Dibrugarh, Assam, 25 December 2009: Hemali Ghorfolia has been able to make a connection between inflation and child workers.
The fourteen year old learnt to do this while writing for ‘Mukta Akash,’ the first newspaper on children’s issues, published by the young reporters of Dibrugarh, a tea producing district in the north-eastern Indian State of Assam.
Hemali’s interview with fifteen year old Milan reveals out his plight and that of his two siblings. They had to leave their studies to support their parents whose earnings couldn’t meet the family needs.
Similar stories on issues affecting children – school drop outs, child marriage, corporal punishment, nutrition, hygiene, as well as, stories about small but significant steps taken by children to improve things around them, have found place in the inaugural issue of ‘Mukta Akash,’ the colourful four-page newspaper in Assamese, the language of the state of Assam.
Mukta Akash means “free sky”. The paper was launched at a brief and colourful ceremony, at the Dibrugarh district library on 14 December 2009 by the city’s Deputy Commissioner, GD Tripathi and the local legislator, Prasanta Phukan.
Lauding the organisers and young reporters, the Deputy Commissioner stated that initiatives like these should touch all the children irrespective of gender, caste or community.
“Development and growth should be inclusive,” he stressed, expressing happiness that the Young Reporters included children from marginalised tea communities and rural areas, and that “many of them are girls”.
Calling the launch a “memorable event in the history of Dibrugarh”, Prasanta Phukan, mmber of the Assam Legislative Assembly noted that youth have the potential to make a difference. “Society will profit if we heed to these young reporters,” he added.
The Young reporters initiative is part of UNICEF’s efforts to uphold and promote children’s right to express their views and be to heard, as envisaged under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Starting in June 2009, the Young reporters initiative, is itself a six month old baby, being jointly nurtured, with care and passion, jointly by the Kasturba Gandhi National Mission Trust, Gandhi Smriti, Darshan Samiti and UNICEF.
UNICEF Assam Chief Jeroo Master, in her message to young reporters on the first issue of Mukta Akash, congratulated them and expressed hope that their voices and views will be heard by decision makers and service providers, and help make a difference in the lives of children.
She appealed to them to report sensitively and responsibly.
“Young Reporters seem to be conscious of their responsibility,” says says Sunita Tanti, 18, one of the enthusiastic new reporters from tea communities, “We must seek the consent of the children we want to write about and ensure that they are not affected adversely.”
Sunita was one of the 33 young reporters, chosen from amongst Shishu Panchayats (school cabinets ) and the Adolescent Girls Clubs in tea gardens and rural areas of Dibrugarh. They were trained in basic communication and media skills like reporting, interviewing and editing, to prepare them for their responsibilities as reporters.
Many of these youngsters had earlier been sensitised to child rights issues in their schools and clubs as part of the collaborative initiatives being carried out by the government, tea garden management and local NGOs and schools, with UNICEF support.
Children themselves chose the name Mukta Akash, a name which got the maximum of votes from amongst five suggested by the young reporters. “We want to be able to voice our concerns freely,” says Biswajit, Gohain, 14.
Like Marzina Nag, 21, does when she writes about Anu Nayak of the Mohanbari Tea Garden, who baby sits her siblings while her right to education takes a back seat.
In learning to exercise this right, Tanaz Begum has learnt to bring changes in her surroundings. “There were no dustbins in our school. When the members of our Shishu Panchayat of Chaulkhowa High School approached our teachers, they supplied each classroom with one,” she elaborates.
The change is visible to parents and guardians. Ranjan Gohain, father of young Partha, 13, says, “My son is more confident while expressing his view on a public platform.”
The young reporters have taken their first step into reporting on children’s issues in their community. As they themselves say, the sky is the limit and they have the will, the drive and the support to forge ahead with confidence.