSIBLE: The inundated children’s park at the Silver Beach in Cuddalore draws some visitors even during rain. — Photo: C. Venkatachalapathy

In the absence of any drainage vent, water stagnation has become a common feature at the park. The locals feel that the problem could be tackled if a chute is constructed to empty the water into the sea.

Moreover, a few damaged playthings in the park are crying for attention as they have sharp edges and corroded metal.

The forecast of heavy rainfall for Monday has not spurred officials of the Education Department to take action. For their failure to declare holiday in advance, students and their parents as well were put to undue hardship. Only on reaching the schools in the heavy downpour did they come to know of the holiday. Those relying on public transport were the hardest hit. The hassles could have been averted had the authorities conveyed the message in advance, as their counterparts did elsewhere.

However, the declaration of holiday cheered up the students, barring a few who detested the rigour of poring over the lessons for the examinations, which too were put off

However, the rain played spoilsport because the students could play neither street cricket nor any other outdoor games.


NewDelhi: Cinema push for children’s right to info (UNICEF)

For the first time in history, the International Children’s Film Festival India held every alternate year in Hyderabad will have a package of films highlighting children’s right to information.

The package, which comprises around eight films made by children filmmakers from Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district, is the result of a unique collaboration between the festival and Unicef marking the 20th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Among the over 70 films to be screened at the festival will be a special package of films from Unicef, and this partnership between the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) and Unicef is going to be a long-term one. CFSI chairperson Nandita Das says the 16th edition of the festival, starting in Hyderabad on November 14, will also have several sessions devoted to discussions on cinema and entertainment vis-à-vis children.

“Children in India grow on entertainment dished out to them by various TV channels and mainstream cinema which is described as ‘family movies’, while their access to children’s cinema is not great. We plan to involve individuals, NGOs, educators, parents and all others interested in using the visual media for children’s entertainment in the truest sense,” says Das.

The festival will have a special workshop in partnership with Unicef in which children would be trained in the basics of skills like animation, storytelling, acting and editing.

“It is important that there is also a dialogue on issues like whether right to entertainment should be a fundamental right for children and why children’s cinema is invisible in India,” Das says.

Unicef’s representative in India Karin Hulshof says the partnership is the result of the commitment of both Unicef and CFSI towards providing edutainment to children.

The festival will have two competition sections—International and Asian—comprising 15 and 18 films respectively, which will vie for the top Golden Elephant Award.

From DeccanHerald

Delhi: CFSI and the Government of Andhra Pradesh partner with UNICEF to support child rights at the launch of the 16th Golden Elephant Festival 2009

DELHI, 4 November 2009 – In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Film Society (CFSI) is partnering with UNICEF to highlight how films can play a significant role in advancing children’s right to information.

“The Golden Elephant”, the 16th International Children’s Film Festival sponsored by CFSI and the Government of Andhra Pradesh, will run from 14 to 20 November in Hyderabad.

“The children’s film society is partnering with UNICEF for the first time this year, because we both believe that there is nothing more important than allowing a voice for children.  In the context of the Child Rights Convention, this partnership will communicate the importance of children’s right to the valuable content in entertainment, especially through films,” said Nandita Das, acclaimed actor/director and current Chairperson of CFSI. “We have joined hands for the International film festival in Hyderabad to showcase quality films and to emphasize the importance of entertainment for every child. At the festival, we will have open forums where poignant questions will be debated and workshops for children will be conducted as both a fun and a learning experience."

The festival is a platform where thousands of children from diverse parts of the country will come together and have access to films from across the world. Some of these films were made by child reporters such as “This is the Way We Study,” a film by 14-year-old child reporter Muhammad Akram presented at today’s press conference in Delhi.

“UNICEF as the global custodian of child rights realizes the importance of children’s participation. It promotes the empowerment and capacity of children to be involved in the decisions and actions that affect them. In this context, their right to information and participation is crucial,” said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Representative in India. “We are happy to partner with CFSI and support the process of imparting edutainment to children through this film festival. UNICEF and CFSI believe that a process of dialogue and exchange needs to be encouraged in which children assume increasing responsibilities and become active, tolerant and democratic."

CFSI was created in 1955 as an autonomous body functioning under the Government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. India’s first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru conceived of CFSI as a means to provide healthy entertainment for children. 

