Children stand up for the sake of children


New Delhi : They may be all of 16, but when one hears Neelam, Nirmala or Ajay of the Bal Panchayat, a congregation of children, talk about issues that plague innocent young lives in the capital, you know that the future is in safe hands.

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Breaking the stereotypical image that children don't understand serious issues, 10 children of the Bal Panchayat Tuesday shared their experiences of conducting a survey on child labour and child safety.

Preparing a questionnaire for parents, a separate one for children and going from door to door over a period of nearly two months, 40 school children conducted a survey on how safe a child is at home.

Covering three low-income group areas in the capital – Badarpur, Sangam Vihar and Madanpur Khadar – the questionnaire spanned from questions like whether the parents knew their children's friends to asking kids whether they or their friends had ever been ill treated or abused by anyone.

"We are still in the process of putting together our report but what we observed at the end of the survey is that there is huge communication gap between the parents and their children. Due to this, children are often scared to tell their parents of any bad experience. They fear that they may be blamed for it," said Nirmala.

Ekta, who was part of the survey, said they first talked to the kids to make them feel comfortable before asking them about incidents of abuse.

The children also found that most homes had an open electrical wiring system, which makes the younger children very vulnerable to accidents.

Though the report is still on its way, the children have already started organising awareness campaigns for parents in these areas by putting up street plays, puppet shows and talks.

"We want parents to become more aware about their children, be more clued in about their curriculum and be more open to them so that the children don't hesitate to share their problems," said Nirmala.

These children, who pay a nominal annual membership fee to be a part of the panchayat, are also doing their bit to help those who can't afford to go to school.

"During the survey we also spoke to working children and 70 percent of them said they would like to go to school but had to work because their family needed an extra income to survive," said Ajay Pal.

The kids then decided to collect funds for such children and pass on their books to them too. Some of them are also giving tuitions to help them cope with their studies.

"We have sent nearly 15 children to school till now," smiled Ekta.

The panchayat was born in 1998, backed by national and international development programmes like Community Aid and Sponsorship Programme (CASP) India, Plan International and Grassroots Media Initiative. It has had over 1,500 young members till date who either move on after they turn 18 or stay on to give assistance to their younger counterparts.

"We want the media to help us help children get their basic rights and highlight the issues which prevent them from enjoying a fulfilled childhood," said Neelam.