Letting the little ones speak

Letting the little ones speak

Submitted by alvin on Sun, 2016-06-05 08:55 Schoolchildren in Chikkaballapur taluk's Annathammanahalli look forward to the month of November every year. Along with the celebration of Children's Day and International Child Rights Day, they also mark Children’s Grama Sabha. November is significant to children as it gives prominence to their issues.While Children’s Day and International Child Rights Day are marked at the school level, children’s grama sabha is conducted at the panchayat level.Children from 5-6 villages take part in the Sabha and share with the elected representatives the issues faced by them. Since the representatives give solutions to some of the issues on the spot, children believe that children's grama sabha is an ideal place for them to air their grievances.Annathammanahalli has 80 to 90 houses. There is a school, primary health centre and an anganwadi. However, it is a place that is far from urban settlements. As a result, there is no one to ask whether the teacher attends the school regularly or not, whether the anganwadi employee is present or to see if the Primary Health Centre opens at all. Children are often playing in front of the school as there are no teachers in the school. The grama panchayat members turn a blind eye to all this.However, one incident in November 2011 set a new trend in this village. Until then, this used to be a platform where children would be called and made to play for some time before being sent back. That day, for the first time, children spoke in the Sabha.Teachers not coming regularly to school, building needs repairs, anganwadi employee being absent, primary health centre not functioning properly were among the tens of issues raised by children that day.The grama panchayat members, who heard these issues, were enraged and gave solutions to some of the problems immediately. They assured to solve the other issues by conducting a meeting of the members. The children will never forget this grama sabha where their voices were valued. Çhildren's grama sabha turned out to be a programme that upheld children's rights.This is not just the story of one village. Several villages among the 54,000 villages in our state have benefited from this and seen changes. On the other hand, some of the villages have not even heard of this concept.Several grama panchayats host other events in the name of children’s grama sabha. Some panchayats believe that children’s grama sabha means calling children, making them play games and giving them snacks to eat. In 2006, the Rural Development and Panchayat Raj department sent out a circular saying that every November there has to be a children’s grama sabha in every panchayat. For this circular to be implemented, Child Rights Trust had to take up a lot of advocacy. Several meetings, research and interactions in 11 grama panchayats in three taluks of Bellary district resulted in the concept of children’s grama sabha.The 2006 circular was a huge step towards the growth and progress of child rights in Karnataka. This was also an opportunity for grama panchayats to uphold child rights. This was the first time in the nation that such an attempt was made at village level to uphold child rights.It is not easy to implement a programme that asserts children's right to participation in a country where there is not much publicity for children's rights itself. It's also not an easy task to change the perception of gram panchayat members who believe that development merely means construction of buildings and repair of roads. It is tough to sensitise them towards issues such as prevention of death of children, bringing back children into schools, prevention of child marriage, ensuring that there are no child labourers in the grama panchayat limits, education of differently-abled children or ensuring nutrition to pregnant women. Telling them that it is important to have statistics of children in the panchayat, and that even children's issues constitute part of development rhetoric is a challenging task.Several NGOs in the state stood by Child Rights Trust and extended their support in making the children’s grama panchayat a reality. Padi in Mangaluru, Kids in Dharwad, Prerana in Raichur were among the organisations that created awareness among grama panchayat members on child rights.Over the decade, the following are some of the important observations that we made:1)      Children's Grama Sabhas are taking place in villages where there is active presence of NGOs.2)      The misconception that in children's grama sabha, children have to be the president and members is slowly coming down.3)      Every grama panchayat member is aware that children's grama sabha has to be held in November.4)      In the Child Rights Parliament hosted every year at the state level, there is discussion on children's grama sabha.5)      In every district, the children's grama sabha is being hosted in co-ordination with the District Child Protection Units and Balavikas Academies.6)      The members of child rights associations in schools in Gadag, Chikkaballapur and Mangaluru districts are being given information on children's grama sabha. Due to this, when children participate in the grama sabha, they are given space to voice their opinions.7)      At the state level children's parliament, the Chief Minister has assured to give directions to every grama panchayat to hold children grama sabha.8)      Several grama panchayat members have become child-friendly.9)      At the panchayat level, all departments come together to host the children's grama sabha.10)  Several grama panchayats have opened up to the idea of conducting census for the children in their panchayat limits.11)  Even though children’s grama panchayat has not made a huge impact in the decade, it has been able to draw the attention of panchayat members.