By Vikas Verma with inputs from Lakshmi Sharma
December 14th was a unique day for Karnataka legislators. Free from the worry of active politics due to dissolution of assembly, the elected people’s representatives listened to the demands of children and then responded with an open mind. One after the other, cutting across party lines, legislators reiterated the need to form a forum for children in Karnataka, South India.
The occasion was the State Level Consultation on the “Legislators’ Commitment to Children” followed by felicitation of legislators from Karnataka Vidhana Sabha (Legislative Assembly) and Vidhana Parishat (Legislative Council) as “Child-friendly Legislators” for raising questions on children’s issues in the house. The programme was organized by CRT (Child Rights Trust ), a Bangalore based NGO working on child rights issues as part of the initiative mooted and supported by UNICEF, Hyderabad.
The gathered legislators admitted that in the three years of its inception, the felicitation programme had become an annual event, calling them to introspection, consciously reminding them about their commitment to children and child related issues against the promises they made to children in their party manifestos during the 2004 general elections.
Initiated in 2005 the analytical study titled “Are There Children in Vidhana Soudha?” was aimed at analyzing the question and answer sessions of the Karnataka legislative assembly from a children’s development perspective. This was a follow-up of the NGO campaign in Karnataka in the 2004 General Elections to influence political parties to include children on their political agenda.
In 2007, the survey analyzed questions constituency-wise and followed it up with the answers obtained from various departments. For example, in response to questions on issues like the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) and MMR (Maternal Mortality Rate) and efforts by the government to declare certain districts as child labour free, the statistics given by the departments were found to be questionable. The responses have raised more questions, discussions and debates from various quarters like international organizations, researchers, media, NGOs etc.
In view of the impending elections in the state, a state level seminar was organized to analyze how many of the promises were realized since the 2004 elections. Following up on the discussion around some of the important concerns raised at the seminar by groups from 23 districts, the participants gave a clarion call to set up the Children’s Commission; a separate department for children; special sessions of Grama sabhas (Village meetings) with children’s participation to discuss child related issues and separate budget for children in the panchayat.
The seminar was inaugurated by Mr.V.R. Sudarshan, former Chairman of the Legislative Council of Karnataka who called upon the Government to form a Commission for Children at the earliest.
Mr.Vikas Verma, Communication Specialist, UNICEF, Hyderabad also stressed on the need to monitor development indicators of children and appreciated the role of NGOs acting as watch dogs to monitor the role of legislators towards upholding the rights of children.