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In a ghastly incident, a nine-month-old baby was raped and murdered by a 28-year-old man on June 20, 2019 in Hanmakonda, Warangal, Telangana. The baby, Srihita, was abducted, sexually assaulted and gagged to her death. Though the incident took place in the neighbouring Telugu State, it shook the whole nation. A huge protest demonstration was held in Hanmakonda demanding capital punishment to the culprit, Praveen Kumar. A fast track court was also formed for the case. Praveen Kumar was sentenced to death by a local court on August 8, 2019, the first conviction under the amended POCSO Act.

Taking note of rise in child rape cases and violation of child rights in India, the staff of Gender Project along with Human Rights Clubs conducted a month-long candle light campaign asking people to protect children, end such violence against children and guarantee justice for the victims. The campaign against sexual abuse saw the participation from different walks of life, especially children in hundreds.

Moved by the horrific incident against the infant, the children – holding candles – marched through lanes of 25 villages in Atreyapuram, Ravulapalem and Kothapeta mandals voicing their concern,“this child is our child,” “Let’s protect every child in our village”, “Prevent Child Sexual Abuse”, “End Violence against Children” and “Protect Child Rights”.

HRC staff, M Prabhakar, addressing different gatherings, said that in every 15 minutes a child was being molested or raped somewhere in India. He said that parents generally believe that strangers commit such crimes and ask their children to avoid any kind of contact with strangers. In contrast, the studies say otherwise. He said about 90% of child rapes were committed by someone known to the victims. Moreover, only 1% rape cases against women were reported, he added, the other 99% cases go unreported because of shame, fear of retaliation and other reasons. Of 1,000 perpetrators, about 990 walk free.

Talking about more sickening incidents, he said that a 94-year-old woman and 2-and-half-week-old boy were sexually abused last year. The HRC staff added that the rights of the helpless continue to be violated by the strong in society. The responsibility of protecting the children rests with everybody, starting with the government, and including the youth, not just parents. Addressing the youth in villages, M Prabhakar invited the youth to be the pillars that strive to make villages free from violation of basic child and human rights. He asked the youth to be active and see that violations of rights won’t take place in their villages. He added that youth should work towards making villages child friendly.

On the occasion, Gender Project staff member Surya Prakashasked “how many parents here were spending time with their children”? He added that parents these days were busy with routine like cooking, cleaning dishes, washing clothes, going to work and church and mostly importantly getting stuck to TVs and the serials. They were turning a blind eye to their children. And the gap between children and parents was only widening with each day! He added that the violation of child rights begins from the home with parents violating the right of a childto be heard. Surya Prakash said that parents should create an atmosphere where children would feel comfortable in expressing their feelings and concerns. He added that respecting of rights should start from home.

Sharing shocking stories where children being sexually assaulted by teachers in schools, an anganwadi teacher, who has four daughters, said that parents should spend at least 5-10 minutes with their children and find out what they did the whole day. She added that it was our duty to see that our children were safe and sound.

“Stand tall against human trafficking”

To reduce the number of trafficking cases in East Godavari district, the staff of Gender Desk and Project, People’s Action for Rural Awakening, along with Human Rights Education conducted a 3-day awareness campaign on July 31, 2019, August 1, 2019 and August 3, 2019 at Ravulapalem Government Degree College, Mahatma Gandhi Aided School, Atreyapuram and Kothapeta Degree College respectively.

Human trafficking is a crime that exploits women, children and men for numerous purposes, including forced labour, begging and prostitution. Addressing the students of Ravulapalem Government Degree College, Gender Desk Coordinator Mrs SeshaRatnam said that though our country had trafficking laws in place, humans continue to be trafficked. She added that Andhra Pradesh stands second in the country in human trafficking. The Gender Desk Coordinator said traffickers lure vulnerable women with jobs at beauty parlours in metropolitan cities and force them into flesh trade. Likewise, men and children would be forced into bonded labour.

Saying that organ trafficking is also prevalent in India, Mrs SeshaRatnam said added the organs of the victims are sold illegally at high price. She asked the gathering to protect themselves from falling prey to traffickers and also work towards creating awareness among their families and neighbourhood.

