Children Hold Local Governments Responsible
The Indian organisation CWC, The Concerned for Working Children, has sent out the following report about the first set of children's public meetings in 2007, now under way in Karnataka. It shames Britain, where children often have no influence in their own schools, let alone in their local communities.
The reports from the first set of Children's Grama Sabhas 2007 stand testimony to how a well-facilitated process of Children's Grama Sabhas not only holds the local government accountable to children and ensures their commitment to children's rights, but also has a powerful impact on strengthening local governance.
The first Children's Grama Sabha report is from Halli Hole, a remote Panchayat of Udupi District, one of the field programme areas of the Concerned for Working Children. [A Panchayat is a local council or the area governed by a local council.] Hundreds of children took part in this Sabha last week in which the Panchayat reported back to children about the successful implementation of nineteen programmes that are a direct result of the issues raised by children during Children's Grama Sabha in 2006. These include the construction of toilets in schools and improved access to basic facilities and services, not only for children, but for the entire community. The President of the Panchayat, Shankar Narayan Chatra, said, 'It is now absolutely clear to me why children's participation is essential to strengthen local governments. Children do not only list their problems, they also describe the implications of the problems and the importance of addressing them. This has been extremely useful to us to develop our action plans.'
750 children took part in the Children's Grama Sabha at Hardalli Mandalli, also in Udipi District. After carrying out a huge procession in which children voiced their issues, they made detailed presentations about a range of demands, including the need for a community hall for the local high school, and water facilities and toilets for many homes that lack them. Hari Prasad Shetty, the President, made a special reference to the high quality of the children's presentation. He pointed out that 'Children have collected the background data and have presented their issues in a very concise matter. We are committed to develop action plans for their problems in consultation with them.'
Children and adolescents are critical observers of their own condition and should be participants in decisions concerning themselves and their lives. A practical experience of participatory democracy is essential for the moulding of the 'new citizen'. They need to understand and prepare for governance and citizenship and therefore must be enabled to interact in a constructive and meaningful way with local governments at all levels. For children's participation to be truly productive and not just tokenistic the State should create structures for children to, first of all, access their local governments, which are closest and most accessible to them.
It may be recalled that Panchayat Raj Ministry, Government of Karnataka issued an Order (638 ˆ 2007 dated 30.10.2007) which makes it mandatory for all Panchayats to provide an opportunity for children to articulate their issues directly with their elected representatives, and emphasises the need for the Panchayats to report back on the action taken regarding the issues flagged by children as a very important step in this direction. It is equally important that the State now conducts systematic capacity building programmes in order to equip the Panchayats, officials and all civil society groups that will be engaged with this process to ensure that Children's Grama Sabhas realise their full potential.