Children enthusiastically meeting Mr Michel Saint-lot UNICEF representative for the states of AP and Karnataka
By Vikas Verma
Bangalore March 21, 2007: “Teachers are using mobile phones in classes instead of teaching. This should stop”.
“Health centers not open for 24 hours and even personnel in government hospitals demand money for small ailments. This should be totally free.”
“Corporations should work to provide protection from street dogs”
“We demand ban on liquor.”
“Every school should have a Child Rights Club and every village panchayat should hold Child Rights special sessions.”
These and many more demands were a real eye opener for the adults coordinating the enthusiastic discussions between 120 children who had gathered in Bangalore from 12 districts of Karnataka. They had earlier met in large numbers during day long sessions in their districts from August – October in 2006 under the UNICEF supported field project taken up by NGO – CRT (Child Rights Trust).
Was this parliament any different from elders? To start with all the children sat on the floor instead of cushioned chairs; there was debate but no acrimony; there were much smiles and laughter instead of fist fights and to top it all nobody had any idea of staging a walk-out.
The concept of walk out became clear once they all went to see the actual session being held in the assembly. Much to their surprise and amusement they also saw legislators bitterly fighting and shouting at each other on a point. This in itself was enough to fire their imagination which showed effect the next day when they addressed their demands to the legislators.
For most of the children it was there happiest day to have met so many children from different districts and freely expressing all that they wanted. For many of them watching the live proceedings of an assembly session was a lifetime experience. Ms. Divya – 11 years from Chikmagalur District said, “I felt so good being there that next time I want to go down to the assembly and speak.”
Earlier in the day all these children studying in classes 7-10 were huddled with their friends. These children made innovative charts in their local language to project their thoughts with the help of the youth volunteers and degree college students. And soon the competitive spirit too spilled forth with everybody wanting to be the first to share their ideas. The final charter of demands was a result of active contribution from fire brand members of Bhima Sangha with yellow head bands, handicapped children with their chorus group and urban issues represented by Public school students from Bangalore.
While more than satisfied with the outcome of the 8 month long effort Mr. Satish – Project Coordinator from CRT felt that a lot needs to be done at the grass roots level. He opined, “If children’s participation has to take root in the government decision making we will have to start from every school itself. The first step to empower children would be making them aware of their rights through regular education.”
At every session in the district an attempt was made to first talk about children’s rights so that everybody was aware of the context. No wonder children were even able to notice and demanded issues like child marriages, female foeticide, child trafficking and protective arrangements for migrant children be addressed effectively.
The session ended in anticipation of the next day’s meeting with the Speaker and the child friendly legislators.