Child Friendly Grama Panchayats in Karnataka a unique best practice
It was in Aug 2006, CRT-Child Rights Trust a Bangalore based NGO made a presentation on the situation of children in Karnataka and the probable responsibilities of RDPR-Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, towards child rights that made the department to issue a circular on conducting `Grama Sabhas on Children's issues' in Karnataka.
The circular issued by RDPR, GoK (2006) to conduct regular Grama Sabhas on children’s issues is bearing fruits. Various NGOs and several Grama Panchayats have taken the idea in a progressive manner and are conducting Grama Sabhas effectively. CRT developed this model with the support of CRY and EveryChild during 2003 to 2006 and is continuing to work in some select districts with a separate dedicated team. CRT has also developed communication and reference material for this activity, which has been used by RDPR and in various trainings conducted by Abdul Nazeer Sab State Institute of Rural Development (ANSSIRD) to trainers and GP members on the importance of the idea and the processes to be followed.
This joint effort by RDPR, SIRD and hundreds of NGOs actively involved in child rights and rural development, in the last six years thousands of Grama Panchayats have conducted 'Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas' enthusiastically. In the beginning a few NGOs and some section of the Govt. departments raised several questions about the validity or feasibility of conducting special Grama Sabhas on child rights issues. After a few initial hiccups, the said Grama Sabha with the able support by RDPR, could solve hundreds of issues pertaining to children, which were otherwise ignored by the local administrators and people's representatives.
- Panchayats are now aware of not only CRC provisions but also related issues like MDGs and State Plan of Action goals to be achieved in terms of survival of children, protection issues, measures to be taken for the development of children and honouring the rights of children to participate.
- Every year RDPR Secretariat issues a circular reminding the GPs to conduct Child Rights Special Grama Sabha around November.
- SIRD-State Institute of Rural Development has evolved a training manual based on the experiences of NGOs and invites NGOs to train the trainers on Child Rights as well conducting Child Rights Special Grama Sabha.
- The Education Department mentions the Child Rights Special Grama Sabha in its annual time table sharing information with the students to take part in the event.
- RDPR issues advertisements in newspapers and radio with special interviews and programmes
- In 2011 the minsters for RDPR and DWCD jointly addressed a press conference announcing the modalities to be followed by GPs to conduct the special Grama Sabha on child rights.
- Every CEO of ZP nominates nodal officers through TPs to every Grama Panchayat to oversee the modalities to be followed by the GPs in conducting this special event
- The GPs are instructed to give wide publicity to the event, organise with due notice, provide opportunity to children and adults to raise issues pertaining to children, instruct all the concerned officers (anganawadi workers, teachers, health workers, police, fair prize depot proprietors and others) to be preset to respond to the demands of the children. GP pradhan to take the responsibility of finalising the decisions taken in the Sabha and the same is minuted for follow up. They are also expected to record the proceedings in video form and share with the ZP along with time line for fulfilling the promises.
- Children come prepared with issues, when given an opportunity that they can raise their issues. In many GPs children have experiences about three to four Grama Sabhas and know what issues to be raised.
- Adult community are generally amused in the beginning, but now eagerly look forward for the special Grama Sabha (its true that the regular Grama Sabha normally do not discuss many issues which can be considered as trivial, but of great importance to the life of the community in villages)
- Minor issues like (which adult world think) changing the time of drinking water supply in the villages (which was earlier obstructing children from attending morning session in the school); getting the long absentee teachers red hand and compelling them to attend classes (!); prevention of child marriages; getting anganawadi to children belonging to minority and scheduled castes; preventing dedication of children into devadasi system; getting the Panchayat take note of the filth in the school premises in the week ends (abuse of school premises by youth); getting a playground to the school; getting disability screening done in the village itself; identification of orphans and destitute in the village; toilets for schools; higher education provisions for rural children; child protection issues; public transport to schools; health care, etc.
- A very significant achievement is that in many Grama Panchayats the four basic service providers health (ANM); early childhood care and development (Anganawadi); education (School teachers) and the Panchayats have conducted joint meetings to resolve the issues rose in the Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas.
Future course of action
Currently conducting Child Rights Special Grama Sabha, although the circular and the directions given RDPR and the concerned minsters say that it is compulsory, it still remains optional. There is a need to formalise this special Grama Sabha in the Panchayat Act, making it clear that GPs have an obligatory role towards children and their rights and conducting this Grama Sabha is not ceremonial but a statutory requirement. Messages in this regard were given by the concerned minister in a recent congregation of GP Pradhans and members and NGO representatives at Dharawada.
A lesson on this issue need to be introduced in the social studies text books at class 7, highlighting the importance of children taking part in this special meet.
As other states are showing interest in learning the process and the usage of this special Grama Sabha, GOI need to take note of the development and consider the process as a best practice for other states to follow.