Advocacy for the protection of child rights and its importance in the present scenario and advocacy measures to promote child rights.
Paper presented at the National Seminar on "Human Rights Advocacy: An Avenuefor Social Change" 25th and 26th September 2012, Dept of Social Work, St. Aloysius College (Autonomous), Mangalore
This paper introduces the Indian situation in which advocacy for the protection of child rights is relevant. It focuses on the need for application of social work principles and methods in advocating for child rights to bring about changes in practices at the grassroots level interventions and in social policy and legislation. By practice, it is established that social policy and legislation is extremely important to en-sure that benefits reach the needy. Added to it, advocacy measures or movements are necessary to guard that the state does not abdicate itself from its responsibilities, inspite of having social welfare policies and programmes.
Achieving through advocacy is easier said than done in India, which is plagued with corruption at every level of bureaucracy and ill equipped civil society groups. Against these odds, several individuals, groups and campaigns are applying basic principles of advocacy and social work to reach the goals - transforming the mindset of the general public, legislators, administrators, judiciary, media and academia. In the context of Child Rights, the paper takes into account some of the advocacy measures in the recent past that have ensured Right to Education, Child Labour Abolition, Right to Nutrition, Anti Trafficking, Ban on Female Foeticide and Infanticide, etc.
From the field experiences of CRT -Child Rights Trust, Bangalore with which the author is associated for the past ten years, this paper highlights the formation of KCRO-Kamataka Child Rights Observatory, an advocacy and lobbying movement formed by an NGO collective and the birth of Karnataka Legislators' Forum for Child Rights as well as the lobbying exercise to get a circular issued by the Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR), to hold Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas throughout Kamataka. With these two examples, the paper attempts to analyse the advantages, possibilities and challenges in child rights advocacy.
The Indian Constitution guarantees all the rights enshrined in it to every child in India as 'children are also citizens' of this country. But, no day passes by without incidents of violation of child rights-discrimination, abuse, neglect, denial of basic entitlements and services, either in one's own home/family or outside. Although we have lived for more than five decades with the constitution, we are yet to recognise the situation of children around us from the rights perspective. Children in our societies continue to be voiceless, vulnerable and unrepresented. This situation calls for adult or organised groups or state intervention to advocate for the issues of children and create space for children's voice.
After India signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) in 1992, all of a sudden official figures of child population in India shot up! Article 1 of CRC defines a child as a person below the age of 18 years.' As a result, India is now home for the largest child population with a little over than 44 % of the total population. This probably is one of the biggest challenges for the Indian Society and the Government to accept the age of the child and the huge number of children who have to be catered with services and a future.
In response to this, there is both denial and acceptance of the age factor at several levels as per convenience by all the three estates-legislature, administration and judiciary. We cannot ignore the general public, media, corporates, NGOs and the academia who also matter a lot in the world of children. The requirement for Child Rights Advocacy in India begins here, which suits the classical definition of the term Advocacy - the act of pleading or arguing in favour of or active support or recommending a cause, idea or policy".3
Advocacy-Concepts and Definitions
The term 'Advocacy' has been explained by various authors and practitioners in different contexts and situations. 'Advocacy is a political process by an individual or a large group, for example, social workers who normally aim to influence public policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions; it may be motivated from moral, ethical or faith principles or simply to protect an asset of interest. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or poll or the 'filing of friend of the court briefs'. Lobbying (often by lobby groups) is a form of advocacy where a direct approach is made to influence legislators on an issue which plays a significant role in modern politics."
Children in India and a case for Advocacy
'Study on Child Abuse: India 2007' by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Gal highlights the serious issue of child abuse and neglect in the country. 5
Physcial Abuse: (i) Two out of every three children were physically abused; (ii) out of 69 % of physically abused children in 13 sample states, 54.68 per cent were boys; (iii) The states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi have almost consistently reported higher rates of abuse in all forms as compared to other states;" (iv) Out of those children physically abused in family situations, 88.6 per cent were physically abused by parents, and (v) Sixty-five per cent of school-going children reported facing corporal punishment, i.e., two out of three children were victims of corporal punishment.
