Child Friendly Panchayti Raj: Maharashtra to hold Bal Sabha in every village on April 24

Child Friendly Panchayti Raj: Maharashtra to hold Bal Sabha in every village on April 24

All children were organised into Bal Sabhas and they elected their representatives to form Bal Panchayat

Giving a platform for children to share their views and participate in Panchayti Raj system, Maharashtra government has decided to hold Bal Sabha at every village on April 24, the Panchayti Raj Day.

Every Gram Panchayat will organise Bal Sabha for children in the age group of 11-18 years, presided by Sarpanch to discuss concerns related to children, hear their opinions and take necessary decisions.

The government notification by the Rural Development Department (RDD) in this regard issued on April 8, has listed a few issues to be discussed including child marriage, child labour, issues emerged due to Covid 19, child rights and its implementation, government schemes, children’s participation in the decision-making process as per the 15th Finance Commission and their say in spending 10 per cent of the funds, creating child friendly atmosphere in villages for their growth.

The idea of Child Friendly Panchayat in Maharashtra was started by UNICEF in 2015. Bal Sabhas and Bal Panchayats were organised in the pilot Gram Panchayats in Chandrapur, Latur, and Nandurbar districts. Later, the programme was scaled at block level in Chandrapur and Nandurbar.

All children were organised into Bal Sabhas and they elected their representatives to form Bal Panchayat having a Sarpanch, Up-sarpanch and other members equivalent to Gram Panchayat. It would also form four committees for education, health, nutrition, and child protection.

Child Friendly Panchayti Raj: Maharashtra to hold Bal Sabha in every village on April 24
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“UNICEF Maharashtra has been advocating for child participation in governance for over a decade. We realise the potential of local governments to ensure rights for women and children. The child friendly panchayat programme piloted by UNICEF and RDD demonstrated a model for children to raise voice on issues and engage in decision-making. Their participation has helped the Gram Panchayats to work for protection of child rights and address their issues through participatory planning and proper budgeting. This decision to conduct statewide Bal Sabhas is really encouraging,” Anuradha Nair, Social Policy Specialist, UNICEF said.

The Rural Development Department has been focusing on making local governance, child and gender responsive. RDD’s additional chief secretary, Rajesh Kumar said “We have also been putting a lot of emphasis on ensuring that children’s voices are heard and accounted for. State had already made child participation mandatory in village level planning process. With this decision to have Bal Sabha in all Panchayats on Panchayati Raj Divas, we are taking one more step forward in mainstreaming platforms for children to influence the village development process, in line with state policy for children.”

Ghatkul, an adarsh gram panchayat and one of the pilot Child Friendly Panchayats has taken many initiatives since its inception in 2018. It has installed CCTV for girls’ safety, improved mid-day meal scheme, brought sanitary pad disposal machine, started a bus service for students, senior citizens, made available drinking water, sports kit and started digital education based on recommendations from Bal Sabha. Now the Bal Sabha has demanded a bigger play ground for children.

After holding the office for almost five years, Kajal Ralegaonkar (17), the first Sarpanch of Ghatkul Bal Sabha expressed satisfaction over the works performed. “Before the initiative, especially we girls, were engaged in typical roles of studying and helping in house chores. With Bal Sabha work, we started expressing ourselves with confidence. We are now aware of our rights and duties. Today, we the children from our village are more capable, sensitive, and aware. If we discuss problems, then we bring innovative solutions too. We are proud to be an equal partner in village development,” Kajal said.

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