Turning the spotlight on children's issues in Bihar
By Sreenath CheruvariLittle Abhilasha Kumari refused to be overwhelmed by the situation., A class IV student in Patna, she was sharing the podium with eminent personalities like the Speaker of the Bihar Legislative Assembly and the Deputy Chief Minister of the state. "Please do not tread on our rights, do take our concerns seriously" she pleaded in her impressive speech addressing an august audience consisting of senior politicians and a large number of present and former legislators of the Bihar Assembly.
Her speech highlighting various issues like lack of facilities in school, child labour, victimisation of children and lack of sensitivity and concern for children's issues managed to touch an emotional cord among the audience.
Abhilasha was speaking at a workshop in the Bihar Assembly on ' The Effect of Education and Care during Childhood and its Impact on the Physical and Mental Development of the Child' organized by UNICEF and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Bihar Chapter on the 10th of April, 2007
Abhilasha's speech drew wide applause and led to spontaneous reactions. The Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Sushil Kumar Modi, in his speech appealed to the legislators to ensure that no child be employed in doing household work in their residences. He also exhorted them to make sure that they take the responsibility of educating the children of their drivers and maid servants.
The Speaker Shri Uday Narayan Chaudhuri was more forthcoming. He informed the audience that the Mahila Bal Vikas Samiti of the Bihar Assembly would be given the responsibility of preparing a report which would look into child specific issues and come up with recommendations.
The Samiti would analyse six issues: the laws pertaining to children in the state; the steps needed to accelerate integrated child development schemes in the state; the ways by which the various schemes under the integrated child development schemes can be publicized for better utilization; the steps that need to be taken for protection of infants from pre-natal to 3 years of age and how political parties can be encouraged to include children's issues in their agenda.
The Speaker said that the report would then be placed before the house for necessary action. Shri Chaudhry also said that the Mahila Vikas Samithi would hold dialogues with the civil society and local NGO's to formulate strategic interventions for the overall development and well being of children in the state.
The one day workshop also saw the release of two UNICEF publications "Child Protection - A Handbook for Parliamentarians and “Check on Child Trafficking”. The first publication targeting parliamentarians deals with issues such as trafficking and sale of children, sexual exploitation, alternative care, juvenile justice etc and gives guidelines on what parliamentarians can do to address these issues.
The UNICEF State Representative for Bihar, Mr. Bijaya Rajbhandari, emphasized that the elected representatives had a definitive role to play in improving the plight of children as they had the capacity to influence actions and decisions of the government as well as access to people and the constituencies from where they were elected.
Many prominent legislators including the social welfare minister of Bihar were of the opinion that issues pertaining to child rights were slowly gaining prominence in the public eye. Some of them pointed to the frequent questions that were being raised in the state assembly on child labour, ICDS and the mid-day meal scheme and said that the time had come for sustained focus on children's issues.