Sexual Abuse: (i) 53.22 per cent children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse; (ii) AP, Assam, Bihar and Delhi reported higher percentage of sexual abuse among both boys and girls; (iii) 21.90 per cent child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse and 50.76 per cent experienced other forms of sexual abuse while 5.69 per cent reported being sexually assaulted; and (iv) 7.50 per cent abusers are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility in the child's life.
Emotional Abuse and Neglect of the Girl Child: (i) every second child reported facing emotional abuse; (ii) Equal percentage of both girls and boys reported facing emotional abuse; (iii) In 83 per cent of the cases, parents were the abusers and (iv) 48.4 per cent of girls wished that they were boys.
NFHS-National Family Health Survey 3 (2005-06) has identified a very dangerous trend in nutritional status of children below 3 years in Karnataka: Stunted: 38%; Wasted 18% and Underweight 41%. Nearly 83 % of children in 6 - 35 months are anaemic in the state. More than 50% of women in 15-49 years range are anaemic. The most alarming fact is that almost 60 % of pregnant women in 15-49 years range are anaemic. 7
These studies become very significant when we analyse the statistics in the light of right to survival and healthcare; right to education; right to be protected against exploitation and the right to expression and taking part in decision making, thus stressing the importance and need for advocacy for upholding the rights of the children. These are all areas where urgent interventions are needed by the State to prevent abuse and set up systems for protection, rehabilitation and development so that children do not become victims now and in the future.
Advocacy has played a key role in the history of child rights. Ms. Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children, in order to assist children affected by the allied blockade of supplies to Europe, she went on to lobby with the Government to end the blockade in 1919 and to draft the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1923 - forming the basis of the current UN Convention on the Rights of the Child."
Professional Social work education and Advocacy
Most of us with a degree in Social Work paid attention to learn the principles of Social Work Case Work, Group Work, Community Organisation, Social Action, Social Research, etc., and rushed to the field to practice what we learnt. Our intentions were to see that we are there with various communities to bring about a change in their lives. We reached the communities, mingled with the people and began our battle against the social problems and evils with the weapons we carried with us. To begin with, many took head-on the issues and joined the cavalry. After a few strides and knowing something of success and failure as well as dead ends, some of us came back to our strategy rooms and reviewed our drawings and game plan.
While the field action is important to be continued, (housing, sanitation, immunization, enrolling children in schools, providing mid-day meals, improving nutritional levels, de addiction, initiating child labour schools, rehabilitating children on the streets, opposing child marriages, abuse, devadasi system, and child trafficking, etc. ,) experience has shown some of us that we need to tackle something else to alleviate the child centered social problems on the ground. A continuous search for that 'something' led us to the 'power house' -the hub of bureaucrats, people's representatives, the law makers and the planners called the Government.
A close look at the style and methodology of operations of the Government threw up several questions.
Child rights and advocacy
Our social work education as well as work in the field repeatedly stressed that our work is 'apolitical'. But, the moment we start talking the language of 'Rights', that too for children, the whole atmosphere changes. We are in the thick of politics. We cannot ignore the power of making use of political processes for advocating in favour of children.
'Advocacy' is largely mystified by most of the 'child rights advocates'! Its our duty to document our field attempts and experiences to bring something 'right' to children and thus motivate all concerned with children to be part of this mass movement to uphold child rights. This is aptly summarized as 'one type of children's advocacy typically represents or gives voice to an individual or group whose concerns and interests are not being heard. A child advocate will try to protect children from being harmed and may try to obtain justice for those who have already been harmed in some way. A child advocate may also seek to ensure that children have access to positive influences or services which will benefit their lives such as education, childcare and proper p. 'enting. Malnutrition is another form of hazard - there are many children who go to bed without eating and it is looked over by child welfare'. 9 'Another form of child advocacy happens at the policy level and aims at changing the policies of governments or even transnational policies. These advocates do lobbying, policy research, file lawsuits and engage in other types of policy change techniques'10 (DeVita and Mosher 2001). In the current situation, 'many use several techniques including Internet based (techniques) to influence decision makers'!' (McNutt 2007). Water Aid's 'The Advocacy Sourcebook' defines advocacy as 'taking action to bring about the change you are seeking. Therefore, advocacy must necessarily take place in a particular context, and be aimed at a particular target.' 12 This contextualizes the concept as well gives a simple workable definition on advocacy. Thus, one need not have to picturize advocacy as a far reaching effort as it always talks about big issues, national and international level. Even advocacy efforts to bring smaller or minor changes at a local level, at a grama panchayat level, in a locality or even in a school or hostel or in an organization with an appropriate strategy are worthy to be replicated and documented. In the context of child rights, advocacy thus targets policy makers at various levels and public institutions for change in policy, programmes, allocation of resources and prioritizing issues.
