Children of lesser god have a manifesto too

April 19th, 2009 - 6:10 pm ICT by IANS  

By Darshan Desai
Lucknow, April 19 (IANS) “Thanks for this (bottled) water, I will drink it. This morning I wanted to have a bath, but there is no water where I live. I have come without a bath,” a frail 10-year-old Praveen Bano from a Lucknow shantytown summed up the condition of Uttar Pradesh’s dispossessed millions who are vote-banks for politicians but whose basic issues are off their radar.

As many as 90 children in Lucknow, who will take several years to qualify to vote, released what they called a ‘Manifesto from the Margins’ here Sunday morning.

The street children, associated with voluntary organisation Ehsaas, held a march to highlight what seldom reflects on the manifestoes of political parties. And their manifesto was a reality check for political parties.

Consider some figures:

-Only 0.03 percent of the Indian government’s budget is allocated for child protection, and Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state with 16 crore people, allots 0.17 percent of its exchequer for them. The state’s budget is around Rs.20,000 crore.

-Only eight percent of the state’s total budget goes towards development of children.

-Every second child in Uttar Pradesh is malnourished.

-Every sixth undernourished child in India is from the state.

Shachi Singh of Ehsaas told IANS: “This manifesto will be given to every candidate in Lucknow and then despatched to the government. We demand that 20 percent of discretionary funds for legislators and members of parliament should be for children.”

Shachi said the purpose of the three-km walkathon not far from the city’s main upmarket square Hazrantganj was to highlight the plight of children in Uttar Pradesh. Dharm Bharati Mission, a voluntary organisation, organised the walk in association with Ehsaas and UNICEF.

Describing a more alarming situation, the children’s manifesto expressed concern that “less than half of the promised nine percent allocation of funds for education and health is actually spent. Against six percent allocated for education, only three is spent while just one percent is actually utilised out of the four percent in the budget.”

Abha Kumar, a 13-year-old slumdweller, said: “As long as you let children work and deny them proper schooling there is no future for UP (Uttar Pradesh).”

The children arrived holding placards in well decorated rikshaws and tongas and held up their demands. Their parents work as daily wagers at construction sites and have migrated to the city from all over the state. Many of the children join their parents at work.

Shachi pointed out that as many as 20 percent of all child labourers in the country are in Uttar Pradesh. The state’s infant mortality is an alarming 74.7 percent per 1,000 deaths as against India’s average of 57 percent. Birth registration in the state is only 56 percent, meaning that “the already abysmally low budget is allocated only for a little over half the children”, she said.

The rest are off the radar.

Ajeet Pal Singh of Dharm Bharati Mission said the “children’s attack on the adults will continue” and the Right To Information Act would be used to fish out more alarming facts to corner politicians.

“These children are telling us that we have failed them them, but our schools and our behaviour have failed them,” Augustine Veliath of the UNICEF said.

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