For over 50 years, CFSI has strived to provide value-based entertainment to the children of India. CFSI owns a library of 250 children films and has reached more than 30 lakh children across India with over 12,000 shows. The festival will feature prominent celebrities, national and international jury members and stalwarts from the business of entertainment.

“We look at the Golden Elephant as an important milestone in our constant endeavor to create awareness for The Right to  Entertainment for Children. We believe this year’s festival will take  our  efforts to a different level by bringing the audiences closer to our  goals,” said Sushovan  Banerjee,  CEO of CFSI. “We are very happy and excited with the entries that we have  received  for  the  festival and are hopeful that the audiences will love them all.”

Website: www.cfsindia.org  and  www.unicef.in

For further information, please contact:

Sushovan Banerjee, CEO, Children’s Film Society, India.
Tel + 91-9821322544; e-mail: banerjee_sushovan@yahoo.co.in

Angela Walker, Communication Chief, UNICEF India.
Tel + 91-98-18106093; e-mail: awalker@unicef.org

Geetanjali Master, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel + 91-98-18105861; e-mail: gmaster@unicef.org


Bangalore: Carry your own shopping bag

BANGALORE: That plastic is non-biodegradable is something even children are aware of. But has this awareness curbed the use of plastic?

Most parts of Bangalore are still littered with thin carry bags, plastic cups and plates. These very plastic bags, with a life of over 100 years, clog our storm water drains and lakes.

National Geographic launched a campaign on Sunday in the city asking shopkeepers to avoid plastic. Their message to customers is `Bring your own bag’ (BYOB).

As part of the campaign, National Geographic will spread the word in the city’s most visited shopping hub, Commercial Street. The channel has created special ecofriendly bags to be distributed there. "This is to create awareness that customers should carry their own shopping bags. For the next 10 days, volunteers will stand near our shops, take plastic bags from the customers and put all the stuff into cloth bags. The customers will receive free cloth bags, which we hope will create awareness. It is ecofriendly and reusable. Commercial Street shopkeepers are going to support this campaign," said vice president of Commercial Street Association, Ajai Motwani.

A good plastic bag costs around Rs 4, while a reusable cloth bag costs around Rs 8 to Rs 10. The shopkeepers on Commercial Street plan to rope in MNCs to partially sponsor cloth bags. They will have the company branding on one side and that of the shop on the other. "That way, the retailer will pay only Rs 4. In a month or two, we can hopefully make this possible," added Motwani. On an average, shopkeepers at Commercial Street spend more than Rs 1 lakh on plastic bags every month.

Director general of police Ajai Kumar Singh launched the campaign. "Such campaigns are crucial for our existence. It is easy to deliver speeches but very difficult to act at the individual level. As far as environment is concerned, we are all acting like the famous anecdote of poet Kalidasa. We are cutting the tree branch we are sitting on. I remember a trip to Darjeeling, to the spot where Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore were picturized on a pretty toy train. Today, that rail track is littered with plastic. Every beautiful spot we go to, there is plastic," he said.

Children carrying plastic bags emptied the contents into the cloth bags given to them. They also participated in a painting competition on the theme `Paint My Earth Green’.

Also, cable operators like In Cable, Hathway, You Telecom, Kable First, Siti Cable and Den Network are part of the campaign. Promos will be aired on all networks with Vasundhara Das and Anil Kumble supporting the cause.


Wings Global Foundation, an organization that is trying to promote the use of areca nut plates, has roped in popular eateries in Bangalore. Nilgiris, Daily Bread, Nandini Palace, Empire Hotels, Mast Kalander, Kamat Yatri Niwas, Juice Junction, NMR Fast Food, Sukh Sagar, Bangalore International Exhibition Center and Nukkad at BIA have started using areca nut plates, according to Vinod Dubey of Wings Global Foundation. The organization is also closely working with the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board to get as many eateries as possible to convert to these plates.


`Thunk In India’, started by a bunch of young designers from Bangalore, uses non-recyclable waste material like tetrapacks, plastic packets and polythene bags to make fashion accessories such as bags, wallets, pen holders, jackets, bottle holders, mats, lamp shades, etc. They also use areca, lantana and coconut husk.