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Giving voice to children

© UNICEF/ Anil Kumar/ 2008
Each item that goes into the Wall Newspaper is carefully deliberated upon.

Vasuki Belavadi

Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh: The BR Ambedkar Auditorium in Sanga Reddy, Medak district, is resounding with children’s voices – there are slogans, songs, laughter and discussions.  About 1500 child reporters from 297 villages in 28 blocks of this district in Andhra Pradesh have assembled for a Medak Child Reporters Mela on Children’s Day to exchange their experiences and review their performance as child reporters over the last six months. 

The children are part of an initiative started to fulfil the objective enshrined in the Article 12 and Article 13 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) which state that all children have the right to express themselves freely.

Hailing from an underprivileged background, Pushpalata and Shivani, both students of the Ismailkhanpet Mandal Parishad High School have realised that this UNICEF initiative has given them a new voice. Points out Shivani, “The mainstream newspapers don’t report issues pertaining to our village. We decided to bring out a wall newspaper to do exactly that.”

With ninety percent of the children belonging to marginalized groups or families who are economically poor, these child reporters teams from villages were trained to keep their eyes and ears open to the happenings in their village. Each village school with its team of five child reporters is led by village volunteer. They get together to bring out a wall newspaper once in every two months. District administration and local education functionaries have also encouraged the whole process to be inclusive and gender balanced.

The issues are indeed local. “Adding bleaching powder to the village well, absence of blackboards in the primary school, the attendance of the village health volunteer, sanitation etc. It’s not only the problems. Our wall newspaper highlights positive change too,” points out Pushpalata.

With ninety percent of the children belonging to marginalized groups or families who are economically poor, these child reporters teams from villages were trained to keep their eyes and ears open to the happenings in their village. Each village school with its team of five child reporters is led by village volunteer. They get together to bring out a wall newspaper once in every two months. District administration and local education functionaries have also encouraged the whole process to be inclusive and gender balanced.

We caught up with Shivani and Pushpalata’s group which usually meets at the Village Health Volunteer’s (VHV) house to bring out the wall newspaper. The house comes alive with animated discussion on what to highlight as an achievement or a problem in their village. A poem on Pandit Nehru and a beautiful sketch of a peacock helps them complete the final draft, which is quickly made into five more copies.

© UNICEF/ Anil Kumar/ 2008
Pushpalata and shivani attendeing Mela

A debate on pasting the wall newspaper is resolved quickly. “One at the Bhavani temple, one near the Sarpanch’s office and yet another at the Health Care Centre” suggests Vinay. All of them agree. After all, their newspaper has to be read by both decision makers and people in general.

The fact that children can be part of the process for change is recognized by village elders. “I feel that this is a very important process for our democratic tradition. The kids highlight issues where the local administration needs to work on. This prods us into action” says Sarpanch, Aatmaram village, Bhoopati Reddy.

But not all Sarpanches are open to the process. “There have been instances where people have torn down the newspapers since they reported inaction” rued Yogender at the Child Reporters’ Mela (fare) when asked for his feedback.

But why this large congregation or a mela? “Organized during the UN CRC week, the Child Reporters’ Mela serves as a good opportunity to reinforce their collective identity and help them learn from each other.” explains UNICEF Communication Specialist, Hyderabad Field Office, Vikas Verma.

This army of 1500 child reporters is set to grow in numbers in the coming years. The children’s fearlessness and their inherent strength to speak out are bound to make them forceful ambassadors of change - a change where children have a voice and their voices are heard for their right to development, survival, education and protection.

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