Ahead of Lok Sabha elections, young activists seek to make their demands heard

They’ve averted a child marriage, spread awareness about 1098 – the Childline helpline, and even encouraged other children in the community against dropping out of school.

Now, ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, young activists from the Confederation of Arunodhaya Children Sangam want their demands pertaining to child rights to be heard by candidates.

From education and protection to health and infrastructure, several demands have been made by the eight children who represent 1,800 others who are part of the association.

Some of the other demands include declaring a child as any person under the age of 18 years as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India is a signatory, and also extending the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, to include those up to the age of 18.

While feisty 13-year-old B. Vignesh, son of a fisherman who lives in Ennore, wants pollution levels in the area to be brought down, 14-year-old M. Jagadeesh suggests all children be given identity cards, and their progress tracked to ensure they do not drop out of school. The children also want a common school system, better infrastructure in government schools, more number of high and higher secondary schools and better quality noon meals.

They said abolition of child labour must apply to up to 18 years of age, and children of migrant labourers must be given access to education, health, nutrition and recreation.

They also want adequate number of balawadis in resettlement colonies and frequent special buses for children who have to travel to school from those colonies. For children from the fishing community, they have sought reservation in marine and fishery-related educational institutions.

These children elect ward and zone-level child representatives and hold periodic meetings among themselves, and also with officials, to address issues pertaining to them.

K. Sruthi, who studies at a government school and is a zone-level president, said the child ward committees now have their presence in 10 wards, mostly in north Chennai. “We want the government to take this up on a large scale in all the zones in the city,” she said.

“We are going to ask our parents to vote for those who are committed to ensuring our rights,” said V. Divya, another child, adding, through this process of awareness and consultation, they learn about the rights of children.

Virgil D’Sami, director, Arunodhaya, an NGO, said the children will go on to hold public meetings and meet with candidates of various political parties to garner support for their demands. “If you look at the manifestoes, there is hardly any mention of child-related issues,” she said.

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