Ravulapalem Government Degree College Principal lauded the efforts of police personnel for tracing the four-old-year Jasith, who was kidnapped from Mandapeta town in East Godavari district on July 24, 2019. He also thanked the Additional SI Harikoti Shastry and Assistant SI Prakash for coming to enlighten the college students on contemporary issues. Saying it all starts with a chocolate, Additional Sub Inspector of Police Harikoti Shastry warned girl students to be vigilant. He added that in the name of love, men take women to cities and sell them. Similarly, men fall for this when they are enticed with high paid jobs in Dubai, Hyderabad and so on.

Talking about the ghastly incident of 9-month-old Srihita, East Godavari Human Rights Education team member M Prabhakar said that we should work towards making our villages crime-free and child-friendly.He asked the young participants to stand tall against human trafficking. He later enthused the gathering with a song on youth. The participants also joined their voices. The dignitaries on the stage released a poster on “Stop Human Trafficking” and took selfies in front of a standee that read “U & I, Let’s Stop Human Trafficking” to show their solidarity. The selfies were later tagged on PARA FaceBookaccount. Similarly, the students also took selfies and tagged the organisation.

Later, the participants took out a rally from Ravulapalem college to Ravulapalem centre shouting slogans, “Let’s Stop Human Trafficking” and “Human Trafficking is Modern Day Slavery”.

Likewise, the programmes were also conducted at Mahatma Gandhi Aided School, Atreyapuram and Kothapeta Degree College. Addressing the students, AtreyapuramMandal Education OfficerVaraprasad said that everyone should know their rights and cooperate with government officials to reduce the number of human trafficking cases in the mandal.

Highlighting the efforts of the staff of PARA, SI Prathap Naidu said that the organisation was making great efforts to sensitise people on various social issues. He asked the students to be careful of strangers and to bring to their notice any unusual incident at their village.

Empowerment of Divyangs: Teachers’ MLC Declares his Commitment

To empower Divyangs, People’s Action for Rural Awakening organised a Parents’ Meeting at PARA, Ravulapalem on June 28, 2019. The chief guest for the programme was East and West Godavari Districts MLC Illa Venkateshwar Rao.

Introducing the newly elected Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) from the Teachers’ Constituency to the participants, DAPC and Liliane Fonds Coordinator, B Subbayamma, appreciated his simplicity. She said that the council member does not haveany police escort and travels by RTC services.

The DAPC underlined that the vital role of the government in the empowerment and development of Divyangs. As per “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – 2016”there are 21 types of disabilities compared to the 7 listed in the 1995 Act. The Act speaks of equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation of Divyangs.

DAPC committee members submitted a memorandum demanding: 1) Facilities like ramps and washrooms convenient to disabled people at schools and colleges, 2) Multiple disabled option be included in the Sadaram certificate, 3) Allowing earlier students with comparatively lesser marks to be eligible for Group-4 exams and 4) Withdrawal of the A single pension for a single ration card policy and support of each Divyang regardless of the number of Divyangs in a family.

Addressing the gathering, Mr Venkateswar Rao said that he neither belongs to ruling nor opposition parties, I belong to “people’s party” and work for the development of people. He added that he would speak for disabled people in Legislative Council and if need be he would “fight” outside the council. The council member asked the participants to give a written representation of their demands. He later distributed books and bags to disabled children and a sewing machine to the parents as part of Income Generating Programme (IGP).

PARA Director Fr Ignatius said that it was a joy to be able to work with the Divyangs and appreciated the families who cared for them with great commitment.

‘Government needs to implement HRE in all schools’

Telangana Human Rights Education team of PARA conducted an interactive meeting for old HRC leaders with NGOs on following a Human Rights-based approach. The meeting was held on May 26, 2019 at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, Hyderabad. The meeting was organised to create a platform for the leaders of Human Rights Clubs who have passed out of school to share their ideas, and to plan their continued involvement in Human Rights activities. Around 30 HRC leaders and representatives from NGOs participated.

Thanking people who work with and represent children, the Hyderabad Child Welfare Committee Chairperson, Mrs Shyamala Devi, expressed happiness over seeing old HRC leaders coming back to take the initiative of Human Rights culture forward. Saying Human Rights are really a call to live more fully as human beings, she asked the leaders to meet regularly and discuss possibilities in their new environments. She encouraged them to use the resources provided by People’s Action for Rural Awakening, Amnesty International and others. She felt that she was understanding more about rights through her interaction with children.

