Children, Youth and Environments 18(2), 2008

Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation in Local Decision-Making
Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Anirban Pal

Citation: Pal, Anirban. (2008). “Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation in Local Decision-Making.” Children, Youth and Environments 18(2): 197-205. Retrieved [date] from


This paper reports on an innovative initiative in Karnataka, India, now adopted by the state government for replication, to involve children in regular local public decision-making and governance. Started by an NGO and a union of child workers, it set up elected children’s councils in several villages to address children’s issues and successfully lobbied for action to improve children’s social and physical environments, using education, empowerment and tactful political maneuvering. The conclusion considers lessons from the experience to date.

Keywords: participation, local government, working children’s union, rural India

© 2008 Children, Youth and Environments

There is a representative for each interest group: working children. Makkala panchayats are children's councils comprised of representatives who are elected by all the children in the panchayat between 6 and 18 years of age.Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation. The uniqueness of the makkala panchayat is its democratic and proportional representation system. and domestic violence. empowerment. the capital city of the state of Karnataka. They identified the source of the problem to be the many local arrack (locally brewed liquor) shops. children with disabilities. school-going children. and where all children's rights are recognized and realized. India. as were the associated problems for their households such as economic deprivation. conceived as a parallel government of children working closely with village councils. for. which is a comprehensive program of community development aimed at creating an environment where children are not involved in any form of work that is detrimental to their development. Makkala panchayats. The community is primarily agrarian. However.. 198 Nandrolli is a remote village community of about 80 households located within the Keradi panchayat’s 1 jurisdiction in Karnataka.000). Alur. Alcoholism was widespread among the men in this village. Rather. The CWC has been working in the rural areas of Karnataka through the Toofan Panchayats Programme. The children accomplished this through education. and so on. and Belvi in Udupi district in 2002 (The Concerned for Working Children 2003). The first children’s gram sabhas (councils for village clusters) under this initiative took place in Keradi. some of these shops belonged to members of the local panchayat. Very few adults appeared to see alcohol as the source of problems. and tactful political maneuvering. and of working children that is facilitated by the CWC and that has a statewide membership of about 13. . untouched by the developments in technology and wealth associated with Bangalore. 1 A panchayat is an elected village council and is the lowest administrative unit in India. even when they did. Children here walk several miles to access schooling and health facilities. Alcohol was available easily at most stores and even at doorsteps from vendors on bicycles. social ostracism. the makkala panchayat in Keradi identified alcoholism as one of the most important problems that children had to deal with in their community. were introduced in Karnataka in 1995 as a pilot project by the NGO Concerned for Working Children (CWC) in collaboration with the Bhima Sangha (a union by. Among other issues. the children of the village took it upon themselves to address this issue. “children’s local councils”). The program works to empower all community stakeholders by creating partnerships and encouraging participation (The Concerned for Working Children 2003). They did this as part of a unique experiment to institutionalize the inclusion of children’s voices in local decision-making through the formation of makkala panchayats (literally.. Someone had to take the power and/or money away from them and break the nexus of politics and money through tact or force. they did not speak up.

One child stated. But the adults. In addition. injuries and death. like health problems. “There is unnecessary expenditure on medicines and doctors on account of alcoholism. As a result. “We are teased by other children and teachers who say ‘your father is an alcoholic’..” In some houses. the children were able to identify several other ill effects of alcoholism. This request was a severe blow to the children’s efforts. the children implemented a “Clean the Village” campaign. books and stationery. which amounted to Rs. Therefore. Mr. They approached a taluk panchayat (the next higher level of rural self-governance) member. they decided to keep this information to themselves to be used appropriately as an effective political maneuvering tool. 2 One U. and the entire village were shocked by the information the children presented. other invitees.99. Nagappa Kotari. Children of the village reported to the children’s council that alcoholism was the cause of much disharmony and violence at home and loss of income and reputation in society.S.Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation.1. dollar is approximately equivalent to Rs. teachers. Children of alcoholics were quoted in a Concerned for Working Children report (2003) saying. children said that they did not have sufficient food.45. “We are not able to study at home..000 per month and Rs. They presented him with the information on the costs and rates of alcohol use during a village Independence Day celebration. and girls do not get good bridegrooms due to the alcoholism of family members. the children knew that most members of the gram panchayat were not supportive of their agenda. 199 The children’s council members began by collecting qualitative evidence to demonstrate the adverse effects of drunkenness and ensuing problems for themselves. They insisted that the children present hard numbers to support their claim that alcoholism was indeed a serious problem within the community before considering any public intervention. They crunched the numbers: 300 packets of arrack at Rs. The taluk panchayat members. the headmaster. We do not get money for tuition fees. Families get into huge debts. Numbers on alcohol usage at the community level were not readily available.11 per packet 2 added up to Rs.” The children had hoped that their documentation of the problems associated with alcoholism would allow them to have a voice in village-level decision-making that would eventually lead to addressing some of the problems they faced in their lives. That was no small amount for the poor community. adults. They found that an average of 300 packets of arrack were consumed every day. and kept a detailed account of them. especially the panchayat members.” and. The makkala panchayat discussed the reasons for adults’ apathy and decided that children’s issues would only be addressed if they presented their problems strictly in terms of monetary loss. who was very sympathetic to their cause. and their communities.2 million per year. From their previous experience. did not take the children’s presentation of the problem seriously enough. They collected every empty sachet of arrack from around all the arrack shops in Nandrolli for an entire week. .3300 per day.

