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Children assert their right to participate

© UNICEF/ 2008
Is this the future we want for our country: Children present Rights Reality

Nipurnh Gupta

Guwahati, Assam, November 2008: They came with an eagerness to exercise their rights. They went back with a resolve to fight for their rights.

Over 200 children from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds came center-stage to claim their right to participate and express their views at ‘Rights Reality’, a special event organized on International Children’s Day in Guwahati, Assam.

Seema, 13, daughter of a small-time tailor in Paltan Bazaar, Guwahati, played a convincing mother, chastising her daughter for neglecting house-hold chores and wanting to study. 

Over 200 children from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds came center-stage to claim their right to participate and express their views at ‘Rights Reality’, a special event organized on International Children’s Day in Guwahati, Assam.

‘When I grow up, I will become a lawyer, and fight for children who don’t get their rights” shared Seema – steely resolve lighting up her tender face. 

Pukar, a 14 year old, who lives in a children’s home, expressed similar intent. “I want to write plays on children’s lives” he declared.

His writing and acting skills were aptly demonstrated when he gave his raging call: “Is this the India which Gandhi and Nehru dreamt about -- where children pick rags and polish shoes instead of going to school?  How will this country become great when its future begs on streets?’ Thunderous applaud followed.

Children went on to present 19 insightful performances and a spectacular arts display, to mark the 19th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

The festive spirit came alive with cakes, candles, candies and Happy Child Rights Day singing by a 400-strong audience comprising children, parents, teachers, representatives from government, civil society, NGOS, UNICEF and media.        

The  performances and arts display had been created by over a thousand children who participated in child rights workshops held across schools, shelter homes, drop-in centres and hard-to reach centres for disadvantaged children in Guwahati.

© UNICEF/ 2008
Arts Display on Child Rights: Children’s drawings portrayed their understanding and experiences on child rights

The workshops were organized with UNICEF support by local NGOs comprising World Vision, Gandhi Smriti, SOS Village, Snehalaya, Indian Council of Child Welfare (ICCW) and, Axom Sarba Siksha Abhijan Mission (SSA) and the Government of Assam.

UNICEF State Representative, Jeroo Master, said that child rights day was not about one day’s activities. She called for collective and sustained action and advocacy to ensure the realization of children’s right to survival, development, protection and participation. She added that children’s recommendations will feed into a broader consultation on child rights to be held in December.

Lauding children’s efforts, State Coordinator SSA-urban, Sarat Gogoi, emphasized the need to sensitize children on child rights “as they can be powerful agents of change”. 

UNICEF State Representative, Jeroo Master, said that child rights day was not about one day’s activities. She called for collective and sustained action and advocacy to ensure the realization of children’s right to survival, development, protection and participation. She added that children’s recommendations will feed into a broader consultation on child rights to be held in December.

“I never knew you could act so well” gushed a proud Sankara, hugging his eleven year old daughter, who played a social worker who rescues vulnerable girls from the lure of traffickers. 

“The performances today have opened my eyes to children’s pain; the injustices we do to them as parents, teachers, society at large. I am poor but want dignity for my children. I will ensure my daughter pursues her studies and dreams” said Sankara who works as a construction labourer.

Children succeeded in drawing attention to their concerns and views. Every one joined in a pledge to work together for children’s rights in Assam.

After the performances, children seized the opportunity to make merry. Silpagram, with its handicraft kiosks, beautiful lawns, swings and slides provided an ideal setting for a well-deserved picnic. Called by parents to hurry along, a cheeky 7 year old replied “well, children have a right to play, don’t they?” 

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