Bangladesh child councils find their voice
One year ago we updated you about the progress of the child councils in our Community Schools for working children in Bangladesh. Child councils are an opportunity for children to express their views and those of their classmates. There are six child councils currently running for the 18 different classrooms. Each council has 10 members and meets twice a month, once with their teacher and once with Mamun Rashid who is a project officer on the ground.
These councils are a space where children can give their opinions and suggestions about how the programme is being run, talk about issues that are affecting them, learn about their rights and communicate them to their friends and families.
This time last year, the councils had been running for about 10 months and the children were just starting to speak about some of the changes they would like to see. They were beginning to get to know their classmates in order to find out their feelings on different subjects. At this point they were still very shy and quite hesitant to express their views.
Recently we have visited the project again, and spent the morning with one of the councils. They have now been fully participating for two years and over this time the children have grown tenfold in their confidence. They have also developed a thorough awareness of what a child is, what their rights are and can easily list them off to whoever will listen!
Asked about the benefits of child councils, Mamun said “The time spent in the council is good for the children because they now know about child marriage, child trafficking and child abuse. Without the child councils they wouldn’t know this information. At the beginning they didn't know who was a child or what that meant. Now they understand that it is important and they should be protected. They know that the law protects them”.
Awareness of trafficking and abduction is developed in different ways, sometimes with role play, testing them with offers of sweets and chocolate to which the children reply a resounding ‘NO!’. A big part of their role on the council is to then take this information and communicate it to their classmates and friends. One council member called Saliha said “Whatever we learn from child councils we can express to our neighbours, they thank us and so it is good for me.”
When asked how their lives have changed since being on the child councils. Nayeem, aged 10 said “ Before we joined we didn't know about abuse, trafficking and child marriage. Now we can raise our voices, we can make requests and we can discuss our problems with the teachers and Mr Mamun and get some solutions. Also we are more important!”.
Members of the council take an active role in helping students who are struggling with their school work through an after-school tutoring club. Rehena, aged 11 says “I like being able to teach another student, like I am a teacher!”. If a student doesn’t arrive for lessons, they will find out if they are okay. The children also discuss any problems their friends might have, whether in school, their family or elsewhere. If anything arises from these conversations they bring it to the child council meeting to share. Depending on what the situation is, our local partners might refer the child for counselling, involve the teacher, local family planning agency or village development committee.
On a more practical level, the councils discuss how the schools are running and make suggestions or requests for various changes. This can be everyday things like school maintenance, repairs and furniture, or it can be finding solutions to challenges students face in the classroom.
So far they have procured benches instead of floor mats for classrooms, ceiling fans for hot days, increased the number of playtime facilities and equipment, ensured a supply of daily nutritious snacks, arranged a singing and drawing teacher, persuaded planners to build a new school with brick rather than bamboo and taken on the responsibility of developing outdoor garden areas!
From a more social level they have a strong influence in their classes, preventing their fellow students from being disturbed if another child is being distracting, or even making sure that their friends get home safely and are safe from bullying. They’ve also asked staff members to address some problems arising from having age differences within the same class.
Finally, the councils collect stories, art, and poems for the quarterly newsletter. The children help choose which pieces are most worthwhile for publication. This newsletter is proving to be very popular with all the students across the nine schools, and is also being shared with local agencies and government departments. There is more interest than available space for the publishing of poems, art, and articles written by the students. Saiful, aged 9 says “I like being able to collect the stories and poems from my friends, it gives me happiness.”
International Director, Rachel Bentley says “We have a strong focus on developing child participation in all the organisations we support. Giving children a voice is a central part of what we believe in as a child rights organisation and we’re delighted to see how this is progressing with the child councils in Bangladesh.”
Read about the work we do in Bangladesh providing education for working children
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