Quite a common sight on road is a little boy/girl in tattered clothes approaching your vehicle with a bouquet of roses at traffic signals. In our daily trials and tribulations, sights such as these, enmeshed in monotony, often remain forgotten. Fair Start, a set of films unveiled by UNICEF India, as part of their social media campaign, beautifully captures such sights, providing an insight into persisting inequities in the lives of millions of children from various backgrounds with the participation of a group of children who brought their own daily reality to the film set.

Introducing the film, Caroline Den Dulk, UNICEF India’s chief of advocacy and communication, says, “Every child deserves a fair start in his/her life and deserves adequate nutrition, education, sanitation, protection and health care. The campaign draws attention to the lives of many children who are deprived of these basic rights, often at times determined simply by where they are born. Every child should have a fair and equal chance in life, irrespective of their caste, ethnicity, gender, region or religion.”

He adds: “The campaign has been launched to cater to key areas of ingenuity for India’s children supported by data for each of UNICEF in India’s key priorities.  Our key priorities include stunting, education, sanitation, early marriage, new born health, and so forth.”

Having popular children’s rhymes as background score, the films highlight the inequities we see all around us in India on a daily basis, on roads and in restaurants. “The film speaks for itself. Lack of opportunities is everywhere and not only in the most rural or among the poorest groups in the country. That is the kind of awareness that the film is trying to capture. The film is also trying to make sure that people start speaking about it,” says Den.

The research team of UNICEF also presented during the occasion some startling figures, figures that have driven the campaign with the aim to encourage a debate and dialogue with people who can actually make a change. Currently, 6.1 million children in India are out of school; 63% of schools in India do not have handwashing facilities near toilets, 27% of tribal children all over the country are stunted, 47% of girls in India drop out of school before completing secondary education, around 10 million children are involved in child labour and 23% of girls in India (15-19 years) have experienced physical and sexual abuse.

Sahil, a fatherless,14-year-old enthusiastic boy who works in his uncle’s laundry, also happened to work behind the camera for this project; Suraj, who has grown up in the company of an alcoholic father and also happens to be the art director of the Fair Start films; Belinda, a shy 13-year-old, who does household chores after school designed the costumes for the films.

 “Often the issues faced are immensely complex in nature and cut across all layers of society,” says Den. “To make change happen a mind-shift is required. The #Fairstart campaign aims at engaging the larger public in a debate and for everyone to see they have a role to play to make sure every child can have a fair chance in life,” adds Den.

Avishek De of Avant Grade films, took the occasion to recall how memorable it was working with the kids from Bigger Than Life NGO. Shot in the suburbs of Dharavai, Bandstand and other areas in Bombay, some of the kids who played cast and crew were also present at the UNICEF office in Delhi during the launch of the campaign. Among them — Sahil, a fatherless,14-year-old enthusiastic boy who works in his uncle’s laundry, and who also happened to work behind the camera for this project; Suraj, who has grown up in the company of an alcoholic father and who also happened to be the art director of the film; Belinda, a shy 13-year-old, who does household chores after school and who designed the costumes for the film.

“We have made this film with a lot of love and we hope you like it. Help us get a fair start in life. We deserve a fairstart,” they stressed in unison.

“UNICEF could have hired professional actors for its film but they wanted it to be made by those children who actually go through these experiences everyday in their lives. That’s where we come into the picture in their lives,” said Avideep Gaikwad of Bigger Than Life NGO.

There were suggestions for screening the Fair Start films in both government and private schools all over the country and the showcase of the same in children’s film festival too, as part of the follow up to the campaign.

UNICEF, through this campaign wishes to fulfill UN’s sustainable development goals made last year to make this world a better place for children but their advocacy of fairness or equality is much bigger than domestic or international policies that have been undertaken;  as one of the research team members rightly pointed out during the discussion after the film screening: “If you look back at the film, there is a scene where you have a privileged child playing with a doll inside a car and when the glass window is rolled down, you see on the other hand an unprivileged child of probably the same age trying to make his living by selling roses. We tried to show the child who has privilege resources vis-a-vis the child who has to create his own resources.But there are actually some things that money does not buy and that is how we as part of this film were looking at this powerful scene, for instance.  If we look at sanitation, half of our population does not have access to toilets. Narrow that down to middle class families, they have houseworkers who are not allowed to use the toilets of the home in which they serve. It is about how we view other human beings, about how we view the rights and about how we view “what is fair”. So yes, we have to look at resources, we have to look at public funds but if you’re not an active citizen that pushes governments and pushes people in responsibility to take action for those that are not as well off as you and me, then all of us are failing as a society. That’s what the film is talking about. It is not about people who do not have access to social media , it is about people who are all around us in the shopping malls, who are privileged but are failing to see that all children have equal rights, not until those windows are not rolled down.”

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