When 16-year-old Swarnalakshmi Ravi started reading out her speech on inclusion from a Braille script before a delegation of government and civil society members at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday, the audience was spellbound. Poorna Malavath, 15, from Pakala village, Telangana, and Yashasvi Kumud, 16, from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, conveyed the same message of inclusion in different ways. While Poorna spoke in her mother tongue Telugu, Yashasvi translated the same in sign language, and all three of them conveyed their message in unison.
“The fact that the three of us can speak in one voice is itself a message to the world that another world is indeed possible, another world that is based on deep listening, sharing, on teamwork — a world in which everyone is included,” Swarnalakshmi read out to a rousing applause from the gathering, which included NITI Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya, Permanent Representative of India to the U.N. Asoke Kumar Mukerji and Ambassador David Donoghue, Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations, among others.
Swarnalakshmi, a visually challenged girl from Chennai’s Little Flower Convent school, was among the nine other children representing the Nine is Mine campaign for child rights, here in New York, to demand inclusive policies for children and securing their rights ahead of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals at the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Steve Dom Rocha, who leads the Nine is Mine, campaign told The Hindu that the children were here to ask their government to allocate 6 per cent of the GDP for education and 5 per cent of GDP for health. The campaign derives its name from the Millennium Development Goals 2, 3 and 4 -- education for all, reduce child mortality and end all kinds of discrimination -- which add up to the number nine.Discrimination
Sharing her experience of facing discrimination in school admissions, Swarnalakshmi said two schools in Chennai denied her admission because she was visually impaired, forcing her to travel 30 km away to a special school in Nungambakkam. With 92 per cent in her tenth board exams, the girl managed to secure admission in a government school in Puducherry after much struggle and requesting the State CM, she said.
Among the other children who are in the group is Lamjingkhomba Kongkham , 14, from Manipur, who lost his father to the violence unleashed by the security forces in the State.” I want to live a life of peace, which is important for a happy childhood,” he said, supporting the repeal of the AFSPA, in relation to Goal 16 of the SDGs which calls for justice and peace.
The children have put together a report ‘My World, My Voice’ with 20 recommendations, which they have submitted to the UN and UNICEF offices in India and in New York during their visit. As Poorna, the youngest girl to scale the Mt. Everest points out, without the goodwill and cooperation of national and foreign governments children’s dreams cannot come true. Her own ambition to scale the tallest mountain peak in the world in 2014 became possible because of the support of the Andhra government and the government of China, she said.
With the SDGs to be adopted at the UN this week, the children hope the Indian government will accede to their demands.