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     Volume 4 Issue 53 | July 8, 2005 |

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What kids have to say

Elita Karim

To strengthen children's participation in media, Mass-line Media Centre (MMC) has come up with Shishu Prakash (Children's Express), a project involving children and initiating a move to express their views. A pilot project, supported by UNICEF, Shishu Prakash was launched in May of this year and plans to continue with its work till December 2005.

In this country where there are thousands of children homeless and orphaned on the streets, the society still does not recognise the fact that these children have certain rights. "The objective of Shishu Prakash is basically to build a platform for children to speak up and be aware of their rights and existence in society," explained Munawir Ahmed, programme officer of MMC. "Media do play a vital role in making the common people as well as the government aware of the issues occurring at the grassroot level of society. This project is working towards the establishment of the rights of children in the society through the media."

A children's news agency, Shishu Prakash is practically run by these child reporters and has now spread its wings in 64 districts in the country. "We have 10 children in each district, except in Dhaka where we have 16 children," said Ahmed. "A notice was sent out to schools right at the beginning when the project was being launched. We made sure that all kinds of schools in every possible area were covered in the country. After a few written and verbal examinations, about 10 children were selected for each district."

Between the ages of 12 and 18, these child-reporters go about their scheduled areas and look into child related issues. "Our primary intention is to emphasise on the various issues dealing with children in this country, namely child rights, child labour, primary and compulsory education and so forth," informs Ahmed. "The best part about this is that we are actually getting the children to organise themselves and venture out to learn more about these issues."

Under the guidance of a team leader in each district, the children gather the data, prepare the information and send the final research results to the head office located in Mohammedpur, Dhaka.

Very recently, the Shishu Prakash team in Noakhali sent in reports about a certain colony where children were not even getting basic education. "They were probably the children of day labourers like rikshaw pullers and ferrywallahs who lived in that colony," says Ahmed. "Many children living in that colony were not going to school and became involved in crimes."

Currently, the team in Rajshahi are working on their findings regarding the increase in child labour in that particular district. "Even today, there are many parents who are absolutely ignorant of the fact that their children can get a basic education and that too for free," Ahmed exclaims. "Despite the everyday developments that we boast in our country today, there are many children who don't get an education, simply because their parents are not educated and are unaware of the fact that basic primary education is compulsory, as per the law passed by the government. This happens mostly in the cases of girls, where parents simply close themselves to the idea of sending them to school and providing them with basic primary education."

Belonging to various social backgrounds, these child reporters have developed a rapport with each other in their respective teams. "We have both boys and girls from upper middle class families working with orphans working for a living and going to school as well," says Ahmed. "It's surprising how these kids have shed off their differences and are working together to create a difference in society."

Neena Shamsunnahar, the coordinator of Shishu Prakash activities, informs that one of the child reporters in the Dhaka division was a child jockey once. "He was taken away at the age of two and a half," says Neena. "He was away in the Middle East for probably seven years, away from his home and parents. He is not 15 years old and goes to school, thanks to the Mohila Ainjibi Shongstha. He is also training underprivileged children to stand up in society at the Shongstha."

These children also receive remuneration, based upon their reports. "We are doing everything we can to encourage these children to voice their emotions, stand up for their rights and speak up against the wrongs done in society," says Ahmed. "Right after the launching of Shishu Prakash, awareness of child rights has increased, and hopefully everyone will be aware of them eventually."

It seems that, even the little girl selling flowers in front of Hotel Sheraton, has a life beyond those streets. It's up to us to pick every child up from the streets and build their future and provide them with the existence that they deserve.

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