A post graduate diploma holder in human resources from XISS – Ranchi, Puja Marwaha made the transition from the corporate to the social sector early in her career. She joined the organisation Child Rights and You in 1994 to set up its human resources function. Today, she is the chief executive officer of CRY. Marwaha has helped build an organisational framework that best captures the essence of justness and equity. Her work is focused on the creation of an organisational character that attempts to foster a passion for children, a high degree of individual accountability to children and a belief in every person’s potential to bring change for children. A staunch believer of the power of the individual, her working mantra is to seek a win in every setback and believe that each person has a potential. Excerpts:

How did you come across Child Rights and You? 

In the 90s Cry was already known for the path breaking work it was doing — not just to change the lives of underprivileged children, but also involving the general public into the process of change. It was this focus on every individual’s role to change the children’s lives that drew me towards it. I felt I could contribute as well. Besides, since I was a student, I strongly believed that children should be at the heart of our development narrative. As India stood at the crossroads of development at that time, children needed a comprehensive policy and legislative framework to ensure their rights. There was — and still is — a need for child-centred programming that had to be based on the policy framework and it had to be implemented through a convergent approach in which children’s issues were to be addressed by the legislature, executive and judiciary in a decentralised federal system of governance.

What made you switch from the corporate to social sector? 

Experiences of field visits to tribal Jharkhand when I was a student first opened up the realities in front of my eyes. Later, when I moved to Mumbai as a young aspirant in the corporate, I experienced the utter contrast in the city — people living in abject distress and without opportunities — it was like a montage of utter hopelessness of urban poverty. That sparked off a need to take action, personally. From my childhood, I have always been known as a child who was “too sensitive” — and that was never seen as a quality, but as a development area. When I delved a little deep into the development sector, I found that sensitivity was the key characteristic being celebrated here. It was then that I knew this was my place.

What are the determinations required to enhance child rights?

The determinations required are actually very simple, to give every last child from the remotest areas of the country a childhood that you would give to your own child — one that is happy, healthy, creative and safe; and the one that is not denied of the basic rights to grow to the full potential. Ensuring that children are the holders of their own rights and empowered actors in their own development, all the responsible adults must hear their voices. Government and other players must magnify their views on children, and reflect them in policies, schemes, legislations and other programmes.

Do you think increased use of gadgets is affecting a child’s social life?

It is said that too much screen exposure for children can affect their social
interactive skills, which not only includes conversation but also non-verbal cues like facial expression, voice tone, eye contact, etc. But the effect is not totally negative. Nowadays, gadgets go a long way in opening up children’s worlds, albeit in a very different way than ours. For me, parents should emerge as role models first by cutting down their own screen time and spending more time with their children. They should in turn utilise that period in speaking to the kids, creating awareness about how long screen time can impact their brain adversely. Also, it is necessary for parents to make children engage in recreational activities like outdoor and indoor games, etc. This will not only help them in keeping away from screens but also will strengthen the parent-child bond.

How can one help differently-abled children?

The biggest issue is the lack of awareness and sensitivity. Besides knowing the fact that differently-abled children needs to be understood and acknowledged first, we tend to equate them with the normal child. Myths and taboos must be eliminated and society should be made more inclusive for children with disabilities.

Are child right policies being applied in real life? 

As a country, we have many schemes and plans in place at the policy level, to ensure that children get the quality life they deserve. What is the need of the hour is adequate investment and proper implementation of the plans and policies which requires commitment of different stakeholders including the state, parents, teachers, members of various corporations, media and citizens in general.

What should be the strategies that make young citizens ‘the Next superpower’ of the country?

Listen to them. Even in playing our roles to give children a happy childhood, we often forget to hear their voices, choices, demands, the issues they face every day. To make them India’s real super-power in the true sense, we need to make significant investments in the upcoming generation, give them an enabling learning environment and exposure to newer skills so that they can flourish.

What made you think of citizenship and women’s rights besides child rights?

An unequal society cannot create a conductive environment for any of its members. Until and unless every citizen gets their rights, unless women are respected in society and treated as human beings, one cannot expect positive changes in the lives of children. It is as simple and as interconnected as that. Our country has been quintessentially partial to our boys and biased against our girls. Our girls are fighting a tougher battle for the same opportunities in life as their counterparts, and very often, just to get a chance to live! There is an urgent need to change this story and it can only happen through affirmative policies, proper political representation and asset ownership.