Child participation has always been a sensitive matter. By removing children from the decision-making process, their needs and desires are not heard, making their exploitation easy. Traditionally, age-appropriate participation of children is absent in all sectors in villages and schools. Within schools, teachers tend to make all decisions affecting children’s lives, as do parents and other adults at home.
The Bal Panchayat has been MSS’s biggest intervention in terms of child participation. Operating at Panchayat level, these forums mirror those of Gram Panchayats. The Bal Panchayats are open to all children aged 9-17. Each Bal Panchayat elects its own leaders, which include a Sarpanch, Vice Sarpanch, Ward Panch’s and Ministers of Education, Health, Library and Sports and Culture. Each village covered by the Bal Panchayat has its own Ward Panch, while all other leaders operate at the Panchayat-level. Bal Panchayat members conduct meetings at three different levels:
- Bal Samuh, the lowest level of the Bal Panchayat structure. Meetings are held at the phala (hamlet) level and members discuss issues in their phala that they would like to present to higher level meetings.
- Bal Gram Sabha, meetings held at the Panchayat level in which all children are able to participate. Discussions focus on healthcare, education, child migration, child labour, immunisation, school enrolment and any other village-level issues relating to children. During these meetings, children work to develop an action plan for how to address these concerns.
- Bal Corum, top-level meetings held each month, attended by the Bal
Panchayat leadership and led by the Sarpanch. Decisions made in these meetings will be put into action or taken to the Gram Panchayat or other authority.
The Bal Panchayat includes a number of different groups, resources and activities, all of which are managed by the children themselves:
- Bal Information Centre, a building in each Panchayat in which the Bal Panchayat and the below groups are based.
- Bal Bank, a savings bank in which children can deposit money and
withdraw it when they have a future need. The bank is improving children’s understanding of money management and savings, and enriching their understanding of micro credit and its importance in rural life.
- Bal Library, a small library at each Bal Panchayat containing a selection of books for both educational and leisure purposes. Children can borrow books and libraries also provide group reading and storytelling activities.
- Bal Sports Club, where sports and games are organised, bringing children into one place and helping to improve their physical and mental health.
Bal Panchayat members also take part in a large number of different cultural activities and games throughout the year, with the objectives of raising awareness of Bal Panchayats and providing children with an opportunity to socialise and build skills in teamwork and leadership. Activities are held every Saturday at each Bal Panchayat, including quiz programmes, cultural events, and drawing and painting competitions. Events are also held for celebrations such as Children’s Day, Independence Day and Republic Day. Finally, Bal Panchayat members organise regular campaigns on topics such as child rights, education and ending child labour.
Bal Panchayat elections are held every two years. The process is begun by the formation of an election commission that includes 5 MSS staff members who will oversee the entire process. This is followed by members nominating themselves or others for the positions of Sarpanch, Ward Panch and ministers. Election symbols are distributed to all candidates (mainly animals), ensuring easy recognition during voting. The campaigning period last for 1-2 weeks and includes rallies and home visits by candidates. On Election Day, all members vote at voting booths that are normally located in schools. This is then immediately followed by the counting of ballot papers. The winning candidates are sworn in during an oath-taking ceremony, after which an election rally is held. The new leadership then nominates an ordinary member for the position of Vice Sarpanch.
|Case Study – Irregular School Attendance|
Kishori Samuhs (adolescent girls groups) operate in 69 villages across 17 Panchayats. Meetings are organised with girls in each village, during which members discuss issues such as:
- Adolescent health
- Education of girls and child marriage
- Quality of the midday meal at school
- Life skills training
- Age-related body and hormonal changes during adolescence
- Government schemes available for adolescents
Operating in 17 Panchayats, the Amne Samne programme was designed by MSS to enable children to have a platform where they can discuss their problems in front of elder village members. In this way, adults, have a better understanding of the problems that children in their village face, and in many cases are in a position to solve them. Children also gain confidence from these meetings and develop leadership skills. Issues discussed in Amne Samne meetings include:
- Levelling of school playgrounds
- Increasing the number of classrooms in schools
- Repairing school boundary walls
- Constructing new Anganwadi centres
- Constructing new school toilets
- Providing access to clean drinking water in schools
- Ensuring that immunisations are conducted regularly
- Pressuring education authorities to ensure that the student-teacher ratio meets the requirements of the RTE Act
- Monitoring Anganwadi centres, Anganwadi workers and teachers
Magazines and Communications Materials
MSS publishes a wide variety of materials developed both by staff and by children. These materials focus on a range of different topics, but all aim to raise awareness on the issues that MSS works against. Bal Pahal (“children’s magazine”) is published each quarter with an aim to disseminate information among adults and children on child rights, child protection and child participation. Children prepare articles in the magazine where they express their thoughts in the forms of articles, poetry, drawings, essays and stories. Children also produce “wall magazines”; periodicals run on notice boards where children can post their articles, poems, drawings and other compositions to share with each other.
MSS also produces resource materials on topics surrounding Bal Panchayats, including “What is a Bal Panchayat?”, the election procedure for Bal Panchayat leaders, member roles and responsibilities, making Panchayats child-friendly and the qualities required for working with children and success stories. Communications materials are also published to provide information regarding topics such as immunisation, disabilities in children, birth and death registration, health and hygiene, nutrition, and infant, child and maternal mortality rates.