India – Leave No Child Behind

“Parliament Speakers and MLA’s should learn from these children how to run the parliament”: Ms. Meira Kumar (Ex Lok Sabha Speaker)

75 children from 29 states and Union Territories from the age of 11 and above, speaking more than 23 different languages, came under one roof to be a part of the annual National Inclusive Children’s Parliament to be sworn in as ‘Ministers’ of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Through their formula of commitment administered by Ms Meira Kumar the former Speaker of India’s Lower House, these child parliamentarians committed themselves to create an inclusive India ‘with the last child as their first priority’.

The nine-day training workshop opened with a panel discussion entitled, ‘Children in the Republic’. Child-rights expert addressed issues related to budget, laws, schemes linked to the pillars of child rights and to ‘earth-rights’. Ms Rosy Taba, a member of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child promised to take the idea of children’s parliaments across to all the states of India.

These young advocates collated a report to be submitted to the Niti Aayog and UN as part of India’s Second Voluntary National Review (VNR) in relation to India’s ‘Leave no one behind’ report on the 17 Global Goals. Children also prepared a report on the status of the rights of the chid to be submitted to the Commission on the Rights of the Child. Children from different states shared their stories, challenges and recommendations to their government.

Samarpita (name changed) from Rajasthan shared how she was forced to get married at the age of 12. She insisted that the government immediately declares her marriage and all child marriages as null and void. As a child who worked really hard to get away from this culture, she taught her parents and society the consequences of child marriage. The child advocates also pressed for ending all forms of child labour. While Swaman and Smita (children with visual and developmental disabilities respectively) from Assam raised their stories to end all forms of discrimination and making society more inclusive and barrier free.

Ms. Meira Kumar the former speaker of India’s Lower House, as the chief guest of the event shared that she was really moved by the stories of these young citizens. “I am spellbound by the work of these children. I am happy to be a part of this children’s parliament, as it runs so smoothly”, Ms Kumar concluded. She insisted that the child parliamentarians invite the current Speaker of the lower house and MP’s to come and see how smoothly a parliament is meant to function.

‘The share of B_F_C (Budget For Children) in the Union Budget 2020-21 is at an all-time low of 3.16%, a drop of 1.6 since the 2012-13 budget’, said Mr Shailabh Kumar from Haq-Centre for Child Rights.

‘I, as a young girl, want to ask Nirmala Di, my Finance Minister, how she will ensure my safety and security with just 6 paisa from every Rs100 that was available to her. My own mum puts my education, health and safety as a top priority and is willing to sell her wedding necklace to save my life and my future.’ (Manisha, Age 16). Concluding the event, the children emotionally gestured the national anthem in sign language as a symbol of their commitment to amplifying the voice of the unheard child of India.

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