Advocacy for Social policy and legislation: Translating social work practice at the grassroots' level to social policy and legislation is extremely important to ensure that the benefits and reach of the social work practices are given a wider scope. A legislation or policy also ensures that the 'state does not abdicate itself from its responsibility towards social welfare. Achieving this is easier said than done in a country like India with its rampant corruption and bureaucratic ways. But despite these overwhelming limitations and barriers, many organizations and individuals, are aware of the importance of ensuring their work impacts policy and legislation and consciously design their advocacy programmes and approaches keeping that goal in perspective.
From child rights perspective, a close look at the various policies and legislations-Right to Education, Right to Food, Universalisation of pre-primary services, Child Labour Prohibition, Anti trafficking, Ban on female infanticide, Anti dowry, Prohibition of Child Marriages, Adoption laws, Integrated Child Protection Schemes, Juvenile Justice, etc., are all results of several advocacy and lobbying activities, with campaigns, field operations, research by committed social workers supported by academia, motivated bureaucrats and legislators and some times due to judicial activism (e.g., the 1993 Judgement that brought up RTE (Right to Education) into Constitutional debates). But practitioners comment that most of these acts or programmes or schemes have no comprehensive strategies that advocate for integrated child rights protection.
In the background of these, this paper attempts to highlight advocacy initiatives of CR T -Child Rights Trust, Bangalore that have had some success in ensuring that child rights advocacy have a positive impact at the policy level. In this paper, two of the major interventions are taken for study.
The intervening NGO has applied advocacy measures with social work methods in reaching the goals. Case Work, Group Work, Community Organisation mobilization, Social Action and Research are used appropriately wherever needed in convincing the concerned. The media and public relations skills are adequately used in the advocacy and lobbying exercise.
The paper does not look at analyzing the impact of all advocacy efforts in upholding the rights of the children, but describes two success stories that have emerged in this regard from a particular consortium. This can serve as a guide to the approaches adopted and provides a glimpse into the possibilities of how social work practices can impact at policy/legislation level through Child Rights Advocacy.
Some significant advocacy tools adopted
Grama Panchayats, the Local Self Governments, are bound to take up quality intervention for all development activities. Children, who are not voters (normally branded as 'citizens of tomorrow') are not in the development radar of the Panchayats. But the Act governing the PRI system clearly puts the onus of child survival, protection, development on the Grama Panchayats, Taluk Panchayats and Zilla Panchayats." Practicing several of the social work principles at grassroots level have clearly shown that if the Grama Panchayats take an active role in monitoring the situation, child rights can be certainly realized.
Child Rights Trust (CRT), now the secretariat to KCRO,14 conducted a Child and Grama Panchayat Centered Action Research Project in 15 Grama Panchayats (five each from three taluks- Bellary, Hagaribommanahalli and Kudligi) in Bellary district of Karnataka state (2003-2007).15 To begin with, the Grama Panchayat members and the community were contacted for authentic data on children's issues. Secondary data on women and children's survival, health, nutrition, well-being, protection, and education status were collected from the Anganawadi workers, ANMs and primary school staff. Getting data from these service providers was not a cake walk. Our team had to make several trips to the local service providers A WWs, ANMs and schools - cajoling, convincing and pursuing them to part with whatever data they had stored.
