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Role of Parliaments in Advancing Rights of Children

Ms. Marta Santos Pais addresses the group of Indian parliamentarians
© UNICEF/India/Rakesh Saini
Ms. Marta Santos Pais addresses the group of Indian parliamentarians on their role to advocate child rights. From L>R Shri Rajagopalan Nair, Additional Secretary Lok Sabha Secretariat , Ms. Marta Santos Pais, Director UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre...

Yogesh Vajpeyi
New Delhi: 23 August 2007

"Making laws is not enough. We must ensure effective implementation of laws to ensure that the laws protecting and asserting the Children's rights are effectively enforced," said Alok Kumar Mehta, member of Indian Parliament.

A member of Lok Sabha - the lower chamber of India's bicameral union legislature -representing rural Samastipur constituency in the eastern state of Bihar, Mehta reflected the impression of Indian lawmakers after an impassionate address by Ms Marta Santos Pais, Director of the UNICEF Innocenti Research in India's Parliament House on August 23.

Supriya Sule, 37, a first time Parliamentarian who became a member of the Rajya Sabha—upper House in 2006, was also stimulated.

"Knowing what is being done in other countries to carry forward the mandate of the Convention of the Rights of the Child was good. India has done much in this direction, but there is a lot we can learn from the experience of other countries," she said.

The address to India's lawmakers on 'The role of Parliamentarians in Advancing Children's Rights' was the first on the agenda of the UNICEF official, who came to Delhi for a series of interactions with Indian legislators, lawyers and judges, as well as social activists in non-government organizations between August 23 and August 26.

"It gave us something to think about," said Pratibha Singh, who represents the Mandi constituency in India’s hill state of Himanchal Pradesh.

Like her, most MPs who came to listen to her despite their preoccupation with ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, realised that empowering children through legislation and social action was crucial for India's growth.
"A greater proportion of India's growing population is young. This confronts us with a challenge, but it also opens a window of opportunity," said a Member of Parliament from South India.

Indian Parliamentarians were pleased by the praise from UNICEF official for establishing the Parliamentary Forum in 2006 and opening a Children's Corner in the Parliament's library a few days back.

"While reaffirming your commitment to keep children at the centre of parliamentary debates, it constitutes a model other Parliaments should follow," Ms. Pais told them.

Acknowledging recent steps taken by India, such as ratification of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, creation of a Parliamentary Forum and establishment of the Commission on the Protection of Child Rights, the UNICEF research centre appealed to India to further carry forward legislative reforms to enhance the protection of children.

Indian Parliamentarians among others in the audience
© UNICEF/India/Rakesh Saini
Group of Indian Parliamentarians among others in the audience, listening to Marta Santos Pais on “ The Role of Parliamentarians to advocate child rights”.

If the immediate reaction of the Parliamentarians who attended Ms Pais's lecture was any indication, it imbued a new sense of urgency to address the children's issues in Indian Parliamentarians.

"We have to take the issues related to children's welfare more zealously, ignoring our political differences and other partisan considerations," said Mehta as he rushed to attend the ongoing session of Parliament that started just after the lecture.

What interested the MPs attending most, however, was the narration of the recent initiatives in different parts of the world.

They listened with rapt attention as Ms Pais informed them about the implications of
· a recent comprehensive study in Canada on the far reaching implementation of the Convention,
· the engagement of parliament with other stakeholders as in the case of South Africa,
· the mainstreaming of children’s concerns in parliamentary debates in countries such as Brazil and Sweden.

They were particularly impressed when she told them how the Parliamentary Commission in Italy had led to discussion on the adoption of a National Plan of Action and Ombuds for children in Italy.

"The issues related to the children's rights cut across considerations of political systems and geography. India can learn quite a lot from the experience of other countries just as others can learn something from us," said Pratibha Singh.

Women Parliamentarians, who accounted for a fair share of the members of the two Houses who attended the UNCIUEF research director's address, were particularly enthused by her proposal that they should join hands with other parliaments and academic institutions to establish a virtual resource centre and share national laws, plans of action, parliamentary debates and monitoring mechanisms on the rights of children.

Ms Singh was confident that Indian Parliament would seriously follow up some of the UNICEF research chief's suggestions. "Our Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who is known for ticking off noisy MPs, has a soft corner for children," she pointed out.



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