Catch ‘em Young – Child Reporters in Firozabad as Agents of Change

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Chandrasekhar Pandey

Sita*, an 11-year-old girl from a slum in Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, stopped her friend’s mother from getting Pooja* (her friend) married. At first, she tried reasoning with Pooja’s mother and when she did not budge, Sita called the ChildLine number – 1098. After Pooja’s rescue from the impending wedding, Sita also got her enrolled in a government school. “She is 11 years old – she needs to study and play. Besides, we know that child marriage is illegal,” says a confident Sita. 

More than 100 Child Reporters are changing the district of Firozabad with their words and actions.

For centuries, the city of Firozabad is known for its glass-making industry. Across the city, small bangle-manufacturing units thrive in its slum areas. Due to poverty, child labour is rampant in such units across the city. According to estimates, hundreds of child labourers are involved in small home-based production units in the city. Apart from making bangles, children are also house helps for these units they work. The children receive Rs 30-35 for 9-10 hours of work a day. 

Since January 2019, along with Saarthi, our local partner in Firozabad, we have conducted over seven 3-day “How to be a Child Reporter” training for the 120 selected children, aged between 7-14 years, to encourage them to express their thoughts and observations, equip them with an understanding of child rights and enable them to participate in decision-making for matters that concern them directly or indirectly. 

Poverty is also the reason why children remain illiterate or are victims of child marriage. But Sita dreams of making Firozabad a safe space for children – where millions like her can study, play, and live their childhoods. And she, along with 119 other children, are not waiting for anyone to come to help them – they are taking control of their future. In August 2019, three 10-year-old children, Radha*, Chanda*, and Omi* rescued five children from child labour in a bangle manufacturing unit by educating their parents about the Right to Education Act (RTE) and other provisions like mid-day meals, books, bags and uniform. They also explained to the parents how education brings economic prosperity to their family in the long run. Thanks to their intervention, these five children were enrolled in schools; their days of child labour firmly behind them. 

Since January 2019, along with Saarthi, our local partner in Firozabad, we have conducted over seven 3-day “How to be a Child Reporter” training for the 120 selected children, aged between 7-14 years from 30 slums of the Firozabad district. Adults had always taken the onus of communicating with the public about child protection policies, issues, and knowledge, without including the children’s voices in these discussions. Our goal through the training is to encourage children to express their thoughts and observations, equip them with an understanding of child rights and enable them to participate in decision-making for matters that concern them directly or indirectly.

Through a combination of play and knowledge, the children were introduced to the basics of how to write a report, identify child rights issues, and the relevant laws and mechanisms related to child protection issues. Most essentially, the training prepared them to identify the existing gaps between their rights and reality; and bridge the gap by taking appropriate steps – either through words or with action.

Between January and September 2020, Child Reporters reported more than 250 such stories focusing on the challenges faced by their friends, families, and communities. They reported on food security, education, and the promotion of preventive practices like wearing mask and hand wash. Their reports have culminated into ‘Balvani – The Voice of Children’.

Eight months after the training, children have reported having some encouraging changes; they feel more empowered, have improved communication skills, are aware of their rights, and determined to be proactive towards societal changes. Before schools shut down due to the pandemic, they reported on issues in their schools such as low attendance, non-availability of water, toilets, and sanitation facilities. During a School Management Committee (SMC) meeting, Khushi*, a 12-year-old Child Reporter, raised the issue that girls were facing inconvenience and were hesitant to attend school because the girls’ toilet door was damaged. Her reporting and subsequent follow-ups ensured that the SMC acted and had the toilet door fixed within a week. Thanks to Khushi, 80 more girls reaped the benefits of a safe space and increased attendance. 

Post closure of schools, Child Reporters continued reporting on community issues such as the availability of community facilities, child marriage, child labour, domestic violence, etc. These reports are cathartic as they often mirror their own lives, which helps our ChildFund India staff to provide support, consultation and intervention where deemed necessary. In August 2020, Shivam’s father lost his job in a glass-making unit due to the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic. Unable to pay the private school fees for Shivam and his eight-year-old sister, Kirti*, their father decided to enrol them into a government school. 

When they went to the primary school for enrollment, the Principal turned them away, saying that Shivam was too old to enrol and that he should be enrolled in the secondary government school, whose Principal also denied Shivam admission because he had very low marks. Since Shivam knew about the RTE, he approached our representative with his problem. Together, they went to the Block Education Officer who immediately resolved the issue and enrolled Shivam and his sister, Kirti, in 5th and 3rd Grade. Today, they both receive mid-day meals, books, and uniforms for school. 

Today, these children have become agents of change – well-equipped with knowledge about their rights, related government officials and communication skills and knowledge. They are proactively seeking to engage with their peers, adults and local authorities to change conditions that affect their rights – individually and collectively – for a safe and healthy childhood for children that would help them become responsible and informed citizens of their community and the country at large.

Between January and September 2020, Child Reporters reported more than 250 such stories focusing on the challenges faced by their friends, families, and communities. They reported on food security, education, and the promotion of preventive practices like wearing mask and hand wash. Their reports have culminated into ‘Balvani – The Voice of Children’ with our support. These reporters have distributed over 200 copies to school principals, key government officials and authorities including the Firozabad Mayor, Nutan Rathore, and related committees, MLAs, ward councillors, parents, and several collectives. 

Today, these children have become agents of change – well-equipped with knowledge about their rights, related government officials and communication skills and knowledge. They are proactively seeking to engage with their peers, adults and local authorities to change conditions that affect their rights – individually and collectively – for a safe and healthy childhood for children that would help them become responsible and informed citizens of their community and the country at large. This continuous involvement of children in their community is a perfect example of child-led advocacy, indicating that children are increasingly becoming the catalyst of change and contributing to building a society that promotes and respects children’s rights.

Chandrasekhar Pandey is the Country Manager at ChildFund India.

*The names of the children are changed to protect their identities.