India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh (UP) is home to 183 million people. Nearly 82.5 million of these are children below the age of 14.
Of around 54, 00,000 children born here each year, 450,000 infants die before they are one year old and 275,000 infants do not even live for a month. With nearly 54 percent of the population living in poverty, the children who survive, face other problems. Yet, the State has no policy for Children. There is no Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Now, a consortium of media and civil society organizations working for children's rights in UP has decided to change the situation..
"We are determined to bring the issue of Child Rights in the mainstream of the state government's policy through policy advocacy and capacity building of stakeholders,' says Sachi Singh, Convenor of Media Development Partners Action Group on Child Protection.
The Innovative group, working in Uttar Pradesh since May 2006, comprises around two dozen representatives of the media, development related organizations and NGOs.
NGOs/ Development organizations have rich field experience, and know the issues, the problems and the bottlenecks in implementing the Child Rights agenda. But they lack expertise in campaigning for the issue and have little media capacity. The media, on the other, is a powerful force, showing an increasing appetite for developmental stories. But it often lacks in-depth understanding of the issues.
UNICEF has helped them come under one banner for a common cause. "We thought of bringing them together to jointly create awareness and action on issues related Child Protection” says Prosun Sen, Communication Officer, UNICEF, UP.
Last November, the members submitted a memorandum to UP Chief Minister Mayawati, demanding the establishment of a State Child Rights Commission and the formation of a Child Policy for the state.
They also demanded the setting up of a Child Welfare Fund to finance programmes related to health, education and rehabilitation of children. They lobbied for at least 10 percent of the MP/MLA Local Area development funds for child protection and child welfare.
"We received an encouraging response from the state government, and top officials asked for more concrete suggestions," says Sudhir Mishra, a development journalist and an active member of the group.
The Consortium is working on issues related to birth registration, juvenile justice and female foeticide. It is supporting "Mission Protection Project'' launched by UNICEF, Department of Women and Child Development and Ehsas, a local NGO..
Field trips of the Consortium have resulted in explosive media coverage of issues related to juvenile justice, missing and trafficked children.
"The initiative has resulted in a noticeable rise in the quantity and quality of reporting on children's issues in the state, building constructive pressure on the government," says Dr Neelam Singh of Vatsalya, an active member of the Action Group.
The Consortium has an ambitious agenda for 2008. “We are now preparing a draft Child Policy for consideration of the state Government. We want to become a recognized voice on Child Protection in the state of Uttar Pradesh," says Dr. Singh.