Monday 10 December 2007

Children hold local governments acccountable

Children hold local governments accountable

Following is a report by Concerned for Working Children (CWC) about children’s involvement in local government in India.

The report uses terminology which is commonly used in India but may be difficult to understand for those who are not familiar with it. I therefore attached an explanation about the terminology at the end of the report.

The first set of Children's Grama Sabhas - 2007 underway in Karnataka

The reports from the first set of Children's Grama Sabhas 2007 stand testimony to how a well facilitated process of Children's Grama Sabhas not only holds the local government accountable to children and ensures their commitment to children's rights, but also has a powerful impact on strengthening local governance.

The first Children's Grama Sabha report is from Halli Hole, a remote Panchayat of Udupi District, one of the field programme areas of the Concerned for Working Children. Hundreds of children took part in this Sabha last week in which the Panchayat reported back to children about the successful implementation of 19 Programmes that are a direct result of the issues raised by children during Children's Grama Sabha - 2006. These include constructions of toilets in schools and improved access to basic facilities and services, not only for children, but for the entire community. The President of the Panchayat, Shankar Narayan Chatra, said 'It is now absolutely clear to me why children's participation is essential to strengthen local governments. Children do not only list their problems, they also describe the implications of the problems and the importance of addressing them. This has been extremely useful to us to develop our action plans.'

750 children took part in the Children's Grama Sabha at Hardalli Mandalli, also in Udipi District. After carrying out a huge procession in which children voiced their issues, they made detailed presentations about a range of demands, including the need for a community hall for the local high school, water facilities and toilets for many homes that lack them. Hari Prasad Shetty, the President made a special reference to the high quality of children's presentation. He pointed out that "Children have collected the background data and have presented their issues in a very concise matter. We are committed to develop actions plans for their problems in consultation with them." (Please see photographs attached)

Children and adolescents are critical observers of their own condition and should be participants in decisions concerning themselves and their lives. A practical experience of participatory democracy is essential for the moulding of the 'new citizen'. They need to understand and prepare for governance and citizenship and therefore must be enabled to interact in a constructive and meaningful way with local governments at all levels. For children's participation to be truly productive and not just tokenistic the State should create structures for children to; first of all; access their local governments that are closest and most accessible to them.

It may be recalled that Panchayat Raj Ministry, Government of Karnataka issued an Order (638 - 2007 dated 30.10.2007) which makes it mandatory for all Panchayats to provide an opportunity for children to articulate their issues directly with their elected representatives, and emphasises the need for the Panchayats to report back on the action taken regarding the issues flagged by children is a very important step in this direction. It is equally important that the State now conducts systematic capacity building programmes in order to equip the Panchayats, officials and all civil society groups that will be engaged with this process to ensure that Children's Grama Sabhas realise their full potential.

Terminology explained:

India has a federal system of governance – with a Central Government and each state having its own State Government. Within each State, a three tier local government system exists in the rural areas.

The lowest level of local governance (and according to the Indian constitution, the most important) is the Panchayat. This consists of several villages - and is the lowest democratically elected government and the one closest to the people and children. All the plans and the identification of beneficiaries for government schemes and the like are and should be carried out at this level.

Higher than that is the Taluk Panchayat - at the block level. This is more the monitoring body - and also the fund-disbursal body. In Kundapur Taluk, for example, there are 56 Panchayats.

Above this is the District/Zilla Panchayat. This also has a monitoring role as well as a role to inform the policies of the State Government. In Udupi District, for example, there are 3 Taluks (Kundapur, Karkala and Udupi) and 147 Panchayats.

The Children's Grama Sabhas are being held at the level of the Panchayats.It is a meeting of all the children of the Panchayat to discuss issues of their concern and negotiate with concerened officials and elected bodies.

The three tiers mentioned above are democratically elected. The elections at the Panchayat level are supposed to be de-linked from political parties - however, in reality, most often there are party affiliations. Good news is that there are quite a large number of independent candidates in the Panchayat Elections - and the members of Namma Sabha are also considering contesting these elections as representatives of their organisation.

Namma Sabha is an association of youth, composed of artisans, crafts persons and others engaged in various occupations.

See also this webpage for further explanations about terminology.

For more information contact:

Kavita Ratna
Director - Communications
The Concerned for Working Children
303/2, L.B. Shastri Nagar
Vimanapura Post
Annasandra Palya
Bangalore - 560 017
Phones: 0091 80 25234270, 2523461

The issue was also covered in the Hindu, one of India's national papers on November 23, 2007, highlighting different views on the issue of children's involvement in panchayat raj institutions:

Fiat on children's participation in gram sabhas raises eyebrows

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