NEW DELHI: Razia Sultana, a teenager from a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut district, was awarded the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education’s Youth Courage Award on Friday. The award is in recognition of her efforts to help liberate 48 children from child labour bondage and motivate them to go to school.
On Friday, the world learnt about Razia’s struggle and courage as she recounted her tale to youth delegates from across the world in New York.
The day was observed by the UN as Malala Day to highlight and emulate child activist Malala Yousufzai’s fight for education.
Razia, named after India’s first woman ruler, has been fighting an uphill battle at her Nanglakhumba village in Meerut. School education for this class XII student would have remained a distant dream since she had begun working to help her family when she was only five.
Most households in Nanglakhumba village, where inhabitants are predominantly Muslim, eke out a living by stitching footballs.
“Education was considered an unnecessary distraction that hurt the family’s income,” said Sher Khan, an activist from Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an NGO.
In 2005, BBA activists initiated a programme to make the village child-friendly. “We would visit villages and explain the importance of education and rights of a child,” said Rakesh Senger of the BBA.
But they met with huge protests. Parents refused to allow the children to give up football stitching and go to school instead. It was more difficult to convince parents about girls education.
Razia’s father, who is now proud of his daughter, had also refused to send her to school on the same plea.
It took Razia two years to break the shackles of child labour. Later a panchayat (village council) was formed in the village and Razia was elected its head. She went on to become a leader of the National Children’s Parliament.