After the survey, the status of children in the particular panchayat was discussed with the GP members and the community in the presence of service providers who had given the data. The data was compiled, collated and then analysed in the form of diagrams and tables called 'Child Rights Centered Progress Card of the Panchayat'. These progress cards raised key issues like child mortality, maternal mortality, female infanticide and feticides, child marriages, ANCs (ante natal care), immunization, malnutrition, child trafficking, school dropouts, child labour, gender discrimination, disability, children of devadasis, orphans, semi orphans and destitutes, missing and run away children, lack of services in Anganwadis, schools and hostels, mid day meals, lack of welfare measures, scholarships and education support services, lack of academic growth, etc. A few Panchayats took the clue and geared up their systems to streamline the services, decided to plug the loop holes, provided assistance to the needy and made up their minds to consider children as part and parcel of their PRI system. The field research and collective responsibility here worked as an advocacy tool at the grassroots level in favour of child rights.
We could not stop at this. We as an individual NGO cannot be with the community forever and we cannot motivate, support only a handful of GPs to address issues related to children. And we also had doubts and concerns on whether the GPs would follow up with the needed actions in response to the issues that the data had brought up and the sustainability of the project in a small geographical location. 16 Looking into the role of Grama Panchayats in keeping track of their children's well-being and organising community and converging services of concerned departments to tackle short-falls, new strategies were thought of.
Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR) Department, Government of Karnataka was then approached (in August 2006) with the concept of Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas. The then Secretary to Govt., RDPR department, impressed with the presentation and concept, sent a circular to keep track of children at Gram Panchayat at level and to hold special. Grama Sabhas on Children's issues every year between 13th and 30th of November every year."
The circular which was approved in September 2006 directs the CEOs of Zilla Panchayats to monitor the conducting of Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas and submit reports to the head office. With this historical move by the Government, an initiative confmed initially to only 15 GPs initiated by an NGO, moved to impact all the GPs of the state. Now, this is a policy tool in the hands of hundreds of NGOs practicing various social work interventions and GPs overseeing Government projects in every nook and corner of the state to monitor the progress of children. The most interesting part of this system is the participation of children too in raising their concerns and the adults taking responsibility for addressing them. While other states have shown interest in the exercise, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has appreciated the move as a unique method.
This advocacy has also experienced road blocks, non cooperation by bureaucrats, NGOs and basic service providers. But a continued follow up with the concerned department resulted in RDPR conducting press conferences jointly by the ministers of RDPR and Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), GOK to announce yearly Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas (N ov. 2011) and release of success stories of conducting Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas (March 2012).
Birth of Karnataka Legislators Forum for Child Rights- and Children's Parliament in Vidhana Soudha with the CM of Karnataka.
Are children citizens of this country? One may wonder why this question, when the Constitution of India declares that children born for Indian couples in India are Indians and they are citizens of India. Anyone can even apply for Indian citizenship as per the Indian Citizenship Act. So also children born in India to Indian parents are citizens of India.
But it is very difficult to find peoples' representatives at Legislative Assembly or Parliament taking issues related to children and debate for effective legislation or higher budgetary allocation. It was evident in the way the Right to Education Bill was passed in 2009. A very significant Act that is going to decide the fate of the children and the fate of the country was passed without quality debate. The reasons could be lack of information about the situation of children in the country or children do not constitute the vote bank that decides the fate of the politicians.
In 90's many of us in the field of child rights activism have tried several methods to attract the attention of the Government to make pro children policies and programmes. Our media campaigns, dharnas, morchas, public programmes, press conferences, studies, etc., took a long time to reach the power house and there was no guarantee of the desired changes. In the meanwhile, some of us noticed that any issue that is raised on the floor of the House gets noticed and the Government is bound to answer it with its stand. A debate, calling attention motion, zero hour question, etc., means the Government cannot ignore the issue, but has to respond. Thus, we decided to take a non-confrontational means by working with the people's representatives, raising public awareness and lobbying with the administrators.
