Children are sanitation ambassadors in India

Open defecation is a particular problem for young children in Indian cities such as Bhubaneswar, with unhygienic conditions spreading diarrhoea and other diseases. Women are also at risk of sexual assault when looking for a place to defecate. Bhubaneswar’s municipal leaders invited children from the ‘Humara Bachpan’ (‘Childhood Matters’) campaign to take the lead in raising public awareness and pushing to create more safe public toilets.

The health risks of open defecation

A common practice in India’s rural areas, open defecation is a serious public health issue in the country’s fast-growing cities. In 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a national ‘Swaacha Bharat’ (‘Clean India’) campaign, which officials in the country’s cities are tasked with implementing.

In Bhubaneswar, where the Foundation’s partners are working closely with the city’s leaders to ensure the city grows in a child-friendly way, municipal officials involved children in consultations about how to design public toilets that are safe and user-friendly for everyone – including children and disabled people.

Campaigns and committees

The Foundation-supported Humara Bachpan campaign mobilised over 500 children to join the Mayor of Bhubaneswar, Ananta Narayan Jena, in late 2015 to launch a public awareness campaign. Humara Bachpan is also mobilising volunteers to form committees that will take responsibility for maintaining newly-constructed toilets.

‘Children have become change makers, in their own communities and the city. I am happy the way children have become so empowered being part of the Humara Bachpan campaign’, says the Mayor.

The city also involves children in its broader transformation as part of India’s “smart cities” initiative.