Empowering Inclusion through Children's Parliaments


The process of inclusion that we initiate in South India and  that is gradually finding takers in various States and countries is in term of  Neighborhood Parliaments of about 30 families, i.e. about the size of two self-help groups.

These parliaments are territorially organized. Hence they include everybody.

Neighborhood Parliaments are to meet regularly, say every week for about an hour, and each neighbourood parliament is to elect its own neighborhood ministers for various concerns that pertain at that level like health, environment, human rights, child rights, sports, cultural activities etc.

One of these is to be a minister for concerns of persons with disabilities. He or she is to take responsibility to ensure that adequate awareness is created as regards the needs of the disabled that every person with disability is reached out to, is included and affirmed, that measures are taken to make the neighborhoods disability-friendly, that adequate advocacy efforts are initiated, that, in general, the entire neighborhood community is made responsive and proactive.

These neighborhood parliaments and neighborhood ministers are to be federated at various levels. Like that of the village, inter-village local governance (panchayat), sub-district, district and the State.
Neighbourhood parliaments of Children

We begin the process with children. We organize children in these neighborhoods as Neighborhood Parliaments of Children (NCPs) and each NCP has its own Child Prime Minister, Child Minister for Finance, Child Minister for Health,  Child Minister for Environment, Child Minister for Defense (ie. to defend  child rights), Child Minister for Sports etc.

The dynamics of organizing children as parliaments and as ministers of a particular territory has its own impact. The children now have a territory to be accountable for. They have this way their own area of jurisdiction.

Thus they are different from the “mock parliaments” that we find in some schools, colleges, or so. In such mock parliaments, the members and the ministers act out a show and when the session is over they cease to be ministers. But here on the other hand, children continue to be ministers and members even when they are not in session. They continue to be answerable and responsible for the people, realities and challenges in the given neighborhood territory.

Especially when a child is given the ministry for a particular portfolio, say for environment, he or she is motivated automatically to learn more about the subject, read more about it, collect more data etc. and eventually say something sensible at the next meeting of the child parliament. When various such child ministers specialize on various subjects and share about them in the sessions of Child parliaments the members get a multi-sided awareness of the various issues involved.

We arrange also for  swearing-in ceremonies already at the neighborhood level as additional impetus to get them commit themselves publicly and take their roles seriously. We get people in civil governance structures or govt. officers to administer the oath of office for our child ministers. For the first swearing-in ceremony of the child Ministers of Tamilnadu Pondicherry State Parliament of Children, for example, it was a sitting judge of the High Court who administered the oath of office.

Children take their roles seriously. Helping them are the techniques of Participatory Learning Action (PLA), an adaptation of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), like resource mapping, social mapping, time line, trend line,  Chappathi or venn diagram to prioritize the problems, making short  term and long term plans, etc. Whatever the children can do they do it by themselves. For whatever they cannot do, they  seek the help of the grown-ups, especially the civic governance structures like gram sabha (village assembly) and the government office sat various levels. Child parliamentarians attending gram sabha meetings became a regular feature in many places.

In Krishnagiri, District Collector, Mr. Maheshwaran made it a point to meet to meet delegats of children’s parliaments every first Sunday of the month. The problems forwarded by children received faster responses.  Bhavani’s mother couldn’t get ration card for a number of years. When Bhavani presented it through children’s parliaments prompt came the solution.

The children have very many success stories to take credit. They have brought child labourers back to school. They have brought in new street lights, new play grounds, new facilities at child care centers,  bus routes, new access roads, , got schools upgraded etc. In one village they were instrumental in bringing in a bridge of about  Rs.54,0000 (roughly US$ !00,000).

The Tamilnadu–Pondicherry State Parliament of Children received the global  UN –San Marino Alexander Bodini Award for the Best Child-led Organization for Child Rights Action,  in the year 2009.
Inclusive NPCs

CBM-SARO in partnership with Neighboruhod Community Network (NCN0 entered into this “neighborhoodization” process, to emphasize the inclusion of persons with disabilities. The focus was to be on  “Child Ministers for Disability Concerns”.

