The first five years of a child’s life are crucial in terms of their development.
It’s a period during which they learn important social skills and behaviors, and in that half of a decade, a child becomes the person they are going to be.
But for Sujit Kumar, all he learnt in his first five years disappeared after he was forced by his grandfather to live in a chicken pen for years, from the age of six.
Also known as The Chicken Boy, Kumar grew up in Fiji’s rural Nausori just outside the capital city, Suva. During the years he was trapped in the coup, the orphan learned the behaviour of chickens, and the pecking and roosting became his way of life.
He actually thought he was a chicken.
One night he had been found in the middle of the road by welfare officers, who took him to the Samabula Old People’s Home .
He spent the next two decades in that old people’s home, tied to a bed.
In 2002 Australian woman Elizabeth Clayton discovered Kumar at the nursing home. After learning of and witnessing Kumar’s case first-hand, Clayton decided to take action to facilitate rehabilitation and improve Kumar’s welfare.
She established The Happy Home in Suva, taking in Kumar and three other at-risk boys. Over the years, with the support of the Department of Social Welfare & Poverty Alleviation, she has been able to take in more children, providing them with improved conditions and access to health, safety and education.
Every year on November 20, the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day draws attention to improving the welfare of children across the globe.
I was 14 when when I learned of Kumar’s story while innocently watching a Today Tonight segment in 2006.
As a child, this story rattled me. I cried. It brought on a sense of guilt that my parents had grown up around the same time as Kumar in the very same Fijian city, completely safe, healthy and well-educated, while he had been exposed to such poor conditions.
In a way, there’s still a lingering trauma I feel from witnessing Kumar’s aggressive, feral, animalistic behaviour in that television segment as a child. One of my closest friends recently got some pet chickens, and as she regularly shares photos of her chooks running around her yard, I’ve been thinking about Kumar more often.
To think a child was treated this poorly, leading him to only know how to live life as such an animal, is beyond devastating and still hard to comprehend. Furthermore, the disappointing reality is that this type of cruel treatment towards children still happens all around the world.
As we acknowledge World Children’s Day today, it’s important to recognise the work of people like Clayton, who has not only helped to bring Kumar back to humanity, but has given other disadvantaged children a future thanks to The Happy Home.
The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child is designed to protect children’s rights, but there’s still a long way to go before every kid is happy and healthy with the adequate access to essential resources. According to Unicef, 57 million girls and boys of primary age are still out of school, while more than 6.6 million children under five years of age died in 2012.
We must change this statistic. We were all children once, so there’s no excuse.