Bhubaneswar : Members of the Odisha Legislative Assembly led by Speaker Dr Surjiya Narayan Patro and came together with children to discuss ways to improve lives of children in Odisha. Child representatives also presented the MLAs with their `Charter of Demands’.
Around 25 MLAs from different political parties attended the interaction and also discussed ways to support children, especially to deal with challenges caused by the COVID pandemic. Organised by UNICEF along with the Global Policy Research Foundation, the interaction marked the beginning of a partnership with MLAs in Odisha to accelerate progress for children, especially at the grassroot level.
Through the partnership MLAs will be supported with technical and thematic knowledge including research and data as well as through inputs for legislative committees on children’s issues. The initiative will also convene engagements and dialogues between the elected leaders and youth, adolescents and children to hear their voices.
UNICEF Chief of Field Office Dr Monika Nielsen said, “MLAs have the power and influence to speak for children. They are uniquely positioned to send the message that the well-being of children is the responsibility not just of people who work with children, but of all society. We are proud to get the opportunity to engage with Honourable MLAs of Odisha and are committed to ensure children’s voices are heard as the policy makers take definitive steps for their welfare.”
Honourable Speaker of the Odisha Legislative Assembly Dr Surjya Narayan Patro said, “Addressing rights of children is crucial for our state’s progress. We need to ensure that our actions benefit children both in rural and urban areas. There are many government schemes which are benefitting a large number of children. However, having dialogues with children helps to remind us what we are doing well and what more needs to be done. We will welcome more engagement with children and take their views into account.”
Former WCD Minister, Government of Odisha, Prafulla Samal assured support on behalf of all elected representatives in addressing child right issues, particularly prohibition of child labour, child marriage and ensuring right to education for every child in the State. “Education is the basic tool for progress for children and we need to ensure every child benefits from the various education initiatives of the state government,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition MLA Mohan Manjhi responded to a child’s question on whether children’s issues are important for political leaders since children do not have the power to vote. Mr Manjhi said, “It does not matter to us that you aren’t a voter. It is our responsibility to take care of your needs. And we would encourage you to bring your issues to our attention.”
MLAs also responded to the charter of demands and promised to use their resources and MLA funds to address the needs of children. In particular, they promised to ensure schools in their constituencies had proper infrastructure including drinking water and separate toilets for girls and boys.
Children present at the interaction asked questions to MLA regarding their schooling, online classes, gender equality, ending child marriage and preventing child labour. Child participants also shared their concerns such as flooding in their areas as well as being forced to drop out of school.