When 14 year old Aman Gupta heard about child rights 2.5 years back, he thought it was just one of those catchphrases NGOs use in his slum,which died down in 10 days. To his surprise, today, he is the representative of child rights at the Maharashtra State Forum for Children, and represented Maharashtra in Delhi to discuss the state of children with the UN Global Ambassador, Lilly Singh. The transformation from a shy boy who couldn’t even speak in front of his classmates, to leading state-level campaigns for advocacy on child rights, is inspirational.
Aman Gupta lives in a low income community in Goregaon, Mumbai with his parents and siblings. Aman’s parents are first generation migrants from Uttar Pradesh, in the city of dreams aspiring for a quality life for their children. He studies in the 9th standard, and loves dancing as a medium to express himself. As we meet him in the community hall, we realize that Aman has found his voice as a young person.
In 2016, Pratyek, a non governmental organization based in Mumbai, started working for advocating child rights with children in Aman’s neighbourhood. “I hadn’t ever heard the words ‘Child rights’ before. Can you imagine? As a child, we’re taught everything besides our own rights in school.’ Pratyek’s volunteers collectivised boys and girls in the community and discussed child rights with children. “We have a right to education, to live a safe life, and play. But most importantly, we should be a part of the decisions made about us, you know? We don’t have a right to vote, but children are affected by the decisions the politicians make for us.”
After intensive engagement with child rights, the children formed their own Bal Sansad or Children’s Parliament. Aman is the Finance Minister in his Parliament. ‘I take care of our money, arrange for meetings and ensure we track our budgets.’ The Parliament took up issues of disposal of waste and created forums for awareness of children’s rights – both with parents and their children. “We don’t talk like usual adult parliamentarians. We interact with our audiences through street plays, flash mobs, posters that we create.” Aman started working for the Vote for Me Campaign; since we don’t have the right to vote ourselves, we wanted to ensure that adults vote for our well-being. We talked to parents, teachers and neighbours to make children’s welfare an agenda in political manifestos in our communities.”
Public speaking didn’t come easily to the excruciatingly shy Aman. In 2016, seeing his commitment to making child rights a reality, volunteers from Pratyek nominated his name for being the ambassador from Maharashtra to the Delhi UNICEF event where he got to meet Lilly Singh. “I was very hesitant and nervous. But to hone a child’s talent, adults really need to encourage him. My bhaiyyas and didis at Pratyek were very supportive, I felt confident.” He practiced his speech day and night. Alongwith his fellow child ambassadors, Aman discussed about the status of the child in India with the YouTube star. They advocated for Lilly to make videos about child rights, safety at home, violence against children in her own videos. The event was a huge success and Aman’s confidence grew.
‘I look for good role models now. I want to learn the best from everybody,’ he shares. Today, when he looks around his community, he sees how children themselves are unaware about the injustices being meted out to them. The Child Parliament decided to host a survey with the adults to map how parents treat children. They went from gully to gully, and spoke to parents about the urgent need to invest time, love and attention in their child’s future.
This resulted in a campaign to ensure adults vote in the best interest of their child. Aman was successful in ensuring that all the teachers in his school to take the pledge to in the interest of children. ‘Our work doesn’t end here’, Aman asserts. ‘In our Nine is Mine campaign, we want to ensure that 9% of the State’s budget is allocated to children, 6% for education and 3% for health. However, we’re still nowhere near that and the fight continues.’
This is local self governance in action, a hopeful pillar of our deliberative democracy, enshrined in the Constitution of India. Imagine, how much potential for aware, compassionate and assertive leadership we would create were all the children in our country to receive this opportunity.
– Rucha Satoor