With support from UNICEF, ActionAid Association runs an initiative to strengthen institutional mechanism and systems to prevent child marriage, child trafficking and unsafe migration across six districts of the state. We have been facilitating an adolescent-led child-friendly village campaign in West Bengal since September 2020. Recognising that Gram Panchayats (GPs) are closest to communities and that the Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) cycle involves decentralized, participatory planning, we started working towards integrating child protection issues in GPDP 2022-23. With support from the Chairperson, West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights, UNICEF and the Department of Panchayat and Rural Development of Government of West Bengal, we intervened in one block each of Alipurduar, Dakshin Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Malda and Murshidabad districts, and in five blocks of South 24 Parganas.
Developing collaboration with Panchayati Raj Institutions, district and block-level administrative and education functionaries, and working with Child Protection Committees (CPCs) to discuss and highlight issues affecting children’s well-being formed a key domain of our work. Several interface meetings held by state, district and block-level authorities also recognized the need to include child protection issues in GPDP. Our teams engaged extensively with local communities, including adolescents, parents and women Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and discussed locally relevant child protection agendas. Schools, frontline workers, SHGs and GPs were encouraged to be proactive in ensuring children’s access to education, and in preventing child marriage, child labour and trafficking. Not just that, children and adolescent leaders themselves met with Panchayat representatives and block functionaries, and highlighted their issues first-hand.
As a result of these collective efforts and the commitment, we are happy to share that child protection activities, along with financial allocations, have now been included in GPDP 2022-23 in 19 Gram Panchayats that we directly intervened in, across the aforementioned six districts. What was heartening to see was ripples of this initiative spreading even beyond the areas of our direct intervention! 69 additional Gram Panchayats, with several from even outside our intervention blocks, saw incorporation of CP issues in their GPDPs.
Child protection agendas included awareness-generation towards promoting education; preventing child marriage and child labour; and reducing unsafe migration and trafficking. Various stakeholders including children, adolescents and frontline workers have been identified within the ambit of awareness activities which include wall painting, holding events on significant days etc. The plans include several infrastructure-related activities as well, such as construction/renovation of children’s park, and construction of child-friendly corners and space for women and children in GP offices. We are pleased to have been part of this significant effort and we remain committed to working together with children, the communities, administration and other related stakeholders to promote children’s rights.
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