Despite the caste system being outlawed, Dalit children in India are shunned by society and suffer from exclusion, discrimination and exploitation. Through 30 Learning Centres, Children on the Edge are supporting these children to break the cycle of caste discrimination.
An important part of this education is helping children understand their rights. This is not only reflected in the curriculum, but recently through the establishment of ten ‘Children’s Parliaments’, where children learn about their rights and responsibilities, develop leadership, and learn the political system and election process of their country.
175 children have been elected from different Centres as ‘Ministers’ and from the Ministers, ‘Cabinet Ministers’ were elected. Project Leader Veena says “Children made their own election manifestos and convinced other children to vote for them. They are very regular for the meetings and everyone wants to be a minister!”.
The Children’s Parliaments hold sharing meetings with local-government officials, leaders and prominent personalities. Veena describes how “They boldly interacted with local leaders, asked questions and shared their difficulties. Their self confidence has increased and they are taking a leadership role in the Centres. They are becoming aware of the duties of citizens".
Their growing role as citizens has already been reflected through a campaign to raise awareness about the need to create a cleaner community and improve the health and hygiene in their local area and in the Centres.
Along with other children and staff members, they swept and cleaned the streets and roads of the village (see photo below), and collected waste, which was transferred to Government Garbage Collection Vehicles. They also participated in the rally, coming up with slogans, and displaying placards related to the benefits of cleanliness and hygiene.
The sign reads 'Mummy and Papa are now determined to get their children immunised for MR (Measles and Rubella).
Avi Karan, Project Officer says “The children exemplified leadership qualities by being the change agents of their communities. The local community appreciated the children’s initiative and pledged to keep their homes, surroundings and public places clean”.
This week, more than 110 children from the Learning Centres and local communities participated in an ‘Immunisation Drive’, which was a campaign to fight Measles and Rubella. The Ministers from the Children’s Parliament took responsibility for spreading awareness as campaigners. They went to the villagers and spoke about the disease and its complications, and talked about the benefit of MR immunisation.
Avi says “While campaigning in the communities, a lot of children and some parents also got interested and joined the rally. The children went to every corner of the village to make parents aware of the deadly Measles and Rubella viruses and the infections caused to children”.
The Parliaments have had a great impact in a relatively short time. Veena describes how “ I noticed that children learned very fast about election manifestos, campaigns and the process, as well as voting, counting and announcing results. They have learned quickly about the duties of different ministries because they have to practice these duties in their roles.
The children have loved being part of the Parliament, with Veena telling how “Recently our neighbour had a party, and was planning to feed 50 children. Some of those invited were in the Children’s Parliament and they had a training meeting on at the same time. Even though they are poor and had a chance for some food, they chose to come to the meeting instead!”