The last few decades have seen a huge rise in public awareness regarding the causes and effects of human-induced environmental degradation. Worldwide, people are experiencing the negative impact of water and food shortages, soil, air and water pollution or natural disasters. Environmental pollution frequently crosses borders and is even felt at the global level, as in the case of climate change. The costs are borne, above all, by those who can least protect themselves: the children of today and tomorrow! Already many children, particularly in developing countries, are prevented from growing up in a healthy environment: every year three million under-five-year-olds die of environment related ill-nesses. That is more than one in three deaths among children. At the same time the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, the loss of biodiversity and other irrevocable ecological damage darken children’s future prospects. Young people are doubly punished since, today and as adults, they have to live with the consequences of environmental degradation. It is amazing that – although future generations will have to pay for the unscrupulous handling of nature – their interests, rights and voices usually go completely unheard in the world of politics and business.
Children’s rights direct the focus of environmental and sustainability policy to the unequal power relations that exist between children and adults, between industrialized and developing countries, between rich and poor. Yet, in many areas, we observe the lack of legal and institutional preconditions required for meeting the human rights challenges arising from ecological damage in the 21th century.
The voices of children must be heard because policy-making on climate or biodiversity is about their future. They will also inherit the responsibility of looking after the earth: in the worst case they will encounter an environment offering them extremely limited opportunities for their life and development. Children are in a very similar position to still unborn future generations. They will have to cope with the earth that we have left them, without themselves having an effective means of control. When taking normative and institutional protective measures, decision-makers must give urgent consideration to how strongly future generations will depend on decisions of generations alive now
Gram sathi has been on the forefront for advocacy and lobbying for changes in the child labour laws, and continues to be an active participant in the campaign. At the Banka & Godda district level, gram sathi has led awareness campaigns in housing societies against employment of domestic child labour and in restaurants and hotels against employing children below 14 years. With the increase in young working couples with no family support in Banka & Godda, the employment of young girls for domestic labour has been seen to be on the increase, though this is a hidden work force that is hard to identify and quantify. gram sathi continues with efforts to raise awareness on the issue, as well as keep up the pressure on the labour department and the task force to implement the law more strictly and bring the employers to book while making all attempts to repatriate the rescued children to their families.
In the past few years, there has been an increase in the numbers of cases of Gram Sathi has often been approached for help and follow up of cases. Poor and insensitive handling of cases by the police and hospitals has added to the trauma of survivors. Awareness raising and vigilance amongst children, parents, teachers, the police and society at large are the only ways of minimizing this problem. Gram Sathi is building capacity within the network to be able to conduct such awareness raising activities and build a network of good support for the affected children. Harsh corporal punishment of children is still rampant in schools and homes. Raising awareness about the long term ill effects of this, as well as taking action against teachers who are guilty of such actions is part of Gram Sathi mandate.
Gram Sathi has always believed that while adults should be involved in ensuring that children’s rights are not violated, children too should be educated and empowered to advocate for their own rights. In the past Gram Sathi has organised training sessions for member organisations to help them to understand child participation more deeply. Many members have started children’s committees which are active in discussing and identifying child rights violations in their schools and communities and also in taking action against corporal punishment and child marriage. Juniors has been formed, which is a group of child representatives from member organisations. Gram Sathi is developing this group of youngsters through workshops, visits and discussions to be advocates for the rights of children in Banka & Godda district.