The Hindu, July 20, 2012
An innovative project sponsored by an international group in the remote dusty villages of Chittorgarh district in Rajasthan is slowly bringing socially excluded children to the mainstream and facilitating their access to basic rights to protection, food and education.
The confidence generated among children has enabled them to raise a voice against exclusion and discrimination.
The transformation is the result of sustained efforts Centre for Human Development of the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) in 28 villages with the support of “Save the Children”. The Dalit and tribal-dominated region has witnessed initiatives for connecting children with regular schooling, bringing back dropouts to schools, stopping child marriages and domestic violence and rescuing children from forced labour.
The project, titled “Stronger voice to excluded children in government and non-government organisations’ policies and programmes”, operative in the district for the past five years, has succeeded in shifting the focus of the State Government’s policies and schemes to the critical issues of most socially-excluded children.
The Centre for Human Development, established by CUTS, has also appointed children as active members of village-level committees where different child functionaries work for integration of children’s voices on the issues of exclusion. The main emphasis has been on protection of child rights.
Hailing mostly from marginalised communities, these children have become role models for others and even adults are emulating them.
Children supported by the project have defied odds by traversing long distances to attend school, resisted family pressure to get married, taken up cudgels against powerful lobbies and eradicated illiteracy.
CUTS Centre for Human Development coordinator Dharamveer Yadav told a visiting group of journalists from Jaipur that the children were playing a major role in monitoring the progress of government schemes through the Baal Adhikar Manch and Baal Panchayat.
These bodies, set up at the grassroots, place demands before government officers and elected representatives and follow up cases in a bid to exert pressure on authorities.
Child labour is widespread in Chittorgarh district because of large-scale opium farming and mining of limestone for cement manufacturing.
Child labourers working in the unorganised sector face problems like long and erratic work hours, low wages and exploitation. Children occupying the posts in Baal Panchayats have ardently taken up the cause of these kids.
Eleven-year-old orphaned child labour Ratan Bheel was working as a domestic labourer for Rs.200 a month and food at Eral village, 12 km from Chittorgarh. When the Baal Panchayat discovered that he was enrolled at the local school during an education campaign two years ago but was not attending school, they made him a member of the body and took up the cause of his education. They boy is now studying in Class III.
Similarly, 15-year-old Asha Suthar of Shambhupura village could not continue her studies after eighth standard due to her parents’ reluctance to send her to school. After becoming a Baal Panchayat member, she was enrolled at the school again and is now chairperson of the body working for bringing excluded children to the mainstream.
Save the Children’s Advocacy Officer Amit Chaudhary said another child, Pappu Raika from Dhani village in Samri panchayat, was denied admission to a school after he became disabled. Following intervention by district education officers when his case was taken up by CUTS, he was admitted to Class VIII and was later felicitated by the National Coalition for Education in New Delhi.
Twelve-year-old Durga Kumari Lohar of Khagsa village demonstrated her strong will when she defied her father, who asked her to discontinue studies and get married. She convinced her father that it was not all right for her to get married at her age and that child marriage was an offence. She was helped by her friends, who too approached her father. Durga’s parents now want to educate her even though many people in the village have asked them to get her married.
Speaking fondly of new initiatives taken at Government Upper Primary School in Kesarpura village, headmistress Indupuri Goswami said she had successfully linked small children with both entertainment and education. The school even enrolled a mentally-challenged child in the previous academic session and treated him to a significant extent before he was shifted to a special school.
Philanthropists and donors provide monetary help generously to the school to facilitate education through modern gadgets, audio-visual devices and educational CDs.
“Even the children rejected by some [nearby] schools were taken in and they passed the exam with first division. My emphasis is on inculcating human values among students,” affirmed Ms. Goswami, a regular blogger.
Mr. Yadav said all of these instances depict the success of the Save the Children’s flagship international partnership agreement programme executed through different partner agencies.
He said proper guidance by experts at the right juncture had added new dimensions to the project, which had gained popularity among the villagers and drawn the attention of civil society, political leaders and administrative authorities.