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It has been 37 years since Plan India first began working with children and their communities in India. In this time, our work, right alongside our communities, has grown stronger. At present, our programmes equip and empower over a million children to fulfil their potential.
This is due to the entire team's dedication to making a meaningful difference in the lives of the most vulnerable and excluded children. Over the years, this very dedication led us to children across the country. From the ghats of Varanasi to the streets of Hyderabad, we ventured into communities where children had no voice and helped them find their own, collectively.
Yet, as we take stock of how far we've come, we know our journey isn't nearly complete.
39% of India's population today comprises of children. Of these children, millions live on the streets, work in factories, are trafficked as slaves, married off well before they are of age, or addicted to drugs and harmful substances. They live outside of the system, denied their fundamental rights, braving difficult and dangerous circumstances simply trying to survive. In many ways, they are invisible.
This has to change.
Such was the inception of the Plan for Every Child Initiative - a movement to ensure that government and civil society come together to provide opportunities to scale best practices, design specialised schemes and advocate to tackle basic inequalities faced by children across India.
As a first step, we reached out to 500 NGOs and community collectives across 28 states and 4 union territories, gathering government representatives, civil society organisations, technical experts, local communities and the children themselves in a bid to capture their experiences, fears, realities and sheer, untapped potential.
Five technical consultations in the North, South, East, North-East and West regions of India helped ascertain the various challenges that lay before us, and unique innovations we could do well to replicate nationally and perhaps globally too. In a novel approach, five three-day regional art workshops were also conducted with children from vulnerable and excluded communities to encourage them to share their thoughts creatively. There, they created beautiful and moving artwork on everything from sandstone to traditional coir mats. In the Northeast, children drew paintings of violence and their hope for peace; in the South, they painted the crippling effects of child labour and their hope for a life of dignity.
The Plan for Every Child Initiative brought all of these aspirations and innovations to a larger platform through the first ever national Conference on Children in Difficult Circumstances held in New Delhi from November 23-25, 2016.
Deliberations covered situational analyses of children in difficult circumstances, policy and potential recommendations for their care and development and the roles and responsibilities of the government, law enforcement, the judiciary, civil society, corporates and the media.
Through the Plan for Every Child initiative, we succeeded in establishing a network of 30 likeminded partners working toward a common mission: to improve the lives of children. With Plan India at the helm, the Delhi Declaration was officially released. In essence, it is a 15-year commitment, across multiple sectors and spheres of influence, to actively transform the lives of children.
By design, the initiative was rooted at the grassroots and differentiated by context. As we go forward, this bottom-up approach will continue to guide us through our strategic programming and advocacy. To ensure adequate tracking and evaluation of efforts, and in keeping with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, Plan India has also developed state-specific trackers to analyse performance against goals and identify areas of improvement.
With a concerted, sustained investment with all of our partners, we will change the lives of children in difficult circumstances, for good.
Next year, under the helm of the Plan for Every Child initiative, we will host the second national conference on Children in Difficult Circumstances to take stock of our efforts and embark upon programmes with a specificity borne of collective experience.
- By Pradeep Narayanan, Director, Programme Strategy and Policy, Plan India