Apr 24, 2006

CRY - From Child Relief to Child Rights

This is written by Ingrid Srinath, the CEO of CRY, reproduced here with her permission:

CRY just changed its name to Child Rights and You. Why? Here's the short answer. Because all our experience tells us that the rights approach is the most effective. And that the situation of children is dire. And that we need urgent action on a humongous scale now!

If you can spare the time, here's the more detailed logic:

Imagine a country. Call it India, if you will. Yesterday, 10,000 Indians died from entirely preventable causes. As many died the day before. And the previous day. And so on as long as anyone can remember.

What do you think might happen in this imaginary land? Would the situation be declared a national calamity? Would high-powered committees work late into the night thinking up strategies to deal with the crisis? Would the Prime Minister be addressing the nation? Would the media be covering any other news? Perhaps, the UN would call an emergency meeting of the Security Council?

Yet 10,000 children die every single day in India. More than in any tsunami, flood, earthquake, famine or war. And we seem to take it for granted that this will be so for the foreseeable future.

It doesn’t merit more than a token platitudinous reference every now and again.

Picture this. Half the electorate is prevented from voting in an election. And the Election Commission said, ‘There, there. At least half of you got to vote.’ And everyone agreed that was OK. And the media went on covering fashion shows, cricket matches and a film-star’s health.

Outrageous? Yet half of India’s children are deprived of their fundamental right to education every day. And we seem quite content to tolerate that violation of their constitutional rights. Is the fundamental right to education less sacrosanct than the one that permits you to exercise your franchise?

What would your family do if half your children were facing a terrible crisis? One that would leave them stunted – physically and mentally - for life? Would you focus on any thing other than getting them the best treatment available? How would you react if someone suggested your time and money were better spent on acquiring a new security system? 51% of India’s children are blighted in childhood by malnutrition. Should our priorities as a nation, especially one that has a food surplus, be any different?

When a murderer walks out of court scot free, or a young executive is killed for doing his job, or a politician is caught on tape accepting a bribe, we are outraged. We demonstrate, sign petitions, demand action. When we feel strongly about an issue we have successfully got action - taxes rolled back, trials re-opened and politicians sacked. Would it take more effort to demand that budgetary allocations on health and education be increased from the current abysmal 4.6% than it took to fight the Fringe Benefit Tax?

Why are we so easily able to ignore the crisis engulfing our children? Is it because they are children? Or because we don’t believe their situation can really change? Or because they can’t vote? Or because we weren’t really serious when we promised them their rights – to survival, development, protection and participation?

In over 2500 villages and slums across 18 States, CRY has witnessed transformational change happening. All it takes is communities becoming aware of their rights and coming together to ensure them. Not just by enrolling children in schools but by addressing the root causes that keep them hungry, illiterate, exploited and abused. Causes like gender, caste, livelihoods and displacement.

So we know it’s possible. But if the transformation is not to be restricted to a few thousand communities, we need more. In fact, we have an historic opportunity to do much more. To use our new-found economic success to build a future that is not just prosperous for a few but peaceful and secure for all Indians.

But doing so on any significant scale will require at least 4 things to change.

First, we must start seeing children as citizens with rights as inviolate as our own, rather than objects of charity.

Second, their interests must become the centrepiece and touchstone of policy, be it at the level of the State, the organisations we work in, even within our neighbourhoods and families. Their well-being must become the standard by which we measure our success.

Third, those policies and the everyday choices we make, must seek to address the root causes of children’s problems not just their superficial manifestations.

Finally, we must all – as voters, parents, teachers, investors, neighbours, businesspersons, lawyers, consumers, activists, students, judges, administrators, journalists and politicians alike - overcome our apathy, cynicism and sheer inertia and reconfigure our priorities to put children first.

As part of our effort to focus attention and enlist support for this transformation, CRY has changed its name to Child Rights and You. Because 27 years of working with and for children have convinced us that the rights approach is the only one that works. And because the alternatives are not just ineffective but illegal and unjust.

Do check out our website at www.cry.org to know more and write in or call us with your suggestions, comments and queries.

It’s the only way we’ll know how you feel about India’s children and the changes we’re making.

Our silence as a nation is driving our children to despair and worse. Please stand up for what is right.