KUNDAPUR (KARNATAKA): In what is historic and a first in India, yesterday a Child Rights Protection Taluk Level Task Force was set up in Kundapur of Udupi district in Karnataka, facilitated by the Concerned for Working Children (CWC), along with the Taluk administration.

The Concerned for Working Children, Karnataka is a developmental organisation working on issues of children’s rights, democracy and governance, and migration. They have thrice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and have been doing some path breaking work, developing ‘good practices’ for the realisation of children’s rights.

The Task Force is aimed towards creating governance structures where children, policy makers, and members of the local government participate equally and work together towards creating a child safe, sensitive and friendly environment. It has been CWC’s constant pursuit to create platforms where children are able to shape programmes and policies of their local government.

CWC in consultation with members from the Udupi district administration is also in the process of drafting the Udupi Child Rights Friendly Protection Protocol. The protocol ensures that all children receive a required standard of care and protection in workplaces, schools, public places, homes and while using public transport irrespective of the child’s age, gender, ability, cast, creed, religion or language.

It pays special attention to the concerns of working children and child labourers; children who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused; trafficked, kidnapped or missing children and children who are marginalised.

The protocol and the Task Force are means to enable children to directly interact with policy makers, officials and representatives of the elected local government to ensure accountability and help children shape policies and programmes that affect them, through direct participation.

Some of the objectives of the protocol are:

  • Protecting all rights of children as envisaged in the Constitution and by United Nations Child Rights Convention (UNCRC)

  • Enabling the development of comprehensive and sustainable policies and programmes to children’s problems and concerns that are in the best interest of the child and uphold their dignity

  • To facilitate convergence and collaboration among polices, programmes and departments

  • Prevent all forms of child abuse

  • Setting up easily accessible and navigable child friendly structures and grievance redressal mechanisms

  • Carry out research together with children in areas of their concern

What is most interesting and one of the most progressive features of this Taluk Task Force is its constitution. As per the protocol, 60 per cent of the Force must constitute of children, while the other 40 percent consist of Makkala Mitras (children’s friends) and Mahila Mitras (women’s friends), elected local representatives and the Taluk Panchayat President. The Assistant Commissioner for the Taluk, as per the mandate is assigned the role of Working President of the Task Force.

An important underlying principle of this protocol is that of participatory democracy. Shilpa Nag, Assistant Commissioner and working President of the Taluk Task Force, who was present at the event held at the Kundapur Taluk office, while addressing the gathering very appreciative of CWC’s efforts, also pointing that she had previously read of participatory democracy only in textbooks, until she attended a meeting facilitated by CWC in Korgi.

Responding to The Citizen’s question of what the role of the administration should be in such initiatives, she said ‘the administration needs to listen to people. The bureaucracy is known to be status – quo – ist, they need to shed this, engage and directly listen to people.’

Four child representatives, who are a part of the Task Force tabled before other members of the force several issues that pose a threat to children’s safety and protection, such a child marriage, corporal punishment, abuse, child labour, illegal sale of alcohol; unfenced and unmanned quarries and water bodies and the challenges faced by the migrant communities. The issues raised by the children were backed by data collected by the children themselves through thorough research.

Nag was quick to respond to the issues raised by the children and assured the gathering that affirmative action to ensure children’s safety and protection shall be taken and unmanned quarried and water bodies shall be fenced in a quick and cost effective manner.

The session concluded with the Taluk Panchayat President – Jayshree Mogaveera listing out all the issues raised, with the appropriate responses given by the concerned department and flagging issues that need to be raised with the Zila Panchayat.

Earlier this year April 28, CWC had organised a children’s area sabha, where members of the Bhima Sangha, the working children’s union presented before their local corporator raised issues regarding the lack of basic facilities, cleanliness and sanitation, and safety.

Across the world, and particularly in India, children are rarely part of decision making processes that have a direct impact on their lives. Participatory processes such as these do not help just children, but also help communities transform. Such practices and mechanisms ought to be recognised and replicated in other communities to ensure effective democracy.

At a time when India is seeing the gradual death of democracy at the Centre, it is refreshing to see these democratic practices finding places through legal and administrative mandates in local governance systems. The credit for which goes not just to the Concerned for Working Children, but also the Taluk administration which has shown active interest and engagement.