). 200 The financial loss for the community due to alcohol consumption was overwhelming. The matter was thus deferred and licensed liquor shops remain open.. Their members have conducted research. The panchayat president diplomatically evaded the matter by stating that a memorandum had to be submitted in order to close the licensed shops. There was a nearly unanimous public demand that the authorities take the matter seriously. It was decided that the panchayat would issue ban notices immediately. their members have developed their own protocol. It contains guidelines regarding their reservation policy for different marginalized groups (such as children with disabilities. children with disabilities and girl children—through their organized participation. made interventions on the basis of the information. The order also makes it mandatory for panchayats to report back on actions taken to address issues raised by the children (Sahu 2007). This has not only been critical in children’s development but has also made local governments accountable to children. criteria for the selection of a . The state also showcased the success of the makkala panchayats to the central government minister for rural development and panchayati raj. 2007). and procedures for conducting Gram Sabhas at the village-cluster level. one that was politically difficult and sensitive since most of the owners of the licensed shops were from the upper caste (Shettys).Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation. including those in senior positions. The Karnataka government’s panchayati raj (local government) ministry institutionalized the initiative by issuing an order (638-2007. However. Since the inception of makkala panchayats in 1995. the sale of alcohol through all unlicensed means was to be prohibited. etc. had taken any action. the adults. This was effective: many of the unlicensed vendors were shut down. The gravity of the issue struck them forcefully. What we see in this story is the emergence of organizations of children becoming significant actors in local decision-making within an environment that has traditionally provided little scope for children’s participation. had not recognized this to be an issue of concern and none of them. working children. making it mandatory for all panchayats within the state to provide children a platform to put their concerns forward directly to elected representatives at special children’s gram sabhas. Both the Bhima Sangha children’s union and the makkala panchayats are playing proactive roles as change agents in the community. procedures for holding their meetings at the ward level and the village level. who was equally impressed by the initiative. the fight goes on (The Concerned for Working Children 2003). The ultimate goal of the program is to develop a mechanism for establishing accountability of elected representatives to the children of their communities and to affirm the right of children to participate in decision-making processes based on democratic principles. The entire gathering also felt ashamed that the children had taken the lead. dated October 30. This protocol consists of rules related to elections. But. As a first step. and have lobbied officials at various levels for developments in their communities. they.. It is set up to solve the problems they face in their area— with a special focus on the problems of marginalized children. closing the licensed shops was another matter.

