INDIA: Salesian Students Advocate for 2015 Millennium Development Goals — and Beyond

NEW DELHI, INDIA (May 4, 2012) - As nearly 60 experts came together to discuss how to ensure the Millennium Development Goals are achieved and advanced past 2015, children in India were already taking action. Among the youth were students from Salesian institutions.

The “Nine Is Mine” campaign—with the support of a network of nongovernmental organizations including Salesian Missions—gives children and youth the opportunity to advocate for the MDGs in India.

The campaign’s goal is to put pressure on India’s government to keep its promise of allocating 6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) for education and 3 percent for health and is linked with the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals.

Most recently, youth made their voices heard through an advocacy trip to New Delhi to raise awareness of the campaign and speak with leaders in the capital.

“These children made a historic journey of governance accountability and advocacy. Salesians in India are proud to have been a part of this. The message from our children is ‘We do not want to wait for tomorrow to be citizens. We want to be heard today so that, together, we will have a better tomorrow,’” says Salesian Father Thomas Pallithanam, one of several leaders among the organizers of the campaign.

With only three years remaining to reach the historic Millennium Development Goals, key leaders and experts are examining not only progress made on the current goals, but also how to expand them after the 2015 deadline. The United Nations Millennium Campaign, in partnership with the Global Call to Action Against Poverty and Beyond 2015 recently held a post-2015 roundtable on civil society engagement.

One of the key challenges identified was, “Poverty reduction needs to be front and center, with the voices of women, youth and other marginalized groups playing an influential role.” The conference was part of the UNMC goal to support and inspire people from around the world to take action in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

Through the “Nine Is Mine” advocacy effort in India, three groups of children traveled nine days, through nine cities and nine states. They raised nine issues in addition to the demand for a committed 9 percent of the GDP for education and health. One group consisted of nine children with disabilities, supported by nine other children. At every stop on the way groups of children and adults held public meetings and collected signatures in support of funding the campaign. When they reached New Delhi, they attended a public hearing, visited Parliament and met with various ministers.

A delegation of nine children, along with three adult guides, met India’s Finance Minister, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, who told the delegation “It is also my dream that I will be able to meet this very necessary demand. But do appreciate my constraint.”

While understanding that much still needs to be done, the adults and students who participated in the trip believe it was worth the effort.

“This has been a once in a lifetime privilege to share this great adventure of governance accountability by children. I have learned so much,” says Saneesh, one of the adults accompanying the group from Kottayam.

“Give Voice to the Girl Child and you will see changes!” says 17-year-old Jainab, a student from Meerut and winner of the India Pride Award given by Dainik Bhaskar.

“We got involved because they are children. They are youth. They are poor. They deserve every opportunity that we can give them, and the Salesians of Don Bosco are committed to reaching out to them in a multitude of different ways, from conducting youth camps, training their teachers, organizing children's parliaments in villages and teaching human rights and child rights in government and private schools,” says Salesian Father George Menamparampil, director of BoscoNet India.

According to UNICEF, the world cannot reach its goal to have every child complete primary school by 2015 without India. While the 2009 Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act guarantees a child’s right to quality elementary education, UNICEF statistics tell a different story. These statistics show that in 2005, one in four children left school before reaching grade five and almost half before reaching grade eight. Learning assessments show the children who do remain in school are not learning the basics of literacy and numeracy or the additional skills necessary for their overall development.

Learn more about Salesian Missions programs in India.

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Hannah Gregory

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