The CBM-NCN project was initially for the two States of Kerela and Tamilnadu.

Special effort was taken to reach out to various institutions involved with persons with disabilities. In the Little Flower School for the hearing-impaired in Chennai, for example, five children’s parliaments were organized, not on the basis of the classes, but on the basis of the residential areas they come from.

Special exposure visits were arranged to institutions like St. Joseph Eye hospital at Trichy which enable children to alert others in the area with need for check up, and the availability of  remedial equipments.

Baiju, a differently challenged child, ended up as the State Child Minister for Disability Concerns. 

Special efforts were taken to get children with visual and hearing challenges to follow and participate in the meetings of the children’s parliaments as happened in the State level parliament of children at Chennai.

Saravan, 8, a special child remained aloof. He did not like to play with other children. He had no companions to share concerns. He could not walk or involve in activities on his own. Other children too neglected him. Then came a Neighborhood Parliament of Children in his place. Saravan became a member. The other child members began to relate to him and take care of him. The new situation brought about positive changes in him.

At, Keezhottivakkam, Tamilnadu, Children made accessible a Braille books library for the benefit of persons with visual disability.

Children  also took up advocacy measures on behalf of the disabled.

Resolutions passed at the State Parliament of Children included classes on behalf of persons with disabilities and circulated to the press and taken personally to various political representatives and authorities. A team led by the then State Child Finance Minister, Sornalakshmi, met the Speaker of Tamilnadu State Assembly and placed their demands.

The above mentioned Sornalakshmi, a girl with visual disability, was limited to her home and school. Children’s Parliament brought her out to wider world. She eventually became Prime Minster of Tamilnadu Pondicherry State Parliament of Children. She led an advocacy team at State level and was prominent at advocacy teams at national levels. And, still 13 years old made a big impact at various events during the 57th Session of the UN Commission on Status of Women in New York in March 2013.

A child with disability, who could tend to feel diffident and excluded, could feel affirmed that the children around and the neighborhood community is reaching out to him or her. The smallness of the forum could make her or him feel comfortable to talk, to put points across and make a contribution. With the confidence and competence gained this way in the neighborhood parliament, he or she could gradually expand her reach to the village level parliament and later on to panchayat, block, district  and State levels.

The child parliamentarians eventually graduate to become youth parliaments and  youth ministers and still later adult neighborhood parliaments and adult ministers.

It is left  to anybody’s guess what we could see happening if throughout the world every neighborhood of about thirty families have some three such  “ministers” to alert the  neighborhood to be proactive with regard to the needs of the disabled. And if these people are federated through representative networks at various levels.

No person with any disability will then go unnoticed and unattended to. They will be reached out to. Both the territorial inclusiveness and the smallness of the size of the neighborhood forums will ensure that.

Especially when it comes to the need for inclusion of the disabled enabling them to involve and make their contribution in ever widening circles and thus effectively enter into the mainstream, neighborhood-based federation of small-sized forums, offers the best scope.

The very existence of such accessible and well-connected forums meant new opportunities, scopes and challenges for children with disabilities both as regard inclusion and empowerment.

Authors: Edwin M John & Swarna Lakshmi Ravi                                                           March 25, 2013
Neighborhood Communiy Network (NCN)

News Update

A consultation on Neighbourhoodization was held at Chetanalaya Social Service Center, New Delhi on 24th September, 2014

Holistic Child Development India, Pune conducted a two-day programme on Governance by Children: Federating Children's Parliament in Madhya Pradesh on 30th September 2014 to 1st October 2014 , Pune

NCN president meets the Neighbourhood Communities in Kanyakumari District

view pictures...

Contact Information

Neighbourhood Community Network (NCN),

Montfort Social Institute (MSI)

Church Colony Road, Montfort Nagar, Church Colony, Uppal, Hyderabad, Telangana 500039, India.

Phone: +91 4652 278223
Mob: +91 94426 48224