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Indian school children conduct reality check on MDGs
03 October 2005
by Millennium Campaign in India

New Delhi, India: Two Indian civil society organizations, Gandhi Smriti & Darshan Samiti and the India Alliance for Child Rights, encouraged children from four Delhi schools to understand the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The students were also encouraged to investigate the lives and realities of poor communities and to evaluate the extent to which the benefits of the MDGs have reached the poorest of the poor.

The schools involved in the reality check were Delhi Public School, Mathura Road; Ramjas School, Pusa Road; Sanskriti School, Chanakya Puri; and Vardhman Shiksha Mandir, Daryaganj. The findings of the reality check were disseminated at a conference on 'Consultation on India and the Millennium Commitment'.

Four of the eight MDGs were selected - eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving primary education for all, ensuring equality of the girl child and protecting the environment to enable improvement in the quality of human life without destroying nature.

A total of 35 families from 8 different colonies of Delhi were interviewed. Most of the families interviewed were welders, sweepers, maids, peons and others of the low-income group who earned Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000  (approx. $30 to $40) per month. The young investigators found that there were on average about 5 members in each family; that a major part of the income was spent on daily necessities like food, clothing and shelter; and that despite the MDGs, living standards had not improved. They concluded that a lot of effort was still needed to achieve the goal of poverty reduction.

In the realm of education, the children found a welcome change in the attitudes of the community. Most parents were eager to send their children to school despite extreme financial constraints. They believed that with education, the younger generation would be able to choose better professions and improve the quality of their own and others' lives.

It was evident that although the government had tried to increase the actual enrollment ratio by offering free mid-day meals, books and subsidized tuition fees, the quality of education still remained low.

The children concluded that it was possible to change the present scenario and achieve the goal of universal education. The government, however, needs to take immediate and assertive steps to ensure better infrastructure, better management of existing schemes and improved quality of education.

Achieving gender equality and ensuring women's empowerment emerged as the most challenging issue. The community surveyed was largely male dominated. The number of boys outnumbered the number of girls in most families. People preferred sending their sons, rather than daughters, to school.

Most of the girls had only finished primary school while the boys went in for higher education. One interesting observation was that most girls went to non-formal educational centres like the temple schools and were imparted non-formal education, and this included stitching and cooking, among other subjects. The boys, on the other hand, went to formal schools and received formal, technical education.

Women's health was also a point of great concern. Miscarriages, maternal mortality was rife. Therefore, it is imperative that the government and other organizations in this field put in great efforts to reduce the health problems faced by women at large.

In terms of environment sustainability, the survey highlighted that the poorest people dwell in unhealthy and dirty surroundings. There is no facility for waste disposal in these slums, and this leads to stagnation of water, and ensuing health hazards. There are very few trees. Most of the trees are cut down for firewood. All electricity connections are illegal.

Most children felt that some efforts are being made to improve the living condition and standards of the people but a lot is still to be achieved in terms of making the MDGs a living reality.

The suggestions that drew most attention were about the rehabilitation of children, especially the orphans who live on the streets and of those living in childcare homes run by the government. Suggestions for improvement also addressed the elimination of violence against children in government schools and other institutions, drug addiction, provision of food security and employment generation.

Accountability of the government to all people, even to those who are at the bottom of the social rung, was considered essential for the success of all initiatives to bring about a change. Special privileges for the handicapped or physically disabled was also one of the most important suggestions made by the people attending the conference.

It is important to sensitise youth around commitments made by our governments towards international goals and to citizens. These experiences are likely to go a long way in the creation of responsible citizens for the future.