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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Child rights placed on Karnataka’s political agenda

With the Karnataka State Assembly elections around the corner, 500 social service organisations and individuals involved with child rights issues have been collaborating with hundreds of children to get issues related to children included in election manifestos.

There has been hectic activity among child rights activists in the run-up to the Karnataka State Assembly elections, with every political party in the state set to include demands made by and on behalf of children, in their election manifestos.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) recognises children as citizens not just of the future, but of today. Children comprise nearly half of Karnataka’s population, and although those below 18 years have no direct say in the election process, their large numbers and vital position as builders of the future require that their rights and aspirations be formally recognised by every political party.

With this in mind, over 500 social service organisations and individuals working with child-related issues have been collaborating with children from all over Karnataka to prepare a list of demands that will be presented to the political leaders. “We anticipated these elections and began guiding children in compiling a list of demands several months ago,” says Kavita Ratna of Concerned for Working Children (CWC). “Over 520 children, including representatives of working children, children from migrant communities, schoolchildren, specially-abled children and elected members of makkala panchayats (children’s councils) in the three regions of Karnataka have been holding discussions among themselves for the past two months to arrive at key commitments they demand from all political parties,” says Ganapathy of the CWC.

Elsewhere in the districts of Gulbarga, Bidar, Bagalkot, Raichur, Belgaum, Hubli, Dharwad and Davangere, Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL-K) has been helping children prepare a list of their election demands. “Five hundred grassroots organisations and individuals working with children, such as educationists, health workers, bureaucrats, etc, from all walks of life have been mobilised under our banner,” says Dr Mahendra Rajan of CACL-K.

Concerned for Working Children has being working with the special needs of children since 1985 and has helped facilitate children’s special gram sabhas, or makkala panchayats , in several districts of Karnataka.

These special gram sabhas have provided a readymade platform for rural children to gather at the grassroots level and put forward their demands.

“Under Section 61 A of the Panchayati Raj Act, we helped form child protection committees several years ago,” says Dr Rajan of CACL-K. “We extended this and conducted special makkala gram sabhas in 36 panchayats of Gulbarga and Davangere in 2006-2007.”

Meetings are being held at several levels, from the special makkala panchayats to the taluka, district, and state levels, for a wider outreach. Children mobilised by CWC have discussed issues amongst themselves and selected representatives from the existing children’s special gram sabhas. These child representatives then work with adult facilitators at higher-level meets.

At meetings organised by CACL-K, grassroots NGOs have identified children from rural and urban communities where they operate. Adults working with children’s welfare groups meet the children informally. Then, the adults meet formally to put down important points brought out at the informal discussions with the children.

Although the approaches of the various social service organisations facilitating children’s meetings vary in the details, the objective remains the same. “This vast exercise is an attempt to get the political leaders to open their eyes, and draw public attention to the needs of children,” says Vasudeva Sharma of CACL-K. “We are not bringing children into politics, but politicising their issues.”

Adult facilitators helped the children put down their demands in a mature, coherent format. Below is an excerpt:

Acts that are in need of modification

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 to cover all children working in every sector, and up to 18 years.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to also cover devadasi children.

Acts that need to be enforced fully and speedily

The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, with severe penalties for any connivance.

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act and the international convention on persons with disabilities to be fully adhered to.

The State Commission for Protection of Child Rights must be constituted in the spirit of a national commission.

The Child Marriage Restraint Act must be enforced with severe penalties for any connivance by officials and ministers.

By Monideepa Sahu


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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