Building Future Decision-makers, Today

Children are the future of the nation. Many of today’s children will grow up to be adults who will lead India in various spheres. It is therefore vital that children are well-informed and develop leadership and decision-making skills at a young age.

SOS Children’s Villages India, a non-governmental organisation, empowers children through the formation of Bal Panchayats in villages. The idea of a Bal Panchayat is to enable children to participate in the decision-making process of governing institutions. SCARLETT RODRIGUES interviewed three children from Lakarpur village in Faridabad, Haryana, who are part of a Bal Panchayat to understand the issues they tackle and how being a part of the group has helped them. Here is what they had to say.

January 16, 2023

What is a Bal Panchayat?
Bal Panchayat is a group of around 25 to 30 children from the age group of 11 to 18 years that addresses various social issues and acts as a voice for children. SOS educates us on different issues and we spread this knowledge in our communities, among other group members of the Bal Panchayat and the Bal Sabha—a group that comprises children from the age group of five to 10 years. We organise various activities like drawing competitions, nukkad nataks and games to bring children together.

Give us an example of a problem that your group has resolved.
Villagers often face problems that are water-related. In one case, there was a tube well that provided water to the residents of a village. We found out that the water from a contaminated water body had mixed with the water from the tube well and people were consuming the same water. We immediately brought it to the notice of SOS, which helped us get in touch with the concerned authorities and the problem was resolved.

What are some other social issues your group has tackled and how?
Children whose families face financial problems spend hours working instead of studying and gaining knowledge. In such situations, we make the children, families and employers aware of child rights and make sure that children are not working excess hours. SOS helps such families with financial aid and makes sure the children receive proper guidance and education. There have also been cases where parents wanted to get their children married at a very young age. In such situations, we convince the parents that it is important for the children to become independent and then take on the responsibility of marriage. In cases where children are confused as to which career to choose, SOS provides guidance.

How do you get your message across?
Telling people to do something is very boring and people often do not pay heed. So, we enact short skits called ‘nukkad nataks’ to raise awareness on various topics such as the need for children to be educated, cleanliness and other issues.

What challenges have you faced?
When we confront people who do wrong, we often face opposition. We normally approach people in groups, along with adults and teachers. In case people are not ready to listen, we dial a helpline number to inform the concerned authorities so that action can be taken against them.

Why do you think groups like yours are essential?
Children often face problems that they cannot discuss with anyone and keep their feelings within themselves. We encourage children to express their feelings. We help them out by speaking to them and also by taking help from SOS when necessary. Adults often dismiss children’s problems but we always offer them a helping hand. Also, groups like ours serve as an inspiration to not only children, but adults too. If we can make a change in society, everyone can.

How has being a part of this group helped you grow?
By being a part of this group, we have learnt to voice our thoughts. We have developed the confidence to speak and express our views on various topics. We have gained a lot of knowledge on the rights of children and other social issues. We are happy that we are getting a chance to make other children aware of their rights by being a part of this group.

India observes January 24 as National Girl Child Day every year to raise awareness about various issues faced by girls, promote their well-being and bring about equality in society. SOS Children’s Villages India also works to give the girl child her rights. A parent shared that being a part of the Bal Panchayat has made her daughter more confident. She has learnt to act, paint and dance. She has begun studying with the help of a tab provided by the organisation. She also helps her mother learn various skills, such as stitching, by watching YouTube videos and teaches other children with the help of technology.

SOS Children’s Villages India provides care and support to children belonging to vulnerable families, parentless children and women through its initiatives. It undertakes various programmes for the empowerment and holistic development of children and works toward transforming them into self-reliant individuals. Currently, under the organisation’s Family Strengthening Programme, Bal Panchayats are operational in 29 locations in India.

REFLECTION: Write for Your Right

What is the one most important right all children should have? Explain why.

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