Young campaigners demand children's rights
Teen activists bid to get lawmakers to keep promises
Lack of health facilities in her village saw Rikida Shadap born completely deaf and also lose her mother within three months of her birth. Life immediately became a struggle but she was determined to get a quality education and so had her father enrol her in a school in far-away Shillong, the state capital of Meghalaya in northeast India. Despite her disability, Shadap, now 14, is fighting for children’s rights by becoming part of the NINEISMINE campaign. The campaign by children is to remind the ruling Congress-led coalition government in Delhi of its poll promise to allocate 9 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product for education (6 percent) and health (3 percent). Shadap and eight other children with disabilities from Meghalaya are in New Delhi where they have been joined by 27 children from other areas to press the government to fulfill its promise. Shadap, who hails from Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills region, said: “This is our right. I came here on behalf of all children in the country. I want the government to fulfill its promise so that other children don’t suffer like us.” The 36 campaigners started their journey on November 8 on the Nau Kadam (nine steps) Express to New Delhi. On the way they stopped in other states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjaband and Tamil Nadu. There they met underprivileged children and listened to their problems during visits to schools in these states. On arriving in the capital, the campaigners, half from northeast India and the rest from the south, took their grievances to ministers, members of parliament and other influential figures. Their demands also included regular meals for children, toilet facilities in schools, no caste or gender discrimination, a ban on child labor and comprehensive health care for children. “It’s high time the government listened to us. We are not demanding much, just a small share of the GDP,” said 13-year-old Dilbert Lyngdoh. “Children in India are not aware of their rights. We are here to tell them what they deserve and get their support for the campaign,” Dziipu Parmai, 13, said. Angelina Tynhiang, 15, , said “my parents are so proud I am part of this campaign. After coming here and meeting the dignitaries, I have realized that even I can make a difference in other children’s lives.” Young parliamentarians said they appreciated the children’s initiative and extended their support to the campaign, after meeting the campaigners. “I am inspired by the courage shown by these children. I hope that I, in some shape or form, can add to this campaign,” said Varun Gandhi, one of the lawmakers. Brother Steve Rocha, who launched the campaign, said: “The children are satisfied that all who met them listened to what they had to say.” “I am happy… At least we have been able to take up these issues with them. We will not stop here but now work to take things forward,” he added. He said a “Public Day” rally will be organized on January 30, a month before the national budget is announced, followed by a candle light rally by children from all 28 states in the country. The NINEISMINE campaign, which is part of the bigger Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (Don’t break the promise campaign), was launched in 2006 after the government “reneged” on the election pledge.