By Nipurnh Gupta
GAUWHATI, Assam, India, 25 November 2009– The North Eastern Indian State of Assam joined the global community in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with a commemorative event organised at Rabindra Bhavan, in the heart of Guwahati city on 20 November 2009.
Placing children’s issue high on the state’s agenda, the Honourable Chief Minister (CM) of Assam, Shri Tarun Gogoi, released the UNICEF’s flagship `The State of the World’s Children: Special Edition’ and the Child friendly Convention on the Rights of the Child (in English and Assamese)
Also present were the Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Government of Assam, Shri Akon Bora, Director, Law Research Institute, Dr Jeuti Barooah, Chief, UNICEF Assam, Ms Jeroo Master, and invited guests including Government officials, NGOs, civil society groups, mediapersons and over 400 children.
Addressing the gathering, the Chief Minister stated that each child is born with a divine fire in him and has immense potential. The CM congratulated UNICEF on the commemorative occasion and acknowledged UNICEF’s support to the state Government that has “enabled Assam to move ahead on issues relating to the wellbeing of children”.
“The future of mankind depends on the children of today. If we aspire for a better society, we must concentrate on the children. It is therefore, the duty of the adults to protect and groom the children for a better tomorrow,” the Chief Minister emphasised. Shri Gogoi acknowledged that children in the Northeast have been victimised by various forces down the years, however, the state Government in collaboration with the central Government was making earnest efforts to end all atrocities against children.
Welcoming the dignitaries and the gathering, Ms. Jeroo Master, Chief, UNICEF Assam, stated, “Your presence at this commemorative event reiterates the Government’s deep commitment for the welfare of the children of the state and assures the children a safe and protected future.”
Ms Master highlighted the significance of the CRC as the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. She emphasized that children have a distinct place in society and celebrating their existence in the society must not be restricted to only 14 of November. She encouraged the gathering to ponder – “should not everyday be considered as Children’s Day? To this, the children responded with an emphatic applause, indicating their strong support for the idea.
Children from Snehalaya home felicitated the dignitaries with the traditional phulam gamucha and a bouquet. The ceremonial lamp was then lit by the CM and the dignitaries on the dias.
CRC – An overview
This was followed by a presentation by Dr Jeuti Barooah, Director Law Research Institute, an eminent authority on Child Rights in Assam, on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Priyanku Gogoi and Sulakshana Khataniar, two enthusiastic children from Bal Bhavan, Guwahati, set the tone to the presentation with the recitation of a composition by Dr. Jeuti Barooah which captured the essence of the Child Rights in an simple manner.
Dr Barooah then spoke about the Convention, its adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1989, its guiding principles and key articles, highlighting the role of government, parents and other stakeholders in fulfilling children’s rights. Many of the Rights mentioned in the CRC were already there in our constitution, stated Dr Barooah. She further added, “A child is like a green tree, which silently asks for its rights for survival, development, protection and participation. The child cannot wait for tomorrow, Its name is Today, she concluded, quoting from Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean poet.
The event was made memorable by the participation of children who had travelled some 600 kilometers from the tea intensive Dibrugarh district of Upper Assam, to share their “voices” on issues affecting children in their community.
Jayshree Senapati, a class VIII student of Madarkhat Girls School, Dibrugarh, highlighted the problems faced by the girls due to the absence of toilets in schools. She informed how their Shishu Panchayat (child cabinet) took up this issue with their Principal and got the school toilet unlocked for the use of girls. The gathering was left spellbound as she concluded her talk with the rendering of the Assamese number Diya Ghurai Diya (Give us back the peaceful world…) in her melodious voice.
Bishwajit Gohain, also a class VIII student from Rupkonwar Collegiate Jatiya Vidyalaya, Dibrugarh, talked about economic deprivation, school dropouts and corporal punishment in his community. He also informed the gathering about a newsletter which the children are preparing as a means to “freely express their views on issues related to children’s health, education and protection in their community.”
Finally, Maristina Markei, class IX student, from Adolescent Girls Club, Romai Tea Garden Dibrugarh, highlighted the changes that were brought about in their community and she concluded by reminding all what still is left to be done.
The Goverment’s Initiatives for Children
The Minister of Social Welfare Shri Akon Bora spoke elaborately on the state Government’s initiatives for children, especially the work being through the vast network of Anganwadi centres in the state and through the juvenile system. Mr Bora was thankful to UNICEF Assam for the commendable support being provided to his department in institutionalizing of capacity building and monitoring systems and the role out of the ICDS and ICPS.
The Minister’s address for followed by the screening of a PSA wherein Bollywood celebrity Priyanka Chopra appealed to all stakeholders to ensure children realize their rights.
The event concluded with an enchanting play `Shikari Burhi’ presented by Romai Lower Primary School and Adolescent Girl’s Club, Romai Tea Garden, Dibrugarh. The play, based on the folklore of teagarden communities, was brilliantly performed by the children and thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.
Ms Nipurnh Gupta, Communications Officer, UNICEF Assam, proposed the vote of thanks to the dignitaries, invited guests, children and every one who had supported with the organizing of the event.
CRC Panel Display and Child friendly booklet
The invitees were then invited for refreshments in the foyer where they also looked at the panel display on the key aspects of the CRC. The invitees found the panels as well as the Child friendly CRC booklet (in English and Assamese) very appealing and informative.
“The memories of this event and this simply written, colourful booklet will help us understand our rights better – it is great to have it in Assamese,” remarked a young student from Guwahati, putting her CRC booklet carefully in her bag.