MUMBAI, (GNI): Have you ever wondered what little children think is important? What matters to them and how the world should look with their perspective? The Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Municipal School in Lower Parel was the hub of excited chatter and camaraderie as its auditorium filled with kids from over 250 BMC schools today. They came together in a unique advocacy workshop called Balaparishad, organised by Salaam Bombay Foundation, an NGO that works to empower children in Mumbai’s slums.
The Balaparishad is being organised for the last 10 years, on the lines of a Parliament Assembly. Each year, a significant issue that affects the country’s youth, is selected for a discussion involving a panel of senior government officials and the school children. This year the children discussed the menace of tobacco, which has the potential to seriously affect their future and indeed the future of the country. Tough questions were posted to senior officials from the BMC health department, Food and Drug Administration, Mumbai Police regarding effective implementation of tobacco related laws.
The children presented the officials with a charter of their demands, and stressed on making city schools tobacco-free. The intensity of the discussion belied the tender age of the participants, as the kids convinced the officials and other stakeholders that tobacco-free schools were the need of the hour. They also cited other problems like the presence of tobacco shops within a radius of 100 yards of school premises. They suggested that the school curriculum include information about the ill-effects of tobacco.
The officials, impressed with the genuineness of the youngsters to secure a better future, accepted all their recommendations. Their recommendations will now be sent to the State Education Ministry for further action.
Salaam Bombay Foundation has been fighting a crusade to guard future generations against tobacco. It runs several projects on life skills development in BMC schools. Select students from these schools then go on to form student councils known as ‘Balapanchayats‘, which meet regularly to create awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco and to seek out remedial solutions to the menace.
Amongst the panel present this year were Pravin Kumar Patil, DCP, Enforcement, Neelam Kadam, Deputy Executive Health Officer, Chandrashekar Salunke, Joint Commissioner FDA, Dr. Krishna Methekar, Food Safety Officer, FDA and Prakash Charate, Deputy Education officer, Mumbai amongst others.
According to Tshering Bhutia, General Manager, Tobacco Control & Advocacy, Salaam Bombay Foundation, “Since the past 10 years, this platform has been instrumental in creating agents of change who have brought the grave issue of tobacco use to the fore. It’s an opportunity for top implementing authorities of various government departments to gauge the changes students and youngsters wants to see. The efforts taken by these children have been highly successful in addressing several issues and conveying their ideas for the need for a safer and healthier future for them.”ends