Makkala Grama Sabhas (Children’s Village Meetings) of Karnataka conducted under the decentralised system of Government for rural areas in India called the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) is the first experiment at a state level in extending citizenship rights to children.
As a model, which recognises children as equal citizens, the Strategic Priority 4 of Action Aid India’s Country Strategy Paper 2011-16, Knowledge Activist Hub on Child Rights conducted a team visit to Karnataka to know more about the functioning of the Makkala Grama Sabha (MGS) and Makkala Panchayats (Children’s Village Committees (CVC)) on the ground.
Though many NGOs have constituted Children’s Panchayats and Child Parliaments in various states of India these remain only as children’s fora for discussion and advocacy without being linked to the State system at any level : central, state or PRI. Here on the contrary is a unique case where children had a recommendatory role to the Gram Panchayats. The MGSs, which were conducted in various Gram Panchayats (GP) in Karnataka and the CVCs, which were elected from these arose from an order of the State Government in 2007 that a Gram Sabha meeting of all children in 5-15 age group from all schools should be conducted annually in every Gram Panchayat to present issues pertaining to children.
In several GPs these meetings led to the election of a committee of children’s village level representatives’ viz. CVCs. This order was the result of advocacy by various organisations working on Child Rights in Karnataka such as Concerned for Working Children (CWC). The Gram Panchayats (GP) we visited in Udupi and Shimoga districts were suggested by an expert in decentralisation related research who was of the view that the MGSs and the CVCS in these GPs were working somewhat well. The visit served the purpose of knowing whether the MGS and Children’s Committees were a grounded reality and how they functioned. We met children who were/are members of the Children’s Committees under GPs, the GP functionaries, officials at GPs and officials at a Taluk Panchayat i.e. the next higher tier of India’s three tier PRI system.
The study team visited the following Gram Panchayats/ Taluk Panchayat viz: Maravante and Madamake Gram Panchayats in Kundapur Taluk, Udupi District, Melinabesige Gram Panchayat, Hosnagara Taluk, Shimoga District and the Udupi Taluk Panchayat.
The first meetings of the MGSs were conducted in 2007 in response to a Government Order to conduct a meeting of children in the age group of 5-15 years to discuss issues pertaining to children who led to electing a committee of children’s representatives.
The elected children’s committee met periodically. In Maravante they met 7 times in a year.
A few days before the MGS meetings, posters were put up and discussions took place around the happening of this event. In some schools children’s representatives went around classrooms to enquire about issues which children wanted to discuss.
The minutes of discussion of the MGSs were meticulously maintained with video graphic documentation on CDs. These were kept in the respective GPs as well as in the Taluq (Block) Panchayats. The Udupi Taluq Panchayat office had a record of the minutes of the MGSs conducted in all the 61 Panchayats in the Taluq along with videos on CDs for each of them.
Most of the issues that children raised pertained to school/ village infrastructure, which affected children as well as the general population. Some of these were:
Provision of village roads and road maintenance
Constructions of foot bridges over small rivulets to help children to reach schools, but are also useful for all people of the village.
Street lighting, provision of electricity to houses and provision of solar lights
Drinking water in school as well as in the houses
Toilets in schools as well as in the houses
Building school compound walls; constructing a stage in the school.
Repair of Anganwadies
Teacher’s availability in school, voiced in one of the three GPs.
Keep the school free of adults’ playing cards with money, engaging in alcoholism and occupying the school premises.
It appeared that the concept of MGS was presented to children as a forum in which children could take up issues of village infrastructure which concerned them as well as the village community to be addressed through the Gram Panchayats. Issues pertaining to school functioning or quality surfaced only marginally through these children’s fora. Similarly issues pertaining to functioning of ICDS centres (for nutrition & preschool education) also did not come up in the MGS or CVC. Most children have enjoyed being members of the Children’s Committees. They felt that it was very motivating to come together, share the issues of fellow children and were proud that they were able to solve some of their problems and those of the community.
The Karnataka exercise in extension of democracy to children is laudable. It needs to be critically studied, documented and advocated for implementation with necessary modifications elsewhere in India as well as in other countries.
The long history of active decentralisation of Karnataka, which even predates the 73rd Constitutional Amendment of India of 1992 on decentralisation of governance in rural areas and the involvement of child rights organisations like CWC, which advocated for bringing children into the democratic process have both played a role in bringing about MGS and Children’s Village Committees possible.
It needs to be noted also that children however could take up through MGS and its committees mainly issues, which did not put them in confrontation with the school establishments.
The current processes of MGS and CVC need to be evaluated and suitable modifications suggested. The present model in its implementation excludes the Out of School Children and is school focused. Moreover, it includes only children up to 15 years, though the definition of child under India’s current National Policy for Children 2013 covers up to 18 years.
Some other questions also remain. How can children’s democratic involvement be considered beyond a novel replica of adult political activity? What kind of powers can children’s democratic involvement be vested with? How can children’s democratic participation be sustained once it loses its cuteness and novelty?
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