Children take small steps to change the face of society

They may be small and rustic yet their contribution to society is by no means small. In an age when many of their ilk are busy playing, they focus on burning social issues and evils and even boldly confront their elders when they find them doing something wrong.

What happened at  Singhapur village in Uttar Pradesh’s Sant Ravidas Nagar
district, famous for its hand-made woollen carpet industry,  was a small step but made tremendous impact on children. They had noticed that some of their elders were blowing up hard-earned money on either smoking, drinking or chewing tobacco. Children first told them to shun those habits. Expectedly, elders did not care much about the request. What followed was too hot for them to handle.

Children simply told them that they would follow their footsteps. “We will also do the same. If you want us not to do so, you must shun these habits,’’ they told the elders. A few months later, the Singhapur village has hardly any one, who smokes or consumes liquor. Children had achieved their objective. But  they had set their eyes on bigger things. They wanted to fight for their rights and other important issues like education, mid-day meal, child labour, child marriages, female foeticide and orphaned children.

And it was this quest that led to the formation of “We the Children”, a unique initiative aimed at empowering children in Uttar Pradesh so that they are aware of their rights. The initiative that started from the Singhapur village last year has now spread to 16 districts in Uttar Pra­d­esh having a membership of 5,000 children from every section of society.

The unique feature of the initiative is that activities are controlled by children. Fifteen children take care of the activities and some elders  guide them.

“We had started from a small village and now the network is there in 16 distr­icts and we plan to expand it further in the days to come,’’ said Dr  Roli Singh, Director of Varanasi-based Dr Shambhu Singh Research Foundation, who was the guiding force behind this change.

Over the past few months,  children associated with the initiative have done many commendable work. “They found out employing of child labourers in the MNREGS. They even conducted a social audit of the meal being served at different anganwadi centres in the Gorakhpur district,” she said.

The carpet industry of Sant Ravidas Nagar, which was earlier known as Bhadohi, is still infamous for employing children for making the hand-made woollen carpets. “Children also rescu­ed several child labourers from various carpet weaving centres in the district,”
Dr Singh said.

These children are trained with the help of the foundation. “We train them in puppetry, staging street plays, bringing out wall newspapers and children magazines and making radio programmes and also anchoring them,” she said.

“It helps them in expressing themselves in a better and efficient manner. They are able to convince others to follow their advice,” Dr Singh pointed out.

Children elect their leaders. “The office- bearers of the network are elected by the members of the organisation in a democratic manner,” she said.

The initiative aims at bringing different children’s organisations on one platform, creating an awareness in society about child rights, disseminating issues pertaining to  children and gathering information about laws pertaining to children and making them available to  other children’s organisations in the country.

Any one up to the age of 18 may beco­me member of the network. The members take a pledge that they would never discriminate on the basis of caste, colour and religion.

“They also take vow that they will never tolerate exploitation and will encourage girls to become members and give them due respect,” Dr  Singh said.

She said that there was a network of around 25 children in several villages across these 16 districts. “It had children from dalit, backward and Muslim communities also,” she said.

It is important that children themselves take up the issues that affect them. “They will know about themselves better than any one else,” she added.

Ms Sheetal, vice-president of the network, fully supports Dr Singh. “Who knows better than we ourselves about our pain and anguish,” she said. These children had startled the then UP Assembly speaker Sukhdeo Rajbhar by asking him “How can the elders feel our pain?’’

They also hold press conferences regularly and share their views and objectives with the media.

The foundation aims at expanding the network further. “We plan to connect the network with other children’s organisations in the country. If  children of our country unite and come on one platform to raise their voice, they will certainly achieve their objectives,” she said.

“The entire exercise is to make them empowered and fight for themselves. We tell them that no one except you alone can fight for your rights and they are doing it quite efficiently,” Dr Singh said.

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