Little journalists wield pen, seek social change

By Azera Rahman, Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, : Ajay, 15, is disgusted with the way children are used by political parties during election campaigns. “For a mere Rs.40, children are made to work for 10 hours,” he said.

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For 14-year-old Ekta, the ongoing road construction beside her school is a matter of concern because it has narrowed the road and choked the traffic. “There are times when we have to pull small kids away from the roadside to prevent them from being run down by a vehicle,” she said.

Both Ajay and Ekta have not kept quiet over these issues. Using their pens furiously, these child reporters have got their voices heard through two publications – Apni Duniya, a bimonthly Hindi magazine, and Bal Darpan, a biannual magazine in both Hindi and English.

And they are seeking social change in what is a far cry from the ‘let-things-be’ attitude that most people, especially adults, adhere to.

The two are part of congregation of 40 schoolchildren – under the umbrella of Bal Panchayat – which is out to help underprivileged children and spread awareness about various issues and express their opinion through the magazines.

Aided by national and international development programmes such as Community Aid and Sponsorship Programme India, Plan International and the Grassroots Media Initiative, the Bal Panchayat and its publications were started in 1998.

The panchayat has more than 1,500 young members till date, who either move on after they turn 18 or stay on to give assistance to their younger counterparts.

“In the Bal Panchayat, we have weekly meetings where we discuss various issues that affect us and then decide our agenda to curb a problem,” Nirmala, a Class 12 student and coordinator of the group, told IANS.

Girl’s education, for instance, is one of the issues taken up strongly by this group. “Not only do we write about this issue in our publications but also stage dramas, street plays, puppet shows and deliver lectures to promote girl education,” said Neelam, 14.

Health issues, like the importance of vaccination and awareness about HIV/AIDS, trend stories and environment issues, are some of the topics the young reporters address.

But the issues closest to their hearts are those that pertain to children. “We conducted a survey in three areas in south Delhi and found that children have a huge communication gap with their parents,” said 14-year-old Ashish.

“Many times incidents of abuse go unnoticed as the child is scared that he will be blamed for the incident by his parents,” said Ekta. “We are compiling a report of the survey and will present it to the parents. We have already started street plays and puppetry shows that focus on the importance of a transparent relationship between parent and child,” he added.

Child labour is another issue they have been campaigning against. The ‘journalist kids’ are taking up cudgels on behalf of their toiling counterparts who have to work in roadside restaurants, live in sub-human conditions and are denied an education.

“Other than sensitising people about this issue, we collect funds for children whose families can’t afford their education. We also pass on our books to them as well as give them tuitions so that they can cope with their studies,” said Nirmala.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at [email protected])