Gurucharn Virdee

Legal Specialist and Gender at UNIFEM 

I first met Nandana and Kavita from Concerned for Working Children in sub zero temperatures of Mongolia’s winter months of 2003. The right of the child for protection and the right to participate are not easy in this context, where the state operating from a paternalist position believed it knows what is best for children, including those in difficult situations. I was inspired by the energy and dedication of CWC to promote children’s participation in the government plans of action in a country like Mongolia where access is a massive challenge. They successfully established a model for children to participate adapted to the country context from their Indian experiences at national level involving children from all over Mongolia. I was working to advocate to the government that institutional care was not a solution for street children, and their right to participate and for solutions to be made with them rather imposed on them. CWC presence made it possible for those working on children’s issues to present a united platform to promote children’s right to participate that is not tokenistic.

The opportunity to finally visit CWC came in 2009, and what I learned and saw first hand gave me that buzz and inspiration for months afterward. The staff team, the children and young people were awesome in their dedication and the humbleness so rooted in Indian cultural hides the hard work and commitment that makes CWC so unique. The model of the Makkala Panchayats in practice is impressive. And, I loved the participative research that the children and young people engage with, which is about using the research to make immediate changes for people impacted i.e. fix the problem of the woman who has not received her pension. The children could not see the value of writing a report that would sit on a shelf gathering dust. The story of Lakshmi resonated in my heart, a young bright girl on the Makkala Panchayat, who transformed the life of an older woman, also called Lakshmi, who chaired the adult Panchayat meetings.  Who, instead of chairing the meeting made tea for the Panchayat members, mainly males? The young Lakshmi challenged the adult Lakshmi on why she was not chairing the meeting, on discovering the adult Lakshmi was illiterate and did not know how to chair meetings, started a process of mentoring the adult Lakshmi to become an effective leader.  In this way, the young Lakshmi empowered the adult Lakshmi, at the same time also challenged discrimination against girls and women and the fight against illiteracy in Indian society. This story demonstrates we as adults have much to learn from children. Yes, CWC provides a platform for children and young people to participate but gives them much more as this process comes from the heart. Truly, the work of CWC is transformational.

I am current working as an IASC GenCap Adviser in humanitarian action. I have recently completed my deployment in Somalia and will be returning to Afghanistan. In my work as a GenCap adviser, children’s rights and participation is key in ensuring our response meets the different needs of boys and girls for humanitarian assistance and protection. Throughout my career of 30 years, I have and will continue to promote the right of girls and boys to participate in all processes and decision making forums - it’s a fundamental right.