The Concerned for Working Children, India, Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize - 2012

The Concerned for Working Children, India, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2012, by three members of the Norwegian Parliament, Linda Hofstad Helleland, Gunn Karin Gjul and AndrĂ© Oktay Dahlt. In their nomination letter sent to the Nobel Committee, they have written, ”Since 1980, Concerned for Working Children (CWC) has contributed to several initiatives with such children’s rights organisations as Bhima Sangha and Makkala Panchayats (children’s councils) in the state of Karnataka in India to strengthen the influence of children. The organisation and its network have been pioneers in children’s participation within research, public planning, youth democracy, media and other areas. Few, if any, other local organisations elsewhere have contributed as much to this work. CWC is also an active contributor in the joint international work for the improvement of children’s participation”.

The nomination by the Norwegian parliamentarians is for three organisations that promote the rights of children, Concerned for Working Children, Save the Children, and the UNICEF. Their formal letter ends with these lines, “An award to these three organisations would greatly contribute to a much-needed increase in the worldwide focus and attention on the children’s right to participation.”

We are a small organisation and yet we have managed to impact on child rights policy and programming both locally and globally, bringing the right to children’s participation and self-determination centre stage. This nomination is in itself a great honour. Since the last three decades, the Concerned for Working Children (CWC) has been working in partnership with children from the most marginalised communities, especially working children, to realise their rights, with emphasis on their right to participation in decision making processes. We are now recognised globally for our work related to child labour, children’s rights, children’s citizenship and education. Our genesis goes way back to the 70s. We have worked on the issue of children’s participation as a fundamental right within the gamut of children’s rights even prior to the drafting and the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The founders of CWC, Nandana Reddy and Damodara Acharya are from the trade union movement – initially working with adult workers in the informal or unorganised sector of labour. As the workforce included many children below the age of 18 years who demanded that their issues also be addressed, CWC was born marking the beginning of a long, rich and exciting partnership with working children. One of the first outcomes of this collaboration was the National Draft Bill on Child Labour. It recommended long term sustainable solutions for child workers that dealt with the root causes of the problem, in consultation with working children, to ensure that all their rights were upheld - instead of knee-jerk reactions that harm children by pushing them into more ‘invisible’ sectors where exploitation is more severe.  The Bill led to the present National Law on Child Labour – sadly the Law totally violated the framework of our Bill. Yet, through our legislative engagement, CWC brought child labour centre stage in India and was the first organisation in the country to begin work on this issue. 

Since 1980, CWC has contributed to various initiatives towards building several child-led organisations, starting with Bhima Sangha, the first ever children’s own organisation in Asia, by empowering the working children in Karnataka to raise their voice demanding for the realisation of all their rights, without conditionalities. CWC has also been facilitating organisations of school-going children and children of migrant communities in coastal Udupi district, in Bellary district and in Bangalore city, Karnataka, India.

That Bhima Sangha spearheaded children’s protagonism in Asia and paved the way in the region for the creation of spaces for children to participate in decision making processes, from local to the international level is globally recognised.

CWC has advocated for children’s citizenship and facilitated them to form their own councils, Makkala Panchayats, and conduct the first ever children’s own Grama Sabha, as early as 2002, through which children held their local governments accountable. The Makkala Panchayats enabled sustained engagement of children with the local governance processes and the children’s Grama Sabhas, have clearly been an affirmation that children are citizens of today and demonstrate the importance of children’s participation in upholding and nurturing democracy. Today, the State of Karnataka has made children’s Grama Sabhas mandatory in all its 5600 rural Local Governments.

We not only advocate for children’s rights in all policy discourses, but also enable the participation of children in such decision making process to ensure their view points get the attention they deserve. As the chairperson of the International Working Group on Child Labour, Nandana Reddy paved the way for the formation of the International Movement of Working Children in 1996. Subsequently with her colleagues and collaborators she made it possible for children to critique and input into ILO’s Convention 182 on child labour in 1997. In 1998, The first ever children’s own alternate report ‘the Working Children’s Report’ to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was facilitated by the CWC. CWC and its various networks have facilitated children to be pioneers in areas of child-led research and information management, where children own their own information; public planning; social mobilisation such as campaigns against child marriages, media advocacy and policy advocacy.

In all these processes, the involvement of children, their enthusiasm, their unerring sense of justice and their compassionate response to people’s problems have drawn many supportive adults into the process.

CWC, in partnership with organisations around the world is engaged in building capacities of children to realise their right to participation and in enabling adults in developmental organisations, academic institutions, UN agencies, international donor agencies and governments to create an environment that recognises and enables children’s Right to Self Determination. For instance it has provided assistance to the Government of Mongolia and the Government of the Netherlands to develop their strategies to work with children. It has worked in countries such as Zambia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Japan to name a few, to advocate for children’s right to participation.  

The credit of this nomination goes to our primary constituency and partners – working children – and the many battles they have fought in numerous forums at home and around the world for their voices to be heard. Their struggle has always been a peaceful one and now one of patience as they continue their crusade in an environment that not only does not recognise them as workers, but has criminalised their work.

The Concerned for Working Children believes in children’s democratic participation and their right to determine the course of their lives – the present and future – by transforming the past and making choices, a principle expounded by Mahatma Gandhi. This however, is barely recognised in the letter and in practice it is largely believed that using compulsion to make children ‘participate’ in services that are provided – be it health care or education – without allowing children to determine the nature and quality of these services, is a fulfilment of children’s rights. We, adults by and large, still think that we know what is best for children and that children don’t. 

We, as an organisation have always celebrated small victories, but this is a huge leap for the cause. It is a recognition of Children’s’ Right to Participation, one of the most fundamental rights enabling an individual to determine the path of their existence.

We have a long way to go and so much more needs to be done.

Nandana Reddy
Director Development