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Young reporters trained by UNICEF tackle social issues in rural India

© UNICEF India/2011/ Crouch
Pausha Madharia, 16, writes about child labour in the 'Bal Swaraj' newspaper that started as part of UNICEF's Child Reporters Initiative in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh.

‘The State of the World’s Children 2011 – Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity,’ UNICEF’s flagship report, focuses on the development and rights of more than a billion children aged 10 to 19 worldwide. This series of stories, essays and multimedia features seeks to accelerate and elevate adolescents’ fight against poverty, inequality and gender discrimination.

By Diana Coulter

CHHATTISGARH, India, 6 May 2011 – When Pausha Madharia, 16, speaks, she gives voice to the hopes, dreams and fears of every child in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh.

Standing before the State Assembly recently, she shared her concerns about child labour, discrimination faced by young girls and the troubles that some students encounter when they’re simply trying to attend school. Pausha told legislators that drunken men sprawled on the road outside a wine shop in Murmunda village were regularly threatening local schoolchildren.

“I said people consuming liquor were creating a nuisance for children trying to get past for classes,” she recalls. “I asked that these shops be moved away from any public place.”

Pausha also wrote about the issue in ‘Bal Swaraj’ (‘Children’s Republic’), a Chhattisgarh newspaper, published twice monthly, that started in 2007 as part of UNICEF’s Child Reporters Initiative.

Right to free expression

The initiative recruits and trains child volunteers in an effort to fulfil Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which gives children the right to speak freely and express their concerns.

It’s an important effort in Chhattisgarh. Large segments of the state face violent political unrest, making access to social services more difficult for children and families.

Under the aegis of the Child Reporters Initiative – assisted by the Mayaram Surjan Foundation, non-governmental organization – about 1,200 young people like Pausha are now writing about issues that affect them, their families and communities in the state.

Highlighting serious issues

With the help of another child reporter and friend, Puja Dewangan, 16, Pausha has also tackled the dangerous village practice of consulting faith healers rather than trained doctors. In their village, a child died because of inadequate treatment, according to Puja and Pausha.

© UNICEF India/2011/Crouch
Umashankar Joshi, 14, reported on the near drowning of a 10-year-old boy who fell into an uncovered well in a village in Chhattisgarh, India. After the report, the village leader had the well filled in.

Puja – who recently drew an intricate ‘rangoli’, a colourful chalk pattern, outside her home for a festival – helped design a cartoon to accompany the faith-healer article. It shows a long-haired holy man waving a wand over his patient’s head as a skull and crossed bones warn of danger.

A recent issue of ‘Bal Swaraj’ highlighted other serious issues, as well, including the plight of a girl suffering from polio, the perils of chewing tobacco, the problems of children working illegally as carpenters and in hotels, and the poverty that prevents them from attending classes.

Parents are proud

At Murmunda’s Government Middle School, six students have regularly submitted articles to the newspaper. Umashanker Joshi, 14, wrote about the near-drowning of a 10-year-old boy who fell into an uncovered well.

On a hot afternoon, the child, Devrath Chandel, was reaching into the well and splashing friends when he lost his balance and plunged into the water. The boy’s friends managed to make a human chain and pull him out.

After Umashanker wrote about the incident, the sarpanch (village head) saw his story and arranged to have the well outside an abandoned home filled in.

“I am feeling good that I am working like this to help children,” Umashanker says. His parents, both uneducated labourers, are also proud of him. “They tell me to keep doing this good work,” the boy adds.

Agents of change

All of the child reporters are issued official press passed that they can show to story subjects. Suman Joshi, 14, flashed hers when she visited the public works office to research an article about a flooding drain near the school.

“People understand that we’re trying to make changes here,” says Suman, “and they are impressed by our stories.”

School headmaster Hemraj Sahu says he reads the children’s paper regularly and learns a lot about his community from it. “The students are raising problems and showing confidence that most elders can’t display,” says Mr. Sahu.



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