BENGALURU: Varsha R is a class 9 student of the Government High School, Jadigenahalli in Hosakote, on the outskirts of the city. She has to commute over three kilometers daily to her school as there are no high schools near her house.
"I cycle everyday to my school, however the roads are not very good so it gets very tiring cycling to and fro," says Varsha. Till last year she was a student of a higher primary school near her house. "I wish there was a school nearby. I did get a cycle from the government, to go to school every day, but I wish bus services around here were more frequent," she says.
In the nearby gram panchayat of Orohalli, B Sandhya, a class 7 student laments that fact that more people in her village do not have toilets in their homes. They come to the school, to use the ones there, she says. "The infrastructure in our school is not that great... We do not have a library or a PT teacher or even enough subject teachers. It would be really helpful if more is done," adds Sandhya.
Varsha and Sandhya want answers from the present government and political parties who are campaigning for votes but is anyone paying attention? The two students recently raised their concerns at a consultation session to frame a children's manifesto organised by Save the Children, an NGO that works on children's issues. Opinions and suggestions of nearly 600 children were taken and compiled into a list of around 10 demands that was publicly released recently.
Closer to the city, Pushpa S, a resident of Mahalakshmi Layout and a class five student at a private school in the city has very different concerns. She complains that while she has to study a lot, there is no playground in her school where she can freely play and run around. Her father C Suresh Kumar, an auto driver says, "Every day she complains to me that there are big playgrounds in government schools but there is no playground for her. I have no answers."
Pushpa got into the school through the 25 percent reserved quote of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. With numerous cases of child sexual abuse coming out of schools, Suresh is worried. "None of the political parties have children on their mind when they frame their manifestos. Not a single party is serious about their safety," he adds.
The Karnataka Child Rights Observatory (KCRO), an umbrella organisation comprising groups and individuals working in the field of child rights advocacy in the state, took three months to frame a children's manifesto of over 30 pages. Suggestions of children and parents from many districts in the state like those such as Pushpa and Suresh were taken.
*Do netas listen?*
While demands and manifestos highlighting children's interests may be framed, do political parties even care? Do children even figure in their high-pitched campaigns?
So far it is only the Congress that has released its election manifestos. In it, the party does talk about children and issues related to them in context of health and education other categories. G Nagasimha Rao, campaign coordinator for KCRO who submitted the organisation's manifesto to all political parties, however does not seem impressed. "They have not taken many of our points. They completely forgot strengthening child protection systems and giving primacy of participation of children in framing policies," he says.
Nagasimha even goes to extend of saying that he has urged parents to vote for a party that takes children's issues seriously and are serious about implementing them.
Archana Ganesh Raj, Team Lead, Save the Children, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, says, "Most of the time political parties do not really bother about children as they are not their vote banks. Children are our future and I think parties have not fully realised the potential of this group," she adds. The NGO has submitted it's manifesto to JDS and BJP and are still awaiting word if any part of it is being included in the parties manifestos.
From the party's mouth
Prof Radhakrishna, vice-president, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee and chairman of its media department, says, "We do not look at children as a vote bank but as national assets. We implemented the mid-day meals programme and brought in a number of safety measures such as compulsory CCTV cameras in schools following numerous incidents. I think it is safe to say that Karnataka ranks many notches higher in caring for its children than BJP-ruled states."
Subramanya S from the JDS says, "Children's issues are extremely important for the party especially from the point of view of health and education. On the latter, there is a need to look at the entire matter differently. There are a number of workers for whom formal education been useless." On the question of the JD-S manifesto however, he adds "I do not want to comment on our manifesto as of now," he says
Repeated calls to the BJP remained unanswered.
Commission also consults children
The statutory body under the state government, the Karnataka State Commission For Protection of Children Rights (KCPCR) also held around four sessions of consultation to frame their children's manifesto. Krupa Alva, chairperson, KCPCR told City Express, "Each of these session had a batch of around 40 students including many organisations and individual who work in the sphere of children's issues. Unfortunately we have not been able to come out with a manifesto yet as there was a lack of time and resources. Many issues such as safety of children and others were raised in these sessions," she adds.