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“Let children come to me” – Child Parliament a new mission among children

eventThursday, 19 May 2022

INTRODUCTION

Navjeevan Educational and Social Welfare Society Digha (NESWSD) is a registered NGO engaged in holistic development of the marginalized communities currently in three blocks of Bihar State, India. We are primarily engaged in non-formal education. One of our major focuses is imparting supplementary education to the poor and marginalized children. We have 61 Supplementary Education Centers (SECs) located in different slums and villages. There are 1985 children learning through these Centers.

OUR TARGET CHILDREN

These children belong to poorest families from Dalits and other most backward communities. They are mostly irregular government school going, drop-outs, out of school and working children -engaged as rag pickers, working with parents in daily wage earning, engaged in household works, and child laborers. Most of them are from internally migrant families. It’s among these marginalized children faced with multiple vulnerabilities NESWSD initiated the Child Parliament (CP) program in 2017.

GOAL   The goal of Child Parliament is to mold young children as responsible citizen through character formation, responsible social action, excellence in education and practice of democratic processes.

OBJECTIVE OF CHILD PARLIAMENT

The objective behind the formation of the child parliament is equipping young children with the basic concept of democracy, civilization, parliamentary processes along with providing opportunity to attain life- skills, child rights, health and education; as a result of which they become responsible citizens and contribute in the nation and civilization building process. It provides young children a platform to actualize their potentials, realize their rights and practice democratic process.

FORMATION OF CHILD PARLIAMENT

We have formed and nurtured 35 Children Parliament Units, comprising of 475 members, spread in various target slums and villages where we have educational interventions. The child parliament unit is a group of 10 to15 children aged 11 to 17 years old, formed through democratic process of secret ballot voting. There are two levels of child parliaments – local level and district level. At local level, we have Prime Minister [PM] and Cabinet Ministers. All the PMs of the local CP units come together and form the district level Child Parliament

Cabinet: The local level child parliaments hold their Cabinet which are monthly meetings to discuss and find solutions to their local issues. The upper level District Child Parliament has quarterly meetings and take up common issues at the district level.

We follow a systematic and structured process in the formation and strengthening of child parliament units. First, we conduct orientation sessions on the Indian government and parliament system as well as functioning. Through this the young children come to know and learn democratic values and various systems as well as their functioning. They also learn about child parliament, its objectives and the procedure.

It is followed by the election of the local child parliament cabinet ministers. The eligible candidates deliver speeches with their manifesto displaying their interest and intention to be voted to become a Minister in the Child Parliament. All the members get an opportunity to participate in the secret ballot voting process to express each one’s choice. The elected members are administered oath of ministry by a local panchayat/municipal leader. Thus, child parliament members learn by doing, participating in the democratic parliamentary system of choosing/electing and becoming a leader.

WHAT WE DO: These child parliamentarians are motivated, capacitated and empowered with life –skills, leadership training and knowledge sessions such as qualities of a leader, personality development, social awareness, knowing child rights and forms of violations. They also are facilitated educational exposure visits to important government, non-government and private offices/institutions. We organize interactions and meetings with various public service providers and local leaders.

The child parliamentarians are taught how to write a complaint and grievance letter to the concerned authority of the government. We conduct competitions and debates on different issues related to child rights, local, national and international issues of importance such as child abuse, child marriage, child labor, human trafficking, environment protection, climate change etc. This enables the children to express their views freely and confidently. The children are made aware of important emergency phone numbers like child-helpline, police, fire-force, public service providers, etc. and are taught when and where to approach in an emergency situation. In this way the child parliamentarians are being molded and supported to discharge their duties and social responsibilities.

OUTCOME:

The child parliament has become an important platform for the young children of the rural and slum areas for learning and actualizing their civic responsibilities and developing qualities of leadership, team-spirit and sportsmanship.

The child parliamentarians have learnt to identify problems and also find solutions by themselves as a team. Displaying responsible citizenship during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, some of the parliamentarians collected donations and bought food items which were distributed among many poor hungry children and the neglected elderly people in their locality.

Parliamentarians conducted indoor games for the little ones who were like jailed birds during the long period of lockdown of schools. Our child parliamentarians also learned and actualized administration of civic amenities. All the child parliaments undertook campaign on cleanliness (Swatch Bharat Abhiyan/ Clean India Campaign) and cleaned their locality, demonstrated hand wash campaign and thus, setting an example to adults and elders during the pandemic. Child Parliamentarians made masks and distributed among poor children and families.

At the local government school, Bajitpur Digha, the only source of water is a handpump inside the school campus. It was broken and the school children could not use the school toilet for many months. The child parliament ministers took up this issue, wrote complaint and met the concerned authority many times. Finally, a new handpump was installed in the school.

In a slum named Bindtoli, a 12-year-old girl suddenly went missing late in the evening. The panicked family members, who are illiterate, did not know what to do when they found their young daughter missing. The Prime Minister of our child parliament in that village came to their help. He used the training he had underwent and took courage to immediately call on the Child Helpline. By his wisdom and   the   young girl was soon rescued from the trap of child traffickers. The young and the old of the village alike learnt from this how to respond to such a grave situation.

At Ganga-Bihar colony, the lane leading to the SEC was dirty filled with drainage water for months; making it difficult to walk through this lane. Our parliament ministers first wrote a grievance letter to the local municipal ward commissionaire incharge and requested to look into the matter. Neither the local residents nor the ward commissionaire cared to do anything. Then the child parliament Prime Minister and other ministers jointly decided to repair the lane. They collected broken bricks and sand scattered around the place, filled the broken and filthy water logged places of the lane and raised it so that children could walk safely and drainage water could pass sideways.

Parliament children are internalizing and demonstrating their civic responsibility in a democratic way actualizing their leadership. Children have their solutions to the local social problems. They are ready to move ahead if they are given a participatory role in the decision-making process.

CONCLUSION:

We see this in the Book of 2 Kings (5:1- 4), where Naaman was healed of leprosy. Naaman was Commander of the army of the King of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master. He was a valiant soldier but he had leprosy. Aram’s soldiers had taken a young girl from Israel in captivity and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her Mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy.” Taking the child’s words seriously; Naaman went and got cured. Children have observations, understanding and solutions to our problems if we have the ear to listen to them.

“Let the children come to me”, said Jesus.This is an inspiring call by Jesus regarding children. We understand that children come to adults for love and protection. But children wanted to come to Jesus who was then seen as a prophet, a teacher or a leader. Jesus endorses the great qualities of potential leadership which he saw in children through this call ‘let children come to Me”. We see children as transformative and revolutionary leaders. Jesus asks adults to become like children leaving all egos and imbibe child’s qualities of transparency, truthfulness, team-spirit, humanity, simplicity and straightforwardness. Jesus tells all adults to learn from children and act like children without self-centeredness.

We envisage a mission, a ministry in the child parliament program, driven by children’s abilities to drive future social transformation. It’s our Mission to take each child closer to Jesus and enable them to share/practice the Leadership of Jesus.

Sr Veena Jacob RA

Navjeevan Educational and Social Welfare Society Digha, Patna-11, Bihar, India 

January 2022