Let us make India a child malnourished free country

We have gone and spent days with street children to understand their issues. It is not that all children don't want to study, many are just waiting for a school to open in their vicinity.

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By Pavan Kaushik

With largest children population in the world, larger than China, and almost 1/3rd of world’s malnourished children in the world living in India alone, the country is indeed in an alarming situation today. 8 million children in India, in the age group of 5-14 years are engaged in work.

If we go by UNICEF report, India also has about 11 million street children and metros are leading these figures, with Delhi housing over 100,000 such children alone. 20% of the child deaths in the world happen in India.

India also has 2nd largest educational system in the world. Though, with a total enrolment of 114.6 million at primary and 41.3 million at upper primary level schools, India has shown remarkable improvement in the education enrollment scorecard. But when it comes to sustaining it, the country’s biggest challenge is increasing number of children who drop out from the school. This population was as huge as 8.1 million in 2008. Worse is out of 8.1 million children more than 2/3rd are girls.

Recently, Mr. Sachin Pilot, Minister for Corporate Affairs took a meeting of large companies to push the agenda for 2% spent on CSR by companies from their profit. A bill which is being slated for winter session this year. The Government seriousness and contribution by companies, NGOs and individuals can only bring “Khushi” in the lives of millions of underprivileged children in India. Many corporates were of the view to keep the spent voluntary and not to make it compulsory.

Vedanta is spearheading national campaign towards ‘care for the underprivileged children in India’. Their is a serious need to create awareness in people at large in India. It is time to understand that Government, companies or NGOs cannot do it alone. We all as individuals need to come out and see what we can contribute at our individual levels”. Tomorrow when these underprivileged children grow up as adults, what would they do ? They will have no skills to work and fail to become productive citizens of the country ?

Vedanta started their first social media campaign “Khushi – Care for the Underprivileged Children” recently (www.khushi-creatinghappiness.blogspot.in). The “Khushi” campaign is a non-funding campaign that encourages people to come forward and understand the problem and take individual steps for the probable solutions. The Khushi Group on the facebook has over 20,000 members which include entrepreneurs, professors, doctors, engineers, students, management graduates, NGOs etc. The blog ‘Vedanta Khushi’ uploads live incidents and stories of people who are contributing towards development of these poor children. This encourages more participation by individuals.

“Vedanta Khushi” platform also organizes on-line discussions and debates which has seen intense discussions on problems relating to education for street children, menace of child beggary, increasing drop-out in rural schools, infrastructure in rural schools, problem of children involved in making crackers, teachers problem in rural schools etc.. The discussions bring out some positive solutions which individuals and companies can adopt.

Through active participation and intense discussions in ‘Khushi Group’, the first change has been seen is in the temperament of people. Many people have informed that they no more shout at poor children and try to do something constructive for them. The charity has begun from home. This is one big change ‘Vedanta Khushi’ has brought and we are quite satisfied with it.

Vedanta group has adopted about 5500 Anganwadi Centres in Rajasthan, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. The children in Anganwadi Centres are being given supplementary diet, their health check-up has become regular, they are being taught through play-way method to keep the interest alive. There has been a considerable change in their health, weight and knowledge. 9,000 underprivileged children from Anganwadi Centres have been sent to formal school this year and 100 tribal children have also been graduated to formal school, which was a dream for them.

We are also looking to adopt more Anganwadi Centres to reach out to as many underprivileged children and extend our program on providing nutrition, health and education to these children. We have gone and spent days with street children to understand their issues. It is not that all children don’t want to study, many are just waiting for a school to open in their vicinity.

In Tamil Nadu, Vedanta has taken care of 700 children of migratory parents who have come for work in Nilgiri area. The company tied up with an NGO to facilitate the education, food and health check-ups of these children. “These children were prone to all sorts of problem including health, food, education and even trafficking. We tied-up with an NGO to ensure education, nutrition and good health for their children. At least 700 children were brought into the stream. “Vedanta Khushi” also tied up for the free lip cleft and palate operations for 2500 children with Smile Train organization of US and American GBH Hospital in Udaipur. The average spent by a patient on such operation is about Rs. 12-15,000, which now would be done free of cost.

The company has constructed 8 hi-tech mid-day mean kitchens – 6 in Rajasthan, 1 in Chattisgarh and 1 in Orissa which are being run in association with State Governments and are providing hot mid-day meal to about 250,000 rural poor children every day covering about 2700 schools.

We need to get to the bottom of the problem to resolve the issues. It is time to wake up and make a conscious effort to ensure a bright future for millions of these underprivileged children in India.

Pavan Kaushik is the head corporate communication at Vedanta Group Company.

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