Published: 21st March 2019
Clean toilets, naatu muttai, school councils: Read the manifesto of the policy-making children of TN
Arunodaya, a Chennai-based NGO conducted a two-day session for children across the state to come up with their own manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls next month
Kids these days, I tell you. They have such mouths on them. They want to participate in councils, want representation in the gram sabha, they want to have a say in legislation and they even have the gall to ask for the scrapping of the new plan to hold board exams for the fifth and eighth grade! But why shouldn't they. Women are present (usually) in discussions of legislation regarding women and transgenders are present (again, usually) in discussions of legislation regarding their lives, so why can't children participate in discussions pertaining to their lives? They are the ones who benefit or suffer because of it.
Eighteen might be the appropriate age to vote but it does not mean that those below that age cannot participate in the formulation of the laws that govern them. It is this fact that motivated Virgil D'Sami, the executive director of Arunodhaya Centre for Street and Working Children to organise a gathering of children from across constituencies to come up with their own manifesto. This is the second time that students have come together to place their expectations in front of candidates.
A total of 61 children from 22 children's organisations across the state participated in this manifesto creation. This included children who were differently-abled, mentally challenged, children from tribal and other minority communities, former child labourers and migrant workers, street children and others from marginalised communities.
The motivator: This is the second time that Virgil D'Sami and her team are organising this sort of a gathering of children from varied backgrounds
One of the first demands the students made is for the government to take necessary steps to clearly define that those below the age of 18 are CHILDREN. Seventeen-year-old KA Chandrika, one of the participants said that the government has to take steps to squash the law that allows children who are 14 and above to be eligible to work. "Children below the age of 18 are children. We're not mature enough to take up jobs. We want our political representatives to take steps to do something about this law," she said.
The children are also demanding that any plans to conduct examinations for Class 5 and 8 should be immediately suspended. "We already begin to stress about the Class 10 and 12 exams and then now we have to stress about this too. Anyway in the 9th itself we pretty much lose our childood, we stop playing and doing anything fun. Now with this plan, we will have no childhood at all, we can never leave the house. We have to keep studying all the time, its cruel," she said.
The children are demanding adequate infrastructure for those children who are differently-abled or might have any other special needs. Midday meals is also one of the top on their agenda. And yes, they want eggs and not just any eggs. They want healthy naatu muttai not the broiler ones! But the children are also asking for arrangements to be made to provide at least snacks to those who come very early to school. Fourteen-year-old K Purushothaman said, "For board exams special exams, students go very early to school and they have to wait till lunch to have their first meal of the day. I've seen many students faint in the morning because they haven't eaten anything. So I think there should be at least some snacks provided to them as breakfast."
Smart classrooms, amenities like laptops, bicycles and uniforms should be provided to the them free of cost, of good quality and must be available to them at the beginning of the academic year, the children ask. They also request a library period every week, something that they should not even be asking for! S Kanimozhi, who is 13, says that schools should have pad-vending machines and also incinerators but first toilets! Give us clean toilets, the children ask. Various statistics have revealed that a large number of female students drop out of school when they hit puberty because the schools don't have proper toilet facilities, "In my school there are 2500 students and there are only 10 toilets and we get a 20 minute break and all of us have to go during that time. So a lot of my friends don't go to the toilet all day which is very dangerous." Regular and safe drinking water, is a primary need too, the children pointed out.
Young and Wise: Kannimozhi, 13, Chandrika, 17 and Purushothaman, 14 holding a copy of the manifesto
While the country thinks that children will get 'spoilt' if they are exposed to knowledge about sex, safety and reproduction, the children are demanding it. "We want Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights' education so that we know what is good touch, bad touch. How we can react when someone is misbehaving with us and how to seek help when something like this happens," Kanimozhi said. "The government should also do more to create awareness about childline and every school should have a counsellor," she added. Self defence techniques, surveillance cameras, proper maintenance of street lights, special buses for children — these are the demands they make to ensure they are protected from sexual predators.
What truly stands out about the manifesto though is the children's desire to be part of law making forums. In the manifesto says that they want children councils. Its never to early to get into politics, quite clearly. There should be children's representation in gram sabhas and a child protection committee must be formed and the children should be part of these committee, the manifesto states. "Children's views should be consulted in all organisations such as the family, school, society and the Government!" they write.
These manifestos will be presented to the candidates standing in their constituencies. "We were disappointed that none of the candidates' mentioned anything about child welfare or protection, besides maybe a passing reference. This is why we are going to be submitting this manifesto to them," Virgil said.
Since they are not old enough to vote in this election, I ask them how they would advise the adults in their family about voting for the right candidate. "Honestly, we don't care who wins, we just hope that they will listen to us. They should not take decisions about our lives without asking us about it. These are laws and decisions that will affect us and so we are completely eligible to have a say," Chandrika said. Well, you clearly don't have to old to be wise. You just have to be aware and we have to give it to these post-millennials. They are pretty knowledgeable, probably more than the adults that sit in our parliament.