Taking up their own cause: kids spread child rights awareness

November 24th, 2008 - 6:20 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 24 (IANS) Preeti Bhoya is all of 15 years of age but is busy combating social ills - from female foeticide to early marriage and especially child rights. A Bal Mitra or child reporter, she actively participates in awareness drives in villages in her area in Gujarat.”Lack of education for the girl and early marriage are two of the major problems in the villages in my area,” Preeti, wearing a bright coloured salwar and her hair braided, told IANS at a national consultation on child rights in the capital Monday.

“I and my friends regularly go around the block telling parents about the advantages of educating their daughter and not marrying her off at an early age. Although things don’t change drastically overnight, they nevertheless do slowly,” she said with a smile.

An initiative of Chetna, an NGO, the Bal Mitra or Child Reporter programme makes children aware of their rights and monitors local development in an area. Under this programme, children wear the cap of a journalist and investigate the progress of local development concerns. Their news reports based on their experiences are published in a monthly newsletter.

This programme is currently running in five blocks of Valsad district in south Gujarat. Taking note of the success of the children’s newsletter in highlighting local issues, district development officers have come forward to fund it.

Prateek, a class 7 student of the same district and a Bal Mitra, gave an example of how he along with a few others solved the problem of unsafe drinking water affecting children’s health and their studies in his area.

“When we came to know that many children in the Sherimal primary school in Valsad were falling ill frequently, we decided to investigate. We found that the water from the two hand pumps which was used for drinking and cooking the midday meals was unsafe. Children had to bring water from home or walk long distances to fetch it. This was affecting their health as well as their studies.

“Therefore, with the help of a local NGO, we wrote to the school principal mentioning how the students’ health and attendance in school were being affected because of the water. We also forwarded a copy to the water supply board and discussed it with members of the panchayat. After that a plumber was promptly sent to repair the pumps,” Prateek recalled.

Preeti gave another example of how a 12-year-old girl of her village who was forced to drop out of school by her family and work as a domestic help elsewhere, was bailed out of her woes.

“Nimisha’s father is no more and her mother wanted her to earn extra money. But after I spoke to her mother and convinced her about the plus points and importance of educating her daughter, she agreed to send Nimisha back to school. She is now enrolled in class six,” she said.

Minaxi Shukla, director of Child Resource Centre, Chetna, added: “Considering that nearly 42 percent of India’s population are children - below the age of 18 - and they have very low awareness of their own rights, such initiatives which involve kids themselves can go a long way in solving the problem.”

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