Empowering children

NGO

Empowering children

Voicing opinions: Children participating in a rally. The NGO has helped children form and run Makkala Panchayats.

Tucked away in the quiet locality of Shastri Nagar in Bangalore is the office of the NGO CWC, Concerned for Working Children. Like the banyan tree that stands in its precincts, this organisation too is big, not in its size but in its agenda and in what it delivers. In the nearly thirty years of its existence, it has touched the lives of over 60,000 children from marginalised communities.

“The issue of child labour is intricately connected to issues like migration, lack of access to education, etc. Without addressing the latter, we can’t solve the former. Therefore we have also been working with adults: migrant labourers, street vendors and other disadvantaged people. The name CWC has been retained as children continue to be the focus of much of our work,” explains Kavita Ratna, Director, Communication at CWC.

At the core of CWC’s work is the conviction that children, citizens of today, have rights too and that they have the capacity to decide what is good for them. “It is the duty of the state to ensure children’s welfare. While exploitative labour is definitely to be banned, a blanket ban on children working without giving them an alternative does not help,” argues Kavita.

Part of decision-making process

The NGO has been running residential vocational training programmes, putting children into school or doing what suits an individual working child best so that the child’s life gets better. What CWC does is to empower the children and make them part of the decision making process. It mobilises children and organises them so that they know what is their due and helps them get their rights. The Concerned for Working Children is also keen on ensuring that governments and other agencies keep the major focus of their agenda on child rights.

In order to achieve these objectives, CWC has four main wings.

The field programmes in both urban and rural areas across Karnataka have resulted in the transformation of several lives.

Be it health, education issues or liasioning with local authorities, field programmes have implemented viable and sustainable solutions to issues of child labour. In one instance, construction of a foot bridge was all it took for children to resume schooling during rains. By working in close cooperation with elected representatives and Mahila Sanghas, CWC strives to make areas, child-labour free.

Research and documentation: The NGO believes that no proper intervention can take place in the absence of accurate data. Several of CWC’s well-researched publications are used as ready reckoners by government bodies and others. CWC has also facilitated a publication by children themselves about the kind of work that children can and can’t do. While empowering children to interact with their Panchayat members, CWC first demystified research concepts and developed tools with the active participation of children and they in turn gathered data from eight panchayats and did research on issues that concerned them and their community. The resultant publication has been much acclaimed.

Communication advocacy: CWC activists frequently serve as watch dogs for the government and other corporate bodies on issues of child rights. Whether it is writing to the Prime Minister about the serious pitfalls in government policies towards eradication of child labour or analysing political parties’ election manifestoes for their commitment to child welfare, CWC works in close collaboration with children, the urban poor, the gram panchayat members and others. The NGO has taken up the issue of child marriage by launching a campaign against it. Uchengemma, a member of the CWC supported working children’s union, Bhima Sangha, refused to get married at 15 years of age and her story has inspired many other children and families to fight this social malady. 
 
The organisation’s campaign against money power in panchayat elections in the state was a huge success too. Voters in 21 districts literally made a statement. They bought stickers declaring “Naanu mattu nanna matha maaratakkilla - My vote and I are not for sale” and stuck it on the walls of their houses.

Capacity building: The NGO strongly believes in empowerment of the marginalised. Over the years it has developed several modules for training children. These have been used by countries such as Srilanka, Mongolia and Zambia too.

The Concerned for Working Children believes in democratisation and decentralisation in governance at every level. It has helped children form and run Makkala Panchayats. The principle of working by consensus has been so well ingrained in children that when one of them was offered an opportunity to go to China for a youth programme, she said she would have to consult the committee first!   

In a just and equitable world, there would be no exploitation of any form and all of children’s rights would be realised. But as of now, for the betterment of over 111 million working children in the country we need more of the CWC kind of work.

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