Cautioning that their enthusiasm should not end here with the meeting, she asked the HRC leaders to see that no Human Rights’ violations take place in their specific contexts. She invited them not allow any rights violation go unchallenged. It is everybody’s right to live peacefully. Anyone does not letting others live peacefully is violation human rights. She added that all present should work towards getting the rights of all respected.

Telangana HRE Coordinator S. Ambedkar pointed out that more and more people, busy with electronic gadgets, were forgetting that they are social beings.The Telangana State Coordinator expressed his unhappinessthat many schools in Telangana were not having Human Rights clubs. Sharing a recent experience, he said even Group-II aspirants were not aware of Sustainable Development Goals. The old club members could make people, including their parents and neighbours, aware of these goals.

Saying rights are linked tobasic needs, Mr. Gowtham from Mahita organisation added that, even after 71 years of Independence, people still had fight to get their rights to be recognised. He wanted all NGOs, government officials, teachers, children and parents should practice and respect all rights.

Old HRC leader, and currently a college student, Sowmya Lal Howdekar said that the Human Rights Club members had wanted to stop the marriage of her friend who was still a minor. They were been discouraged by the attitude of management of the school and the parents of the girl. Their efforts along with their class teacher and other students during their visit to the parents of the minor girl were in vain. Though they did not succeed in stopping the marriage, they were at least were successful in bringing the girl back to school.

Sahith Lal Howdekar, another leader, said that there was still so much gender discrimination. Even if girls top the schools, many of them are forced to stop their education after Class-X and are limited to remain in the kitchen.; boys are allowed to continue education even after they fail. Even with all the advancement in technology, when it comes to Human Rights, only few know about them. Sahith Lal said we need to create greater awareness of all rights.

Sharing his experience as a HRC leader, Shiva spoke about the mid-day meal issue at his school. He said his team was turned down several times by the management of the school. However, they persisted and were able to solve the issue. He also said that they also had a water issue. The HRC members solved the issue with the money pooled in the club meetings.

Pooja said that they group was the first and last group of HRC members. Recently they had come to know that a Class-VIII student became a subject to child marriage. On the occasion, she asked the Telangana HRE Coordinator to make the clubs at her school. This was the occasion to revive the Human Rights club in the school.

Saying Child Marriage is an offence, K Sumathi, a resource person, suggested that the leaders to dial 1098 as soon as they hear about a child marriage being planned and to file a complaint. When one cannot handle cases alone, there is the need to explore ways to involve others to find a solution. In anything related to children, anyone could always call 1098 and remain anonymous. Talking about Sustainable Developmental Goals, she said that development should not be done at the cost of others. She took a session on what children could do with regard to the Sustainable Development goals.

In the post lunch a session, the young leaders shared their expectations from the NGOs and the Government. The HRC leaders said that NGOs need to create awareness on Human Rights among children, especially children from the street and promote a human rights culture. To reach masses, cultural teams need to be made active and approach people creatively. They added that the Government need to implement Human Rights Education and Clubs in all schools.

Children Demand Protection: AP Minister Releases Manual on Human Rights Clubs

The members of Human Rights Clubs of East Godavari District met Andhra Pradesh Women Development and Child Welfare Minister Taneti Vanitha at her residence in Kovvur, West Godavari on June 27,2019. Along with their guide teachers, they expressed their anguish at the increasing number of violations of Child Rights and atrocities against children. They mentioned about the horrendous incident involving 9th month old Srihitha at Hanmakonda. They explained about the need for effective Village Child Protection Committees. As Human Rights Club members, these children wanted to be active participants in these committees.

The minister expressed her happiness about the participation of children and encouraged them and their teachers to continue this great initiative. She assured them that she would stand with them in their efforts. She added that such committees were a must to prevent atrocities and crimes,and to protect children specially girl children. The club members handed over a letter to the minister to give necessary orders to the departments concerned to form and strengthen the functioning of VCPCs.

