In India, Children’s Day is celebrated on 14 November. Each year, we never fail to proclaim how important children are to the world and to our lives. But the gap between public rhetoric and the reality on the ground remains wide.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to a UN report, in 2011 more children under the age of five died in India than anywhere else in the world – that is 1.7 million children in a year. The study estimates, that for every 1,000 children born in India, 61 are unlikely to make it to their fifth birthday. This is higher than, say, in Rwanda (54 child deaths) or in India’s poorer neighbours like Nepal (48 child deaths) or Cambodia (43 child deaths). And the figures for girls are even more disheartening.

Then there is the obvious paradox of India’s emergence as a significant part of the world economy, with its vaunted middle class and prospects of future growth, all of which co-exist with an abysmal state of health and education of its children. While public policy and its implementation failure needs to be held accountable, as civic society, how we respond to issues that children face is the true test of how sensitive we are. We, the affluent educated class, don’t spend enough of our time and money towards volunteering and donating to charities to make a significant dent in the system.

I became a mother a little over two years ago and I am enjoying nurturing my child with not only the best food and nutrition I can provide, but also trying to do my best to ensure he is also emotionally and psychologically healthy. But as I micromanage his little world, I am also becoming more mindful of all the hundreds of millions of children who are not getting the same opportunities.

In a country of vast disparities, where undeserving kids in front of the line push away others through influence (monetary or social), is detrimental to any attempt at a just society. What is our personal responsibility to children who are not ours? My privileges stare me in the face and are a constant reminder to look at all those children who are growing with such neglect and such apathy.

Many more Novembers will come and go, and so will our children, unless we do something drastic to hasten the process of true development that primarily reflects in the way we take care of our children.

Author: Nandita Das has acted in over 30 films in 10 different Indian languages and her directorial debut film, Firaaq, won many accolades and appreciation from around the world. Trained as a social worker, she continues to advocate for human rights issues, and till recently was the Chairperson of the Children’s Film Society, India.  She is also a playwright and theatre director and was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010. 

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