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How Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundations Bal Mitra Gram Is Empowering Children

How Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundations Bal Mitra Gram Is Empowering Children
New Delhi: 

“Children of the Banjara community would never get the opportunity to study. They would often work as labour, grazing cattle or perhaps going to work with their parents. Everyone would work. My parents wanted to marry me off at the age of 7 but when I started going to school, I understood that child marriage is wrong and should not happen”, recalls Tara Banjara from the nomadic Banjara community in Rajasthan's Nimri village. Tara was the first child in her community to complete class 10, courtesy of Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation.

Children in the nomadic Banjara community in Rajasthan's Nimri village had never been to school and child marriage was the norm till Satyarthi Movement's Banjara Education Centre was established and changed the fate of the youth of the community.

In 2012, teachers from Bal Ashram came to our village and told us about the importance of studies and school. I was engaged when I was a child. When we were told about child marriage, I understood that it's not right. Following this, I explained to my parents that I will not marry right now. Instead, I want to study like other children, said Tara.

A few months ago, when a family came asking for her sister Akash's hand in marriage, Tara stepped in and insisted that her 14-year-old sister completes her education.

In neighbouring Hinsla village, Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation has established a Bal Mitra Gram. Here, children lead the transformation of their village through democratic action and participation.

Talking to NDTV about the role and the need of children in Panchayat, Prakash Singh Balai, Deputy Sarpanch, Gram Panchayat, said,

When the children came to the panchayat for the first time, some members asked what the children could even raise their voice for. I told the panchayat members that listening to these young children, and giving their issues due importance, will boost their confidence. They will become more aware of their rights.

Bal Mitra Gram is an internationally recognised model to prevent child exploitation and abuse. Children, supported by the community, understand the challenges of their village and build solutions together and on the ground the change is apparent. Elaborating on the need for Bal Panchayat and children taking the lead, Sumedha Kailash from Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation, said,

The community thinks their responsibility towards their children is over. We thought it is better if the children are taken out of that environment and sent to school, so they learn about their rights. If we are not friendly with them, as equal partners, we won't be able to get the message across about their rights. We thought it was important to give children all the services they needed in the village, so that regardless of issues like poverty, caste or family problems no child would be deprived of an education and could go to school. Secondly, we wanted to promote leadership skills in them.

Children elect their Bal Panchayat which is officially recognised by the Gram Panchayat. In a Bal Mitra Gram, there is no child labour, no child marriages, and no child trafficking. 19-year-old Payal Jangid has emerged as a striking example of youth leadership from the Bal Panchayat. She takes up the demands of children and presents them to the Gram Panchayat. She even talks to women, inspiring them to claim their freedom.

Recalling the first election for Bal Panchayat and the issues she raised as a leader, Payal Jangid said,

When the first election took place, I became the Deputy Sarpanch. They told us about child labour, child marriage and women in veils being dated customs. Then there were the issues we face in schools; lack of a toilet being the biggest issue for girls. This was a major reason why many girls wouldn't come to school, because they would have to go outside, in the open. When we went to the panchayat and told them that there are no toilets in the girls' school, they felt ashamed that they haven't paid any attention to children's issues.

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