Honourable Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy, releasing the Andhra Pradesh Child Declaration' at the the state consultation on child rights, a special session organized to mark the 21st anniversary of the Convention
By Vikas Verma
HYDERABAD, India - Fourteen-year-old Nandini is calm as she speaks at the historic meeting on child rights organized by UNICEF in partnership with Andhra Pradesh Alliance for Child Rights (APACR) at Hyderabad. Nandini is one of the few girl children at her village in Nalgonda who is not a child bride and has been allowed to study at least till class 9.
Nandini has now become the voice of her district. She bravely articulates views on child marriage and the lack of toilets in her district, before the Honurable Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Legislative Assembly, Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy.
The occasion is the state consultation on child rights, a special session organized to mark the 21st anniversary of the Convention of Child Rights (CRC).
Marginalized children like Nandini from poverty-stricken families have lived a life of silence and resignation, but now these young minds are being encouraged to think.
Nearly 1190 child delegates from 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh reviewed the services made available to them by the government and presented their feedback.
Nandini and her team from Nalgonda comprising of Lalitha and Matchagiri, deliberated on the condition of services in their district and signed a district declaration on 10 November.
Nandini says, “We would like to have toilets in schools and hygienic mid day meals.” She also spoke about how her female friends were gradually dropping out of school because they were all being forced to marry at a young age. Many of the children in her school walk barefoot and don’t have bags for carrying their books.
A similar exercise was carried out in all 23 districts of AP with the help of NGOs as part of the forum called Andhra Pradesh Alliance for Child Rights.
They interacted closely with the communities, brought together the groups of children from many villages and consolidated their opinions on the status of various schemes as 23 district declarations.
The participating children included school-going, non-school going, working physically challenged children and children from migrant families. Children affected with HIV/AIDS, orphans, children of single parents and children living in tribal areas also participated.
Though the assessment was categorised into five umbrella issues, the perspectives were common across the districts.
In health care, the children cited issues in accessing health services, vaccination, the cleanliness of beds and rooms of hospitals and the non-availability of medicines in hospitals.
The children cited the lack of access to schools as a major issue in getting education. They also raised issues related to the lack of hygiene in preparing the mid-day meal, corporal punishment, the burden of excessive home work, and the lack of a child friendly atmosphere in schools.
At the end of the consultations, underprivileged children put together a rating of various services in a report called ‘Situational analysis of children in Andhra Pradesh – a children’s perspective’.
Witness to their voices from the state’s side was the Honourable Speaker of the
Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy, who is the presiding officer of the State Assembly – the legislative body where elected representatives of all political parties converge for crucial decisions on state policies.
He was accompanied by Mr Mohd Ali Rafath, the State Programme Director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, and Mr. HK Nagu, Commissioner of the Labour Department of Andhra Pradesh.
The children hoped that by presenting their perspective to the speaker they would ensure that their voices would be heard at the highest level and reach all the political parties of AP.
“You have given the government 50 per cent marks for the various services. There is a long way to go,” quipped the speaker after he accepted the children’s analysis. Just four days after the interaction Mr. Reddy assumed charge as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh
Mr. Isidore Phillips of the civil society group ‘Divya Disha’, who was one of the facilitators, said the objective of starting the program was not only about bringing out a report-card.
“These children were getting an opportunity to think and speak about what they lacked in life. That was the aim of this program. There are glaring gaps in services that they feel need to be highlighted,” Phillips said.
This unique exercise of arriving at a feedback mechanism has been the first baby step in a concerted and directed approach towards safeguarding child rights as mentioned in the Child Rights Convention.
The convener of the APACR, Ramesh Shekar Reddy said, “The responsibility of the stake-holders lies in ensuring that this is not just a one-time affair, because the road to tread is long and the goals to be achieved are many. Children are looking up to adults with hope and it is the responsibility of all concerned to live up to this image.”
The report also led to the Andhra Pradesh declaration for children, a historic document which spelt out five areas of services that required immediate intervention.
Signed by the child delegates, the declaration is an appeal to the state to safeguard child rights and provide protection to children.
Children hoped that their call would help all the stakeholders, including parents, teachers, political parties, civil society and government to sit up and take notice of their issues.
With inputs from Ms Durga Nandini.