On Human Rights Day, deepening challenge on access to education, nutrition forces introspection, course correction

The International Monetary Fund estimates COVID-19 has pushed 120 million people into extreme poverty.

Aatish Parashar December 10, 2021 17:32:20 IST
On Human Rights Day, deepening challenge on access to education, nutrition forces introspection, course correction

Representational image. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

COVID-19 has reversed progress in attaining equality and access to human rights. It has exacerbated poverty and hunger, and profoundly hampered access to education. Given this context, the theme of Human Rights Day 2021 - Equality - Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights could not have been more apt.

As per UNICEF data, one billion children across the world are at risk of falling behind due to school closures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19. In India, around 36% students drop out of school before completing elementary education and the situation has worsened since the pandemic took hold.

Data on access to nutrition also paints a grim picture. UNICEF reckons young children's diets have shown no improvement over the past decade and could get much worse due to Covid-19. An analysis of 91 countries reveals only half of children aged 6-23 months are being fed the minimum recommended number of meals a day, while just a third consume the minimum number of food groups they require.

The International Monetary Fund estimates COVID-19 has pushed 120 million people into extreme poverty.
The pandemic has brought mankind to a situation where we must act collectively and concretely to address pervasive inequalities.

There is an urgent need for all stakeholders - the government, corporates, and civil society organizations to work together, devise and implement targeted interventions that reduce inequality by enabling equitable access to nutrition, healthcare, and education.

Interestingly, each of these stakeholders – Sarkaar, Samaaj and Baazaar – brings with them unique strengths. The government has scale, corporates have resources while community-based organizations have a deep connect with the society, and experience of delivering change on the ground.

There is no doubt that efforts are underway. Some notable initiatives include the Health Cannot Wait and Shiksha Na Ruke campaigns by Smile Foundation that strive to increase access to quality healthcare and education among marginalized communities. We need many more such initiatives. A lot more needs to be done if we are to effect population scale change in a relatively short span of time.

Over the past few decades, India has made great strides in alleviating poverty. Yet, 270 million Indians continue to live in extreme poverty. Poverty rates in rural areas (25%) are much higher than in urban areas (14%). In fact, 80% of India's poor live in her villages. We need to catalyze large scale social transformation to generate economic value for the poor.

The most effective way of addressing the multi-dimensional problem of poverty is by creating livelihoods. State governments are doing their bit. States like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have extensive poverty alleviation programs that provide education and nutrition to the disadvantaged. For example, the Madhya Pradesh administration oversees the implementation of welfare schemes such as the Ladli Laxmi Yojana, the Kanya Saksharta Protsaahan Yojana, the Mukhyamantri Awas Sahayata Yojana, and the Vimukt Jati Hostel Yojana to protect the girl child, provide children scholarships, food, shelter and ensure they learn and become independent.

Lately, there has been a realization of the limitations of government outreach, which has led to the emergence of initiatives of the people for the people, by the people, or citizen-driven interventions. One of the initiatives highlighting these efforts is People Powered Digital Narratives (PPDN), which is a collaborative effort to help adolescents learn about issues including Girl Capital (Education and Employability), Air Quality, Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights and express their opinion using innovative storytelling and social media.

PPDN is creating online spaces that will help adolescents develop into active citizens. The aim is to equip them to talk about and influence the issues that affect them, making a positive difference in and beyond their communities.
It is currently active in the peri-urban and rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand.

Her Akshar, Hawa Ke Rakshak and Ankaheen Baatein are online communities under this initiative, which is supported by Praxis UK and its partners.

While governments, corporates and civil society organizations are implementing initiatives to address inequality, what is needed is greater collaboration between them. There is a trust deficit between the three which must be bridged. Make no mistake, we require focused interventions that utilize technology to effect change at an unprecedented scale, so we can lift our countrymen out of poverty and help them get basic human rights. The solution to most of our problems lies in technological innovation. Continuous technological innovation will be foundational for India’s progress in the social domain.

Enabling equitable access to human rights leads India towards achieving sustainable development goals, like those for no poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, and decent work and economic growth, among others.

There is no doubt that access to human rights for all in India will be a truly momentous achievement, and that by enabling this India will stand as a beacon of hope for the world. The good news is that we as a country are striving to get there. What we need is a serious leg-up which will come when stakeholders work in close coordination, innovate for the greater good and use technology to address inequality.

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