Since 1990, some of us were following up with the political parties and had noticed that no political party was making any significant promises to children in their election manifestos. Because children are not voters! An attempt was made in 1995 to influence the political parties to include right to education and eradication of child labour in their manifestos. 18 In 2004 and 2009, concerted efforts by several NGOs and networks resulted in major political parties making specific promises to children - education, health, protection, cultural and sports provisions, hostels, scholarship, immunization, bicycles, higher education, support to children with disabilities, incentives to pregnant and lactating mothers, prevention of child labour, child marriage and so on. 19
KCRO took the role of follow up and monitoring of elected legislators after compiling the manifestos of all the political parties culling out children's issues. Questions raised in the Houses, answers given by the concerned ministers, debates in the various sessions of the Houses, budgets, speeches, etc., were brought to the table and sorted out in the following manner:
1. Session no.
2. The question date
3. The answering department
4. Starred or Un-starred question
5. Subject and sector (e.g. Child Centered) or others
6. Name of the legislator
8. Representing party
9. The Question in detail and Answer in detail
This tabulation and the analysis for a continued period have thrown up several observations.
What followed is the formation of 'Karnataka Legislators' Forum for Child Rights' with the participation of several significant legislators (around 100 legislators have signed up since 2008). The forum is now taking children's issues head on in the Karnataka Assembly and Council. They have become ambassadors for children in the state.
The Karnataka Legislators' Forum for Child Rights organized a unique Children's Parliament with a face to face dialogue with the then CM of Karnataka Mr. Sadananda Gowda on 15th November 2011 in Vidhana Soudha.
The sum result of social interventions in the field work with documentation of cases and processes, research, community mobilization and social action has thus resulted in impacting the fate of children and creating a demand for change. Efforts are now on to lobby with the legislators to have a one- day discussion exclusively for children's issues on the floors of the Assembly.
What has happened in Karnataka Assembly is the beginning of a new thinking. Such social work interventions with advocacy and lobbying can be developed with respect to natural resources, dalit rights, women's issues, agriculture, etc., to make people friendly legislation and policies.
Prospects in Child Rights Advocacy
Advocacy is a present continuous term (!) in the context of child rights. The development targets to be met at national level are quite huge. Considering the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), World Fit for Children (WFC) , our own Five Year Plan goals and NPAC (National Plan of Action) and SPAC (State Plan of Action for Children), there are hundreds of issues to be persuaded through advocacy to involve, motivate and act to bring about change. It can be issues related to immunization, safe motherhood, universal use of toilets, birth registration, stopping child marriages and child trafficking' etc. Social Workers and social work techniques blending with other developmental measures continue to be relevant in the coming days as the challenges are many.
While these initiatives are by no means an exhaustive list and many organizations and individuals can be credited with having success stories in this sphere, this goes to show that there are definite possibilities and channels for social work practices to go beyond its own limitations. The fact that KCRO, a -consortium of NGOs and individuals across the state are involved in ensuring that these initiatives have a policy/legislative impact is a testimony to the fact that there is awareness amongst a large section in this field on the importance of relating social work practice to policy and not viewing it in isolation. But certainly it's still a long way towards achieving this more effectively and in a focused manner.
Inroads have been made; efforts should now be geared towards building it on further, strengthening the approaches and bridging the gaps to move towards endeavors where social work practice and policy can work to complement each other seamlessly.
Some of the road blocks to achieve this include lack of personnel who can take up these advocacy, lobbying and documentation exercises; documentation and media relations, lack of training for activists, lack of funding support; lack of any documented efforts in this regard and the development field considering politics and political activities as taboo. But now the time has come to shed our reservations about political parties and politicians and make use of legislative tools to bring people friendly policies and legis lations." To conclude, all of us who are working in the field to meet the needs of our clientele, particularly children should be prepared to be advocates of any issue. And we need to note that Advocacy as we are experiencing is not a one time activity or a programme. Advocacy is a long term 'Process' with a close follow up plan.
Mr. Vasudeva Sharma N. V.
Executive Director, CRT -Child Rights Trust and State,
Convener of KCRO-Karnataka Child Rights Observatory, Bangalore and
Former Member, KSCPCR- Karnataka State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights
Former Chairperson of Child Welfare Committee, Bangalore.