Children of Mumbai Slums Gang Up for Urban Development

Self-motivated children from Mumbai Slums’ lead the path to bring urban development to their localities

"We played on an undeveloped piece of land earlier. We would get hurt because of the stray objects and also be embarrassed to call our friends to play in our 'playground’ because they would call our playground dirty!" recalls Shivani, a little girl with a confident smile, from the Annabhau Sathenagar slums of Mumbai. Her locality is a typical city slum, made up of narrow roads, stinky lanes, cramped houses and deteriorating structures. You name a problem and chances are you’ll find it there.

But Shivani and her friends are changing their reality, by taking it into their own hands. They’ve have done what adults have failed to do so far - they got themselves a playground by getting involved in the local governance process and providing solutions. The children worked towards listing out their problems and solutions to the local administration and then asking for action.

"We had a group discussion, drafted a petition asking for a clean, safe space to play and submitted it to the corporator of the area," Shivani explained to Video Volunteers Community Correspondent Amol Lalzare enthusiastically.

Their efforts won them a proper playground--  a luxury in a city like Mumbai.

This win is especially important because shrinking open spaces in urban areas, especially playing facilities, have left the children in the lurch. In metro cities, it is not uncommon to see slum children playing on busy roads, often putting them in the way of danger. This change was facilitated by a local children’s club run by Humara Bachpan, a national campaign that trains children from resettlement colonies and slums to become active participants in urban planning and development.

Since its inception in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha in 2013, Humara Bachpan has run children's clubs in 17 states, reaching out to 35,000 children all over India.  "Our focus group are children between the age of 0-6, living in urban poverty. Our support group is from the age of 7-16," says Preeti Maurya, a 14-year-old facilitator of Humara Bachpan, Mumbai. As advocates for change, the club members are taught to lobby with multiple government functionaries for the development of their communities into child-friendly neighbourhoods.

As of today, there are more than 13.7 million slum households across 63% of India’s towns. Of the 377 million urban Indians, 32% are children below 18 years of age. Despite the much-celebrated demographic dividend of India, more than eight million children under 6 years live in approximately 49,000 slums. While the country has made progress on developing city infrastructure, the heart of development, capable citizens, has been given divided attention. Urban children, especially those from disadvantaged sections, are susceptible to ill-health, poor access to water and sanitation, insufficient education, urban disasters and lack of protection.

While education is seen as the most efficient tool to lessen this divide, the children of Indian slums also are faced with the elusive triangle of access, equity and quality of education. While India slums are home to 27.4% children in the age group of seven to 18 years, only 17% government schools are located in urban areas. A PWC study in Delhi indicated that 31.5% slum children have never attended school!

Humara Bachpan creates a support group for these children to engage them into learning civic rights and duties that they’re empowered to change their life story by taking control, formulating action and asking for accountability from the local administration.The elder children help the younger one's highlight issues and work together towards a solution. Their approach is two-pronged: they first articulate the problem in a written appeal with the concerned official and then approach them to with a proposed action plan. As a result, these children are aware of their civic duties and rights, understand the governance mechanism of their locality and actively participate in creating a better neighbourhood.

The Children’s club of Mumbai is taking on bigger issues than just a playground. In fact, they’ve gotten new community toilets for the entire slum.

“Toilets have been a big problem in the slums. Our slum had problems such as lack of facilities and dilapidated toilet structures. We readied a letter, missed school on a few instances to meet the concerned official and after two tries, finally got an official to look into the matter. Now, we don't have to worry about broken walls because they've built new toilets," Samiksha proudly tells us.

Before Samiksha and her friends intervened, the locality had seven toilets for women and 14 toilets for men. “Why should women have fewer toilets?” was the question the children club asked. After their intervention, the local administration rebuilt the existing toilets and put seven more toilets for women.

India is home to approximately 40 crore citizens under 15 years old in the year 2017. However, these citizens have no access to complaint mechanisms and are excluded from decision-making in the public sphere. While there are laws such as Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, POSCO Act, 2012 (protection against child sexual abuse) and Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 to protect and provide for these citizens, their lack of awareness puts them at a disadvantage  while seeking their legal rights, redressal and recourse to problems that they face. This systematic denial of their rights disempowers children and contributes to their abuse, exploitation and marginalisation in society. Humara Bachpan gives these children a platform for gaining knowledge, awareness, and exercise their rights in an exclusionary social set up by actively participating in building a more just society from their perspective.

Active citizenship is the gateway not only to empower citizens but to safeguard democracy. By being actively involved in governance, citizens not only find solutions to their concerns but also build communication and cooperation with the government to strengthen democracy. This is precisely where Humara Bachpan hopes to step in: they prepare a community to learn and support so that marginalised children can join together and make the cities more child-friendly. Read more about Humara Bachpan

The video is produced by Video Volunteers with the support of Vikalp Sangam | Article by Sangeeta Rane

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