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Example 5: "Say YES for the Children": India

"Say YES for the Children": India  

Contributed by: Anne Nzuki

Advocating for Protection and Improvement of the lives of Children


The “Say YES for the children” campaign was launched on April 16th 2001 in an effort to rally people behind 10 principles (imperatives) that seek to improve and protect the lives of children. The 10 principles are:

  • Leave no child out
  • Put children first
  • Care for every child
  • Fight HIV/AIDS
  • Stop harming and exploiting children
  • Listen to children
  • Educate every child
  • Protect children from war
  • Protect the Earth for children
  • Fight poverty; Invest in children

This campaign was launched by the Global Movement for Children (GMC) which was created by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

More than 94 million people from 194 countries signed up for the campaign. This example focuses on how this campaign was implemented in India.

Research the issue by gathering background and local information

a) Conduct a study of the issue:

  • Studies documented by UNICEF-India show that violations of children’s rights occur frequently, and legal protection of children and their rights is minimal. According to the 2001 Census, 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupations; and 60% of girls dropped out of school before completing their five years of primary education. Additionally, child sex trafficking was running rampant, evidenced by the fact that over 40% of female sex workers had entered into prostitution before they were 18 years old.

b) Gather data on public opinion:

  • The top three priorities of the campaign as identified by Indians in several communities were: “Education for every child;” “Care for every child;” and “Leave no child out.”

c) Conduct research to influence policy

  • This campaign had the backing of UNICEF and GMC and provided expert testimony on the level of the problem and potential solutions.

State the advocacy tactics to be used

a) Education and Encouragement

  • Reframe the debate—UNICEF-India adapted the slogan from “Say YES for children”, which they were afraid might be interpreted as an encouragement to have more children, to a question: "If someone asked you ‘are children important?’ what would you say?"

b) Direct action campaign:

  • Lobby decision makers and influential people in society— UNICEF-India initiated new partnerships with civil society organizations, celebrities and politicians to help bring attention to the issue, and gain influence.

c) Use media advocacy

  • Use advertising: Popular television channels, from MTV to the state-run Doordarshan television network, have run free spots publicizing the GMC and the campaign.
  • Use cyber campaign: Cyber partnerships were developed with mainstream internet providers and popular websites such as Mantra Online to target wealthier children and professionals.

Identify and counteract opposition:

a) Forms of opposition tactics used:

  • Discredit— Many Indians thought of foreign organizations as colonial agents and thought that the campaign was an attempt to impose a perceived Western paradigm of child rights on a culture that prides itself on respect for elders.

b) Solutions to opposition tactics:

  • UNICEF drew on India’s long history of activism and emphasized rhetoric that children are the future, reframing the issue so that it was something that everyone would agree with, rather than making people feel like an ideology was being forced upon them.

Develop an action plan for implementation of the advocacy effort

The Education Ministry and a large youth union teamed up on “Say Yes for the Children” to distribute promotional material to children and young people, while the Tara Punjabi channel helped to collect 60,000 pledge forms. All throughout India, people at all levels, from Chief Ministers to local celebrities, pledged and supported the campaign, while collaborative efforts to distribute and collect pledge forms have been made by NGOs, youth clubs and others.
As a result, throughout India, Parliamentarians joined local politicians, national celebrities, civic leaders and sports stars to mobilize support for children. Momentum also picked up following the creation of a National Commission for Children.

Even the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, joined in during an Independence Day speech on August 15, 2001, in which he referred to children as "the most precious wealth of our nation.” The Prime Minister recalled having attended the 1990 World Summit on Children and committed the Indian government to participating fully at the UN Special Session on Children back in May 2002.