Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes the right of every child to freely express their views in all matters affecting them, and the subsequent right for those views to be given due weight, according to the child’s age and maturity. This is also one of the four general principles of the Convention, the others being the right to non-discrimination, the right to life and development, and the consideration of the child’s best interests. Therefore, to promote space for children to voice their concerns, rights and well-being, ActionAid Association ran a fortnight-long initiative named ‘Bal Darbar’ in eight districts of Bihar. Organised between November 10 and November 24, 2022, it covered a total of 111 Panchayats of Gaya, Katihar, Madhepura, Muzaffarpur, Nawada, Purnia, Samastipur and Supaul.
The intervention comprised Panchayat and district-level Bal Darbars, followed by the submission of charters of demands to members of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and district-level government officials. Together with community-based Human Rights Defenders, our teams oriented children on their right to participate in matters concerning them and related decision-making. They were also encouraged to express their views and demands through slogans and drawings.
Through the Bal Panchayats, we reached out to 4,616 adolescents across the eight intervention districts, of which nearly 3,500 were girls. This was followed by children submitting their Panchayat-specific demands to the respective PRI representatives. The significant needs included specialised teachers for each subject in schools, functional and separate bathrooms for girls and boys, safe drinking water, sanitary napkins and a playground. Children also urged for information on child rights, the amenities provided by schools, and the government schemes about children to be placed on school walls. Besides, they requested for libraries and skill-development centres to be set up at the Panchayat level. Other demands included an improved road network and drainage system in villages, decent and sustainable livelihoods for all families, and access to government schemes and entitlements. Children also urged the elected representatives to ensure their participation in Gram Panchayat Development Programme. Our engagement with children across the 111 intervention Panchayats also helped strengthen the understanding of families and the broader community on the need to promote children’s participation in matters affecting their lives.
The district-level Bal Darbars saw children engaging in role play and drawing and painting to share the barriers in realising their rights and suggest how to address those issues. The presence of several district-level officials graced these conclaves; their participation enabled children to get on-the-spot answers to their questions about government initiatives that protect and promote children’s rights and well-being. Subsequently, children submitted their charters of demands to the relevant district-level authorities, who assured children of their support.