Those of us who are in school education are constantly reminded about children’s rights — and rightly so. Everyone below the age of 18 has the same rights as adults, but children have special needs which require to be recognised. It is accepted that they are neither the property of their parents nor of the State, and they are certainly not “objects of charity”. In fact, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, 1959, was adopted unanimously by all member states of the UN General Assembly at the time. Subsequently, in 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed and the nations that ratified it are bound to it by international law till date.
It is a reality that most of India’s children do not enjoy even the basic rights that have been set out by the UN, leave alone the ones that were added later such as giving cognisance and importance to children’s views “even in the political process”. Unfortunately, successive governments have not been able to safeguard the rights of most children in our country. However, our “privileged” children not only have their basic rights assured but they also enjoy all kinds of facilities that are required to develop their potential and thus ensure a secure and prosperous future. These are the children who must be especially reminded of their duties and responsibilities regularly because the axiom that “where there are rights, there are bound to be responsibilities” must be applied to children as well.
Many of the “privileged” children that I come across have a well-entrenched sense of entitlement. This is largely because they are aware that their parents have deep pockets, out of which they can pay for quality education for their offspring in the best of institutions within the country and outside. The route to success is laid out for them well in advance and these children become immediate “achievers” merely because they can avail of exclusive, top-class education and later they are perceived as “achievers” if and when they do well in their studies. But are they ever told about their responsibilities to society? Perhaps they are conscious that they have to “live up to the family name” and do all the things expected of them. They will dutifully land good jobs or join the family business and eventually add to the family wealth while performing all the customary social duties. In school, it is compulsory for them to do “socially useful productive work and community service”. So, all the boxes are ticked as required.
It is high time that we looked beyond these narrow goals and mechanical routines and instil in our children a sense of purpose — a much bigger one than the “run-of-the-mill” successful career. Trite as it sounds, every child must know that he/she must make the world a better place than he or she found it. Young people must not get into the groove of the pursuit of individual success only, as this is what makes them self-centred and self-absorbed. They must not feel satisfied until they have given of themselves to society at large. I feel sure that if we had a whole generation of considerate, committed and “giving” young people, our social and natural environment would be radically transformed for the better. First of all, this cut-throat competition to outdo one another would be replaced by a collective will to improve global conditions. This is not a naïve proposition nor is it a cry to demolish capitalism. Indeed, it is not about any “ism”, excepting that of humanism. The world must have a new definition of “success”, and school education should gear itself towards a new, safer and less selfish world. There would still be many opportunities for personal glory, but the over-arching need for everyone to work for the world and its people is imperative. In India, it should be the duty of every citizen to contribute towards resolving the staggering discrepancy between the rich and the poor — between privileged children and those who don’t have access to any kind of reasonable education.
This is why there must be a code of duties for children. The child has the right to education, but the child also has the duty to attend school regularly. The child has the right to good health, but the child also has a duty to look after his/her own health. The child has the right to not being discriminated against, but he/she also has a duty of treating all children as equals and extend help to those children who need special support. Respect for adults, for the environment and for other cultures are important for all children to learn and act upon. The child has a duty to learn to respect and protect the environment, respect adults and work with them to do what is best for his/her own care. Children have the right to choose their own friends, but they have a duty to treat all others fairly.
If we start instilling a sense of duty in our children, we will eventually have citizens who will not only insist on rights but will also do their bit for the country. Millennials have already been called the selfish or the “me” generation and described, perhaps a bit unfairly, as “entitled and narcissistic”. It is not too late for Generation Z to be different. Perhaps we should consciously teach them to be selfless and raising selfless children begins with instilling an awareness of duty. It must be kept in mind that we cannot expect to succeed in this venture unless we are conscious of our own duties.