Padhoge Likhoge Banoge Nawab, Kheloge Koodoge Banoge Kharab (You will become a big person, if you study and you will be spoilt if you play) was the mantra of our elders during our childhood. Though much water has flown down the Ganga since then and sportspersons are getting jobs and huge monetary rewards for their performances at home and abroad, children in India continue to be an over burdened lot, with tuitions, special classes, coaching et al in addition to lack of infrastructural facilities encroaching deep into their play area.
With extended school hours, a compulsory afternoon siesta, excessive emphasis on academic performance by parents, tuition, dance and music classes in the evening and over weekends, reduction in playing space owing to urbanization, increased media penetration prompting children to remain glued to television and computers etc., the play time of the children is getting increasingly reduced by the day.
Do children then have a right to play?
Sports have been recognised by educationists the world over as an integral part of education. In many countries, it has been accorded importance equal to academics. It has also been the unanimous view of the educationists that playing stimulates mental, physical, emotional and social development.
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According to Rita Panicker, Founder Director of Butterflies, a registered voluntary organisation working with the street and working children in Delhi since 1989, “Playing not only helps in mental and physical wellbeing of an individual but also erodes the boundaries of caste, colour, religion and gender. Also in the current scenario when addiction to drugs and substance abuse is becoming a matter of grave concern, engagement in sports can help to overcome it... Hence there is need to create more space for play and ensure policies and proper facilities to promote sports in schools and communities.”
Recently, the Delhi Child Rights Club, an initiative of Butterflies, organized a consultation of children on the right to play.
Children participating in group discussions came up with challenges encountered by them while playing. Some of the challenges included (dirty and pitiable condition of the parks, limited access to parks, bullying by older children and gambling, construction of temples and mosques in the space which children themselves had cleared for games, encroachment by builders in the spaces allocated for parks, Resident Welfare Associations’ (RWA) reluctance to allow children to play ball games in the parks, parks made ornamental and children losing out space to play due to grazing of animals and sewage pipes running next to the parks overflowing into the parks, lack of playgrounds, sports equipment and sports teachers in government schools, and lack of safety for girls. One of the girls became emotional when she related incidents of teasing and said that they were called names when they went out to play. “Are we not children, why do boys think we should not play?” she asked.
It was generally felt that the “government should get fields created for children. Parks should be set up that are eco-friendly and safe along with facilities for children to play. The state authorities must also appoint qualified games teachers in schools for training children in different sports.
As they say, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ and Jaya (no pun intended) a dull girl.