Bengaluru, March 15: Politics, they say, is not child's play. But the children of Karnataka seem to think otherwise, albeit for a good reason. As politicians are busy campaigning ahead of the all-important Karnataka Assembly elections, which are likely to take place between the last week of April and the first week of May, children of the state have prepared a list of demands to be presented to all the major political parties. The youngsters of Karnataka want the political parties--the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and others--to include children-related issues in their respective manifestos for the upcoming elections.
In order to ensure that political parties don't ignore them just because they are not a part of the "vote bank", a group of 30 children along with child rights activists will visit the offices of various political parties in Bengaluru on Saturday (March 17). During their visit to the offices, the children will distribute a "special booklet"--Makkala Hakku Parnalikey (Child Rights Manifesto)--to politicians where they have clearly mentioned about the children-related issues which are needed to be included in various party manifestos. Some of the main demands of the children are right to life, right to protection, right to development and right to participation.
Moved by the young minds' intellect and determination to put forward their demands to the politicians, a group of 15 Bengaluru autorickshaw drivers will also join the children and activists during their visits to the offices of political parties. The booklet has been brought out by the Karnataka Child Rights Observatory (KCRO), a network of NGOs working for children across the state. Before coming up with the booklet, the KCRO conducted two-month-long consultation programmes with 30 NGOs and hundreds of children in the 30 districts of the state.
"On Saturday, we are meeting the members of manifesto committee of all the four political parties. The children will give them the booklet where all their issues, rights and demands have been highlighted," Nagasimha G Rao, director of Child Rights Trust (CRT), an NGO, told OneIndia. "We are thankful to the autorickshaw drivers who have come forward to provide us a helping hand by ferrying the children and activists to the various party offices," Rao added. Since it is exam season, thus only 30 children are going to meet the politicians and raise their demands.
Nagarathna, a former child labour rescued by Sparsha Trust, a Bengaluru-based NGO, told OneIndia that political parties are mostly unaware about children-related issues. "Political parties hardly talk about disability, infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate. We want them to make children their priority. We have many issues, right from child labour, education and child marriage, among others, and we want politicians to promise that they will sincerely address the problems," added the 17-year-old, who is studying in class ten.
Over the years, because of constant campaigning by NGOs working for children in the state, political parties have been forced to include issues like education and child labour in their manifestos in the past. "Political parties are good at lip service. Till date, hardly any ruling party has given proper attention to poor and underprivileged children of the state. Our campaign is to make Karnataka a model state for children," said another child rights activist on condition of anonymity.
According to child rights activists, Karnataka has more than 100,000 (one lakh) out-of-school children. However, government officials differ and maintain that only 14,000 children are presently not going to school. Activists allege that the child protection policy has never been implemented in the state. "It is only in paper. Officials and teachers are not well-versed in the policies meant for children," said the activist.
"Like in the case of attendance authority, formed under the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), to keep a tab on school dropouts and bring them back to schools. However, the attendance authority is hardly functioning," he added.
In its first budget, the incumbent Congress government had allocated Rs 1,000-crore for education. Out of which, 60 per cent was used to pay salary for the teachers. "Go to any village or small town in Karnataka, schools are in shambles. The government has done nothing for children," alleged another activist.
One front where the Siddaramaiah government has fared well is the fight against malnourishment among children. A strong monitoring system by the Anganwadis, rural mother and child care centres, has brought down malnourishment in the state, claim officials. According to the Karnataka Health department, from 5,264 reported cases of malnourishment in 2014-2015, the numbers have come down to 1,791 in 2017-2018 (till August).
Manohar, another student who will be visiting offices of political parties on Saturday, stressed that unless and until politicians were not ready to hear them (children), problems could never be solved.
When asked if he is not too young to discuss such big topics with politicians, a confident Manohar replied that he might be a child, but not illiterate. "Political parties can't ignore us and our issues. If they do so, it will be at their own peril," added Manohar, as other children, mostly teenagers, from the group visiting party offices cheered the 'young leader'.