Later, the club members felicitated the minister with a shawl and bouquet for being appointed the State Women and Child Development Minister. PARA Director Fr Ignatius walked her through various desks of PARA like Bahujan, Gender, Children and Differently Able People’s Initiative. He also brought to her notice the functioning of Human Rights Clubs in schools and the activities that club members were carrying out. The minister then released the updated version of the Human Rights Club Manual and distributed copies to the participants.

HRC Guide teachers, Martin Sudhakar and Jyothi, along with 12 Human Rights Clubs members, the State HRC coordinator Ramesh Taritla and other and staff of PARA participated in the event.

PROTESTING THE RAPE AND MURDER OF A 9-MONTH OLD: Candle light procession at Rajamahendravaram

A candle light march has been carried out in the light of the ghastly incident that took place in Hanmakonda Town, Warangal in Telangana State against a 9-month-old infant. The baby was abducted, sexually assaulted and gagged to death by a 28-year-old man on Tuesday late night. The incident not just shook Telangana but the whole nation.

Along with “Raising Hands in Hope”were activists and children from Human Rights Clubs, Child Friendly Cities Initiative, People’s Action for Rural Awakening, Abdul Kalam Charitable Trust and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. They went in the candle light procession demanding justice for the little one on June 21, 2019. The procession that started at Delux Centre and walked through the busy lanes of Rajahmundry, demanding protection for children and punishment of the accused.

Demanding stringent punishment to the culprit, CFCI Co-coordinator told that gathering that people of all walks should come together to build a new and safe city for children. He said such things should not ever take place in Rajahmundry. YSRCP Floor Leader Sharmila Reddy said that we consider children as equal to God, but acts like these take place everywhere against the former. She demanded harsh treatment to the accused “human beast”.

An Advocate, K L Bhavani, said even before we saw justice to the 9-month-old infant, another incident took place in the same neighbouring Telugu state where a 9-year-old girl was raped at her residence in Ramanthapur, Hyderabad. She added that the justice should be done in a way that such incidents won’t take place in future. Jamaat-e-Ismali Hind Women’s Wing member Ayesha said that though we are developing each day, our moral values are only plummeting. Every day we go to bed thinking this is the last incident against children and women. However, we get up to read about these ghastly incidents. Earlier, parents were scared of sending children outside and now children are not safe even next to us, she said and demanded stern punishment against the culprit.

Stating that people say wearing “short dresses” instigate such acts, a volunteer from Raising Hands for Hope questioned how did this infant could provoke this horrible human being. Children from Abdul Kalam Human Rights demanded justice and asked the State government to make the society child-friendly. Abdul Kalam Trust Md. Arif said that the mother could save the child in her womb for 9 months, but about 134 crore people of India could not save her for 9 months.

A RIDE FOR CHILD RIGHTS: A step towards making Rajamahendravaram a Child-Friendly City

A bike rally “Ride for Rights”, organised by Child-Friendly Cities Initiative, was flagged off at 10:15 am on Sunday, 16th August at Kambala Cheruvu and ended at Happy Sunday venue, Rajamahendravaram. The rally was organised to eliminate child labour and make Rajahmundry a child-friendly city. In the rally, around 60 bikes and 120 people from different walks of life participated. The rally passed through various lanes of the city with the slogan “Say No to Child Labour”, “Exterminate Child Labour System”, “Children to School – Not to Work”, “I Support Child-Friendly Rajamahendravaram”,  “Child must Learn, Not Earn”, and so on.

Ameer Pasha, team member of CFCI, brought together various organisations in the city under the banner: “Let us promote Right to Education. Let us eliminate Child Labour.” He added that children’s hands were meant to hold pens, not to wash glasses. Thanking everybody for coming together on the occasion, Fr Ignatius, Director of People’s Action for Rural Awakening, said that we all could provide prosperous career for children if we come together often on their behalf.

Vijay Gautami Motor Mechanics Welfare Association President, Mr Bhaskar, explained that they have an agreement among themselves always to encourage children to go to school. They assured that they will never employee or encourage others to employee children below the age of 14 years. He added that the association would be at forefront when it comes to children.

