About a thousand people live in Khajuri Kalan, a village about 40 km from Bhopal, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh in western India. About two million people live in this fast-growing city. But in 1984, a toxic gas leak killed tens of thousands of people and left adults and children with respiratory problems, blindness, and other health problems. It has been called the world's worst industrial disaster, and its effects are still felt decades later.In addition, children are also vulnerable to the prevailing gender inequality in the state.
Since 2004, SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting children and young people with disabilities and their families and advocating for their rights in Khajuri Kalan.
In India, eight million children, or 2% of all children, live with a disability. These children are often socially stigmatised and do not receive the same educational and professional opportunities as other children.
More specifically, this means that a quarter of children with disabilities do not get the opportunity to attend an educational institution, even though in India schooling is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14.
Often there is also no financial support for the families, and the schools are mostly not adapted to the needs of the children. Children with disabilities are more likely to be exploited, trafficked or abused.
Gender inequality is a major problem in Madhya Pradesh, the state where Khajuri Kalan is located. To illustrate, in this state 39% of girls are forcibly married before the age of 18. This figure has already come down from 67% in the past. Child marriage is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the emotional damage a child suffers from a forced marriage is profound.
Moreover, the literacy rates in Madhya Pradesh speak for themselves: while the male literacy rate is 81%, the female literacy rate is 65%. Equal opportunities for children must become a priority.