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Kids Spearhead Sanitation Movement

With a human-centric, playful approach towards sanitation, children can not only shape the present but also sculpt a dynamic, sustainable future

Kids Spearhead Sanitation Movement
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Children’s leadership is at the forefront of propelling the Swachh Bharat Mission, fostering a cleaner, healthier, and more inclusive India. Gen X, Y and Z bring unique perspectives, driving innovative solutions aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6. This mission extends beyond hygiene, influencing mental health and early learning. Through their playful approach, children are shaping the present and paving the way for a sustainable future, marking the dawn of a new era in public health and the realisation of SDG 6.

With steadfast support from Reckitt, hygiene has seamlessly integrated into our daily lives through Dettol Banega Swasth India (DBSI). DBSI embarks on its 10th session, garnering support from influential figures, including vice presidents, chief ministers, Oscar winners, Nobel laureates and government ministers. Six of the prime minister’s nine Ratnas have actively endorsed and contributed to the Banega Swasth India campaign.

Open defecation poses a significant global public health challenge. While there has been progress in reducing open defecation, an estimated 494 million people worldwide still practice it, with 90% residing in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa and central/southern Asia. India contributes significantly to global open defecation rates. In 2016, 60% of the Indian population practiced open defecation, four times the global average.

According to the National Family Health Survey, efforts to combat open defecation in India have improved, with 19% of the population practising it in 2021. Understanding the contributing factors remains essential to addressing this issue and meeting UN SDG 6.2, which aims for equitable sanitation access by 2030.

One critical issue is the lack of access to safe and sustainable sanitation services, commonly called WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) services. Inadequate WASH services, coupled with open defecation, are often linked to diseases caused by excreta-related pathogens and diarrheal illnesses (Manga et al., 2022), which have severe health consequences, particularly in low-income regions.

Six of the prime minister’s nine Ratnas have actively endorsed and contributed to the Banega Swasth India campaign

A systematic review in India and Kenya identified various issues associated with open defecation, including soil-transmitted helminth infections, hookworm infestations, adverse birth outcomes, compromised nutrition, increased risk of sexual violence against women, and psychosocial stress (Saleem et al., 2019). These implications for public health underscore the need for comprehensive solutions.

Recognising the gravity of the situation and aligning with SDG 6, India launched the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in 2014. This nationwide campaign aimed to achieve a cleaner and more hygienic India by eliminating open defecation. While the SBM saw modest increases in toilet coverage nationwide, it faced challenges, notably a lack of public participation and poor maintenance practices that resulted in unsatisfactory toilet conditions. Without well-maintained and clean toilets, people were less inclined to use them, reverting to open defecation. Studies, such as one conducted by Biswas et al. in 2020, found that nearly all toilets in Mumbai were in poor condition, highlighting the need for behaviour-change interventions.

Promoting proper latrine coverage and ensuring these facilities are appropriately used necessitates a multifaceted approach. Importantly, such an approach requires active participation from communities and families. As the adage goes, “Cleanliness begins at home,” and this holds in sanitation.

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A disheartening reality is that parents often neglect to educate their children about toilet sustainability and safe sanitation practices, leading to unhygienic and dirty toilets. This, in turn, contributes to the persistence of open defecation, undermining the progress made through initiatives like the Swachh Bharat Mission. Instilling proper sanitation habits in the younger generation is not solely the responsibility of schools and educational initiatives; it is a shared duty within families.

India’s new education policy strongly emphasises play-based learning to instill essential values in children

Now, consider the difference between saaf and swachh. While they may seem similar, they carry a significant distinction that elucidates why clean toilets are vital. Saaf refers to something that appears clean outside, like tidying up toys or wiping a table. On the other hand, swachh signifies being clean on the surface and free from hidden germs and dirt that are invisible to the naked eye. Just as we diligently wash our hands before eating, having swachh toilets ensures they are not merely saaf to look at but genuinely clean and safe for use. This distinction underscores that when we learn about the two, we comprehend the importance of maintaining clean and hygienic toilets, directly impacting our health and overall well-being.

India’s new education policy strongly emphasises play-based learning to instil essential values in children. This innovative approach acknowledges that education is most effective when it aligns with children’s natural curiosity and creativity, fostering lasting impact.

Childhood comprises sensitive periods, windows when children are highly receptive to learning specific skills and behaviours. Introducing concepts like hygiene and sanitation during these periods enhances behaviour adoption. A prime example is the partnership between Reckitt and Sesame Workshop India, resulting in two engaging pop-up books, K KKeetanu and NeelaJadugar, designed to educate children about vital hygiene practices in a fun manner. These books go beyond storytelling; they unlock a world of knowledge, teaching young minds the importance of cleanliness, germ protection and safety. An accompanying do-it-yourself (DIY) board game puzzle enriches the learning experience. This initiative showcases the power of blending creativity and education to nurture children’s healthier and brighter future, empowering them with lifelong knowledge that underscores the link between hygiene and well-being.

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Initiatives like “Empowering Kids for Sustainable Toilets: A Playful Approach towards SDG 6” harness pop-up books and interactive experiences to tap into these sensitive periods and instil proper sanitation practices. Introducing these practices early allows children tointernalise them, carrying them into adulthood. This approach aligns with SDG 6 and is essential for achieving those goals.

Dr Vivek Singh Chauhan, is Manager (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), Reckitt.

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