Special Correspondent

150 children from four States attend Bal Mitra Mahapanchayat

Children elected the new national executive of their unique Assembly Priyanka, a 13-year-old girl from Rajasthan, was elected the national Sarpanch of the Mahapanchayat

JAIPUR: About 150 children from 50 villages of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh -- participating in the third national Bal Mitra Mahapanchayat at Viratnagar, near here, this past weekend -- demanded an end to child labour and protection of their right to get education and equal opportunities.

The children elected the new national executive of their unique Assembly by casting votes in the presence of ''observers'' and shared their experiences, achievements and challenges to learn from each other during the three-day event. Priyanka, a 13-year-old girl from Rajasthan, was elected the national Sarpanch of the Mahapanchayat.

The Bachpan Bachao Andolan has constituted the Mahapanchayat, comprising mostly the children rescued from child labour, as a forum to ensure children's participation in the processes of decision making and policy formulations at the national level. The novel Assembly has especially generated awareness about the tools of advocacy. The president of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Kailash Satyarthi, said each elected representative of children was an illustration of transformation introduced in his or her village and was responsible for bringing about reforms. He called upon the children to fight against social evils and resist the attempts to push them into child labour.

Two Members of Parliament -- Girdharilal Bhargava (Jaipur) and Ravi Prakash Verma (Lakhimpur Khiri) -- were specially invited to witness the election process conducted entirely by the children themselves. The Rajasthan Minister for Rural Development, Kalulal Gujjar, inaugurated the Mahapanchayat.

A "leader'' of the Mahapanchayat, Amar Lal, regretted that children were not taken into account with a priority in the Government's policies and plans, but said the unity of rescued child labourers would bring the issues of their education and development to the centrestage of policy-making.

Anshuman Singh, former Governor of Rajasthan, said the voluntary organisations could play a significant role in the abolition of child labour. The State Representative of UNICEF, Satish Kumar, said the children's opinion should be sought on the issues directly affecting them, such as health care, education, development and participation.