Akash Namdeo Sathe is among just a handful of boys who are members of a children’s Parliament in Sathe Nagar, in the Mumbai suburban district.
Of the 20 member children’s parliament, nearly 14-15 members are girls.
Why are more boys not members of the parliament? 14-year-old Akash answers. “More girls are present in school, tuition classes and in the children’s parliament. I feel that boys want to play and roam around, and are not interested in activities which require thinking and reflection.”
However, two other boys who were already members convinced Akash that the parliament, run by the NGO Jeevan Dhara, had interesting activities for children and offered useful information. Though it has been only four months since Akash became a member, he is already experiencing personal change.
“We interact with knowledgeable adults at the parliament and try to think like them. Now, we are not scared of speaking up. The parliament involves us in activities around child marriage, cleanliness of the neighbourhood and other local issues. I have heard that sometimes, the children themselves take action,” he says.
“As children, we are asked about our opinions. Earlier, we did not even know what rights are, or that children have rights,” he adds.
Akash’s learning has also won him praise and appreciation in school. A youth organisation recently held a discussion with Akash and his classmates on the subject of rights. Akash says he was the only one who could talk about children’s rights. “I received applause when I explained that my learning is because I participate in a children’s parliament. Some classmates were immediately interested in the parliament and will join soon.”
As a parliament co-captain, Akash hopes that more boys will join. He lists measures which the parliament has taken, which have met with both success and failure.
“You will find garbage in every lane here. We tried to meet the local MLA in this regard — but he was not available. The parliament also kept a record of whether our neighbours kept their surroundings clean. On one occasion, a man in our neighbourhood agreed to stop littering the area near his house. But another woman scolded us – alleging that children only roam around and do no work. We told her that if she could not speak well about us, she should not speak ill either. She fell silent.”
The children’s parliament has also discussed addiction issues among the youth, especially young boys. Akash and other members visited an addiction treatment centre in Lonavala, Maharashtra where they spoke to children about their rights, and tried to get them to open up on addiction.
On the issue of girls’ rights, Akash is clear that girls and boys have equal rights. “Boys and girls, both have the right to life, education, play, and participation,” he says. The only male child in his family, he has six sisters. Though he believes that he and his sisters are treated at par, he agrees he receives more affection because he is the youngest and a male. “It is true that male children receive preferential treatment because daughters are considered a financial burden”, he says.
Akash’s world is not just restricted to the parliament. He also enjoys dancing and playing cricket. But he maintains that the issue of children’s rights is important to him.
He believes that the children of the parliament are more courageous, since they are aware of their rights, but is conscious of the limits of what children can achieve.
“I saw how hard we had to try, in order to meet our local MLA. This is why I want to become a political leader and representative for children when I grow up— so that I can represent their voices. I want to enter politics and do something for the children of Sathe Nagar. Else, I want to become a teacher on rights,” he says.
Akash also wants to take the children’s parliament to different government and private schools. “Children need to build unity among themselves. We can then achieve a lot,” he says.