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Adolescents in Achham launch this year’s State of the World’s Children Report in their own special way

© UNICEF Nepal/2011/DKShrestha
Jawa Khanal with unicef representatives and constituent assembly members from achham during SOWC launch

By- Rupa Joshi

"…Why is there is neglect when a daughter is born
but celebration to welcome a son?
… Stay home sister, your lot is to stay home,
I have to go across borders to earn money…"
(Words from a 'deuda' song written by the children for the SOWC launch)

Achham, Nepal, 11 March 2010: Shuffling their feet backwards and forwards,  a dozen boys and girls move gracefully in circles singing a deuda song with a difference. Deuda is a traditional form of song and dance popular in the far western hills of Nepal.  But these adolescents were not just improvising. They danced and sang about what was bothering them most: issues of gender and caste discrimination, untouchability during menstruation, abuse and harassment, and also the fact that they cannot express what's in their hearts.

This routine was one of several presentations made by teenage girls and boys during the launch of the State of the World’s Children (SOWC) Report 2011 in Mangalsen, the headquarters of Achham district in far western Nepal, and about 1000 km away from the capital Kathmandu. The launch ceremony was designed by the adolescents themselves.  It capped off a two-days' consultation organised by UNICEF to discuss and explore issues that affect youngsters in Achham. 

For two days, in individual and mixed groups, adolescents had discussed issues that they thought were impacting their lives.  They explored the root causes of their problems and challenges, prioritised them, and then voted to identify the dozen issues they considered most important for them.

A drama that they crafted based on these prioritised issues was part of the SOWC launch celebration. The drama featured a drunkard father, a mother who discriminates between her son and daughter, the daughter who is overburdened with work and harassed by boys, and a happy-go-lucky son who is made to marry a child bride and then has to go to India to work.  The script touched upon the issues of social and gender discrimination, child marriage, lack of purchasing power, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse, and the inevitability of boys having to migrate in search of work.

The launch of the SOWC in Nepal took place in a venue that is a 12 hour's drive from the nearest airport. The ceremony which was attended by district authorities, as well as members of the Constituent Assembly representing Achham, was chaired by 13-year old Jawa Khanal.  Jawa, who is one of eight children in her family, had walked for two days from her village of Ramaroshan to reach Mangalsen for the consultation.


© UNICEF Nepal/2011/RJoshi
pictures against the backdrop of snow mountains

While welcoming the guests at the launching ceremony, John Brittain of UNICEF remarked that the children had presented a most thought-provoking launch by mixing well recognised traditional art forms coupled with powerful modern messages. “This format reaches across generations here and allows the parents and authorities to understand the youngsters perspectives in a new and non-threatening manner’” he said.

"We should appreciate that UNICEF launched this important global report in remote Achham, amidst adolescents, whose issues we adults have not done enough to explore," said the Local Development Officer of Achham Mr. Mahendra Lal Shrestha.

Acknowledging that adolescence is indeed a time of opportunity as well as challenge, Mr. Sharad Singh Bhandari, who represents constituency number two of Achham, said, "This is the age which can make or break a person's life, depending upon how much support we as adults have been able to provide, and how much responsibility the adolescents have been able to take up."

"I thank UNICEF for focussing on such an important topic and promise that I will do all I can, in my position, to reduce the challenges for these youngsters."

Mr.  Bhairey Kami, representing constituency number one, said, "In order to gain success with programmes regarding adolescents, we first need to bridge the gap that exists between them and their guardians.  Thus it is of utmost importance to educate and orient the parents and guardians first." 

After the young chairperson, Jawa Khanal, declared that the SOWC launch programme had concluded, the guests poured into the courtyard outside where over five dozen water colour paintings fluttered on strings in the cool mountain air.  These paintings were made by the teenagers during the 2-day workshop depicting issues affecting their lives, as well as their vision of a better tomorrow.

Many of the paintings made by girls which depicted an 'ideal' situation, showed boys and girls holding hands and walking about in the village, of schools having separate toilets for boys and girls, and some showing the forest in very close proximity of homes. 

Pointing to her painting, 14-year-old Saraswati Dhungana said, "I have tried to show here that I would save so much time if the forest was close by and I did not have to spend a lot of time going and back and forth collecting firewood and fodder!"

"… Sister do you stay indoors, or in a shed when you have your periods?
They tell us not to touch the orange plant, lest it wilt…"



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