Change from the Grassroots
Over the paast few years, CRT has been conducting an action research project in 15 gram panchayats [five each from three taluks] in Bellary district of Karnataka state. To start with, the gram panchayat members and the community were contacted for authentic data on child issues - Secondary data on women and child health, well-being and education status were collected from the anganawadi worker, ANM and primary school staff.
After the survey, the status of children in the panchayat was discussed with the GP members, raising key issues like child labour, infant mortality rate, immunization, malnutrition, child trafficking, school dropouts, gender discrimination, infanticide and foeticide, child marriage, maternal mortality, etc.
But the CRT reseachers were doubtful whether the GPs would follow up with the needed actions that the data had brought up and the sustainability of the project in both Bellary and other districts. Looking into the role of gram panchayats in keeping track of their children's well-being and organising community and concerned departments to tackle shortfalls, new strategies were thought of.
CRT approached the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj [RDPR] department, Government of Karnataka, with the concept of Child Rights Grama Sabhas. The then director of the department was impressed by CRT's presentation at 'Manthana' (a monthly brainstorming get-together organised by the deptarment.) and circulated an order to keep track of children at gram panchayat level and to conduct special Grama Sabhas on children’s issues every year from 13th -30th November.
The circular which was approved in September 2006 directs the CEOs of zilla panchayats to monitor the conducting of Child Rigths Grama Sabhas and submit reports to the head office.
By this historical achievement, CRT's continued work became more active in the pilot project at Bellary district. As the circular reached the GPs in late November and since they were confused how to conduct Child Rights Grama Sabhas, CRT facilitated the process in all its project taluks. Initiatives have been taken in some villages to conduct Grama Sabhas by local groups. However. where the CEO's order did not yet reach, the gram panchayat members were in a dilemma and could not conduct the sabhas.
The Direct and Spin-Off Effects
Some Highlights of the Grama Sabhas Conducted so far:
In Bellary district, eight gram panchayats in which CRT is working, immediately organised 'Children's Grama Sabhas' and successfully conducted discussions on topics mentioned in the RDPR circular. Taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat executive officers attended most of the Grama Sabhas along with all the department representatives mentioned in the RDPR circular.
In Hospet taluk No.10 Muddapur gram panchayat, the Grama Sabha was attended by children who raised their voice on their school problems. Following are the outcomes.
a. The children complained that their school compound was used as a day shed for the cows and bullocks and there was no place to play for them. The problem was solved the very next day. People understood the right of children and the playground was made free for children to play.
b. People complained that there was no anganawadi centre in the areas; soon the anganawadi has been sanctioned and construction began.
c. Grama Sabha members took the responsibility regarding dropout children and decided to work with the children's census program [conducted annually by the Education Department] and conduct the survey of children in their gram panchayat.
d. In Hovina hadagali taluk, 10 Children's Grama Sabhas have been conducted till now. GP members resolved that they would reserve 10% of funds in their action plan to create a child welfare fund to implement child development programs and help poor children go to school.
e. In Gangavathi taluk Karatagi gram panchayat, a Grama Sabha was organised in the grounds of a high school to grab the attention of the public. Welcoming the government decision to conduct 'Child Rights Grama Sabha', the GP organised the Grama Sabha in a grand manner and passed resolutions to include children in the next Grama Sabha, as at this time, it was conducted during the exam season and children were not able to attend it. Problems of anganawadi workers were heard and panchayat members promised to consult the state government to solve the building and lack of equipment and other problems in the anganawadis. They gave an assurance that in the next action plan of the GP, some percentage of the funds would be used for children’s welfare programs.
In Mangalore and Udupi districts, gram panchayat members distributed school bags along with handouts giving information about child rights in order to campaign about 'Child Rights Grama Sabha among the community; they also conducted Grama Sabhas successfully.
In Davanagere district more than eight gram panchayats organised Grama Sabhas from December 2006 to february 07. At the end of every Grama Sabha, the media collected opinions of children who attended it. A primary school student, Rudresh from Mudahadadi village said that - Till now we used to share our problems only in front of our parents but after participating in this Grama Sabha, I got the confidence that I can share my problem in front of so many people and I am hopeful about getting solutions for my problems. - He opined that after the implementation of the Child Rights Grama Sabha, children need not feel inferior and suppress their feelings and opinions.
In some Grama Sabhas of Davanagere district, the GP members passed resolutions to bring back the dropouts and child labourers to schools. To achieve this, they planned strategies like sensitizing the parents about child rights and the importance of education. They also would pressurise the parents who were not sending their children to school by not renewing their ration cards etc.
Update as of October 2008
RDPR has now decided to have all GPs trained on child rights and on the Children's Special Grama Sabhas. The GPs will have to conduct these sabhas year to review the
situation of children in their area and take affirmative actions to
uphold Child rights. CRT is providing both technical and material help
to RDPR through training and consultations.