HRE Senior activist and teacher, Mr Martin, said that PARA had initiated efforts towards making Rajahmundry a child-friendly city by eliminating child labour, child trafficking and every form of abuse of children. He invited all the organisations present to continue to support PARA in making the city friendly for children. Stating that the organising team is conducting this campaign in support of Child Rights, he added that he supports this child-friendly city initiative. Asking the gathering not to encourage child labour, HRE AP Coordinator T Ramesh requested them to send children to school as this was their crucial period of their life of learning. The rally ended at the Happy Sunday venue where everybody participated in the signature campaign against child labour.

“Think now: How to save planet from pollution?”

Every year June 5th is celebrated as the World Environment Day. This day is observed to protect the earth, our common home.

To raise awareness on ill effects of plastic on the environment and promoting eco-friendly alternatives, the staff members of PARA along with the local SFI group took out a rally with the slogan “Say NO to plastic”, “Avoid Plastic, Save the Earth” and “Shun Plastic Bags, Use Cotton Bags” at Ravulapalem, East Godavari.

As part of the event, the staff picked up few bags of plastic waste from the streets at Ravulapalem centre and invited the shoppers and shopkeepers to do their bit to protect the environment by shunning plastic.

PARA ex-Director Fr Thomas Pallithanam, who was here on a brief visit, spoke about a 16-year-old Swedish girl Greta Thunberg who has been on a school strike for climate since last 9 months. “Though the climate striker has started this movement alone last year, crores of people, including students, teachers and parents are joining movement today,” he said. We were moving in a direction when we would have to buy fresh air to breathe, as we are already having to buy water. He added that instead of thinking about how to survive on this polluted planet, we need to think about how to make the planet flourish once again, and prevent pollution destroying it.

Children raise voice against violations of their rights

In a first of its kind, CFCI Human Rights Club (HRC) office-bearers from Nannaya Municipal High School, Ward-34 shared the dais along with the city Mayor Mrs Patham Sesha Sai, District Legal Services Authority member Srinivas Rao, Ward 40 Corporator Nanduri Venkata Ramana, YSRCP floor leader and Ward 5 Corporator Sharmila Reddy, and ex-MLA Routhu Surya Prakash Rao on the occasion of Children’s Day on November 14, 2018 at Sitampeta.

The programme was more of an interactive session between officials and CFCI HRC office-bearers. On the occasion, the office-bearers highlighted the concerns related to children at schools and communities which have come to their notice during the monthly children club meetings. One of the office-bearers said that girl children were harassed while going to the school or while returning from school. Others spoke about the other issues like lack of facilities such as safe drinking water, toilets, ramps for differently-abled children, and so on.

A flabbergasted Mayor Mrs Patham Sesha Sai told the gathering that it was good to see children raising their voice against the violations of their rights and asked Ward 40 Corporator and her staff to note down the complaints and look into the matter. Corporator Sharmila Reddy gave ear to the children and affirmed that the issues would be addressed speedily. She added that meeting like these should take place more often to make the children of the city participate in decision-making.

After a month, when the staff visited the school, the issues raised by the office-bearers at the Children’s Day celebrations were already addressed at the Nannaya Municipal High School.

Civil societies committed to child-friendly city

During the first leg of the Child-Friendly Cities Initiatives, some civil societies in the city were not very enthusiastic about the initiative. In fact, few NGOs never turned back. After making several attempts to clarify the concept of CFCI, they started to develop more interest in the emerging possibilities for children.

The CFCI team called several organisations working for children and human rights to a seminar on the concept of Child-Friendly Cities Initiative. Some participants showed interest in the idea. Others seemed to be interested in the possible funding connected to the initiative. However, the team members continued to pursue with the CSOs as they were aware that without them the CFCI initiative could not be sustained.

While the efforts to pull the civil societies on the board were on full-swing, the crime rate was also increasing in the country and also in the city. In the month of January, 2019, a stepfather who was intoxicated had burned the thighs of a 7-year-old girl child. Last year, a 6-month-old girl was raped by a man. Issues like these changed the mind of people. People realised that there was the urgent need to have a system which could help children from any kind of violence. And they started to show interest in the concept of CFCI and started joining in the conversation on assuming their share of responsibility in protecting the children in the city. Moreover, they started to conduct meetings voluntarily involving various other NGOs in the city. We can happily say that the Child Friendly Cities Initiative, Rajamahendravaram has taken off at last.