HIGHLIGHTS OF PROCEEDINGS
The conference started with the screening of a documentary film which showed the works performed and completed in the previous workshops at the divisional headquarters. Thereafter, the children staged a short play depicting a classroom where the teacher behaved the typical style of a government-run school. Through the play, the problems in the school, such as absence of toilet facility for girls, no arrangements for drinking water and the absence of a boundary wall around the school, were highlighted. The children acting as students also pointed out that there are insufficient teachers in the government schools and a single teacher takes care of the classes of several subjects.
From the political parties contesting the Assembly election, Deputy Speaker of the Assembly Mr. Rao Rajendra Singh (BJP), Mr. Mahesh Sharma, general secretary of Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee, State Women's Commission Chairperson Ms. Suman Sharma (BJP), Dr. Sanjay Madhav (Communist Party of India - Marxist), Ms. Nisha Siddhu (Communist Party of India), Mr. T.P. Sharma (Aam Aadmi Party) and Mr. Shailendra Awasthi (Samajwadi Party) were present in the conference.
The political leaders present on the occasion supported the demands of children and said that their parties would include children's issues in their manifestoes. The demands of children pertained to their education, protection, development at Anganwadi Centres, health care services in the government hospitals, free distribution of sanitary pads, power supply in villages, implementation of laws and programmes for their welfare and their regular interaction with the elected representatives and political leaders.
The children also demanded that all the political parties should establish separate cells for them. Besies, organising Baal Sabhas at the village panchayat level should be made mandatory. The Resource Institute for Human Rights (RIHR) spokespeson, Mr. Vijay Goyal, said much efforts had been put in for giving a final shape to the demands for inclusion in the manifesto in view of the problems being by the children all over Rajasthan.
Mr. Arvind Ojha, Chief Executive and Secretary, URMUL Trust, Bikaner, said though the children below 18 years were not allowed to vote, but they were future voters of the state and their demands should be heard. He said that 41% of Rajasthan’s population comprises children below 18 years of age. It, therefore, becomes important to hear the children out and consider including their demands in party manifestos. A booklet of the demands of the children was launched at the event.
A large number of children from different districts, including the deaf and dumb students of schools and colleges, raised the critical issues which are affecting their growth and development. They also challenged the traditions of educational opportunities being denied to the girls and children forced into unwanted marriages at the tender age.
Komal from Hanumangarh asked whether the children's voice would not be heard only because they are not voters. When the elections approach, the political leaders come to schools and even touch the students' feet, but they later forget everything, she said. “We are children now. Even you were a child at some point of time. Please try to understand our problems. Anganwadi Centres in the villages are in a bad shape. Education is the second ladder of life after the proper health. The girls should get free sanitary napkins every month because of their natural needs,” Komal said.
Priyanka from Bundi made an important point about the travelling facilities for children. She said the seats in the public transport system are reserved for the special categories of women, elderly people, disabled persons and even for MLAs. “Only because we are small, should we travel in buses in the standing position? Why are there no seats for children in the buses and trains?” she said in an emotional voice.
Ajay from Sikar said his family does not have a pucca house in the village and the family's hutment was demolished by the authorities several times. There is now power supply in his locality and he is not able to study during the night in the darkness, he said.
Meera from Phalodi said the only school in her village was closed two years ago and it has not been reopened despite the submission of several memorandums. The government hospital is situated 100 away from the village. There is a power grid situated at a distance of half kilometre, but the electricity is not supplied to her locality, she said.
Priyanka Saini from Bundi said the children often faced problems because of a liquor shop situated on the way to her school. “The people around the shop, who are in an inebriated state, harass us. We feel very bad. The liquor shops near the schools should be immediately closed,” she said.
Kavita Rathore from Sikar said the doctors never come on time in the Primary Health Centre in her village, and the nurses are often not available. There should be a helpline number, where a complaint can be made about them. She said the hospitals in her region are so dirty that even a healthy person can fall sick after visiting them.
Dipesh Arora, a specially abled child who has lost his hearing ability, said the doctors in a government hospital could not understand what he wanted to say when he went there to get a disability certificate. “A similar incident happened in a bank, when the bank employees could not understand anything even when I wrote my requirements on a piece of papers. The guard pushed me out of the bank,” he said with dismay. The demands of specially abled children pertained to an easy access to public places and the availability of interpreters in the institutions.
Amira Khatoon from Jodhpur said her village had no school or hospital and the people often die before getting to hospital in case of emergency.
Kundan Kunwar from Udaipur said children in the rural families, who do not know anything about career choices, are lagging behind in the competition.
Ms. Suman Sharma, Chaiperson, Rajasthan State Women's Commission, said she was glad to note that an effective platform had been created for children who were raising the issues of their basic rights. The problems pertaining to children were eye-opening for the politicians, she said, while promising that she will refer the charter of demands to BJP's manifesto committee. “If the children have to come on stage to speak about basic needs even after 70 years of Independence, we really need to ponder upon the questions.
Mr. Shailendra Awasthi, leader of Samajwadi Party, said the children should continue to exert pressure on political parties to get their demands fulfilled. “We too had the same resentment against the system when we were young. The solution lies in waging a continuous struggle and make the politicians realise that they must fulfil their promises made to the people while seeking their votes in elections,” he said.
Ms. Nisha Siddhu, leader of Communist Party of India, said the closure of thousands of schools as a result of merger had deprived the children from poor families of their right to education. She said her party, CPI, would continue to raise such issues as it has been in the Opposition for a long time. She also pointed out that since the Constitution gives equal rights to all citizens, they should strive to build a society where justice and equal treatment is available to everyone.
Dr. Sanjay Madhav, leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the era of privatisation which had begun in 1993 had created problems for the poor and downtrodden and deprived them of their livelihood, while the questions of children's rights related to the welfare state. The politicians should fight both inside and outside the Assembly to ensure the availability of equal rights to children, he said.
Mr. T. P. Sharma, leader of Aam Aadmi Party, said the AAP government in Delhi had shown that an immense progress can be made in the health and education sector with the right spirit and dedication to the public cause. “If we can do it in Delhi, there is no reason why it cannot be done in Rajasthan. There is much leakage of funds, as many things are not revealed in the public. The concepts like Mohalla Clinics and mobile vans can be introduced in Rajasthan which has a difficult geography,” he said.
The half-day conference ended with the delivery of vote of thanks to the participants and a call made to the civil society to generate awareness about children's rights and put pressure on the political parties to resolve children's issues and give them a safe childhood and equal opportunities for ensuring their growth as responsible citizens of the country.