Isloor Panchayat. their readiness to help and guide them in times of crisis and need. In addition. There was a 92 percent voter turnout during this historic event (Kurian 2004). in celebration of Child Labor Day on April 30. information. A total of 16 candidates (all below the age of 18) stood for election. The voters’ list included 11 schools. the CWC offered a four-day training workshop for Bhima Sangha and makkala panchayat members. 3 and the functioning of their gram panchayat. the protocol provides a framework for children to monitor their own elected members. Figure 1. ten candidates were elected to be members of the makkala panchayat council. 2004. For instance. The concept of a “friend of children” or Makkala Mitra evolved. . the makkala panchayat election was held in Isloor for the first time in 2004. Personal development and empowerment training are key strategies used to prepare these children for their role as advocates.. submits her ballot paper to be sealed to presiding election officials during the makkala panchayat election Source: Kurian 2004. © 2004 The Concerned for Working Children 3 CWC recognized that children need at least one adult person in the panchayat with whom they can establish immediate contact and who they trust. and techniques to reach out to and empower more children in their community. 201 president and the term of the makkala panchayat. Makkala Mitra also have the responsibility to ensure that children in need receive any needed assistance from the government or from NGOs.Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation. These individuals are selected by the children themselves on the basis of their sensitivity to children's needs and most importantly. covering 1.300 school-going children and 103 working children. The purpose of the workshop was to provide a core group of children with the necessary skills.. The children regularly inform them about the problems they face. For example. A student of the Chipgee Primary school. their Makkala Mitra (children's friend). Of these.

the adults will have to be responsible. health. Challenges with Implementation The state government order to set up makkala panchayats in every village in Karnataka must be properly implemented if it is not to fall by the wayside and . many of their long-standing issues have been addressed in a democratic manner. The children’s activities have also had an impact on adult citizens. They have formed their own organizations and advocate on behalf of issues that concern them at various local. It is their political. However. working children. For instance. government officials. participation is not just an opportunity to take part in meetings. Children have inspired adults. the makkala panchayat members advocate not only for their own rights but also demand attention to the issues that impact their family members. migrant families. The district administration. The child representatives serve as resource persons in capacity-building programs for elected members of the panchayats. to be consulted occasionally. hardly anyone had bothered to ask us what we thought or felt.. This is the first time we had such an opportunity. to participate. and are proactively addressing these issues at several levels. (The Concerned for Working Children 2003) Children’s participation in the grama sabhas and the makkala grama sabhas have demonstrated their significance to the entire community and revitalized community participation in the region. and other NGOs. child labor. giving a new meaning to education (Acharya 2006). especially women. We will make them responsible.. a 15-yearold Bhima Sangha member named Uchengemma drew on her fellow union members to convince her family to cancel her forced marriage. the children are working to address the issue of child marriage more generally. Rather. Until now. schools. peers. and communities. For the children involved. national. This information is used to plan strategies and lobby for specific actions in their village panchayat. female feticide. Vice President of the Keradi children's panchayat. police. We can solve some of our problems. and cultural participation that has empowered them to realize their self-worth.Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation. These could be related to education. The children who are associated with makkala panchayats have taken up the issues of child marriage. and HIV/AIDS. and international forums. social. Thus. 202 Members of the makkala panchayats use various research tools to find out the issues and needs of children in their communities. or infrastructure needs such as footbridges. or to sing a song at an opening ceremony. participation helps them to advocate for their own needs and transform their lives. Fourteen-year-old Sukumar. the police and the local panchayats have joined the makkala panchayats in fighting this tough battle. such as conducting door-to-door surveys to obtain accurate information about children in the village. and nursery schools. and they are determined to go on until there are no more child marriages in their district (The Concerned for Working Children 2002). For the others. represents the feelings of the children when he said. Adults recognize that due to children’s participation.

The unique socio-economic factors and polity of . 2006 circular that mandated gram panchayats to hold makkala gram sabhas once every year. Although it is vital to inculcate democratic values in young children. Adults must be trained to make the best use of the system. the current government order links gram sabhas to panchayats’ planning processes and program implementation. secretaries. Gram panchayat members and government officials involved in enabling the special children’s gram sabhas should be provided with information regarding children’s rights and the ways to address violations of these rights. setting projects in motion.. some were not very effective (Shenoy 2007). Likewise. and taking child-related issues more seriously" (Sahu 2007)." Kavita Ratna of the CWC says. Panchayats are now required to provide follow-up reports on the actions they have taken to address the issues raised by children.. Lessons Learned Replicating the successful model of these special children’s gram sabhas throughout the state and beyond will involve a high degree of commitment and cooperation among all the involved parties. but urban children also need to be included in the process of self-government. The possibility of holding urban children’s sabhas should be explored with NGOs working with children and city corporations and municipalities (Sahu 2007). and headmasters of schools as part of the initiative (Shenoy 2007). 203 merely become yet another well-intentioned but ineffective measure. There were problems in replicating the initiative in villages that did not receive the initial training and groundwork needed for the makkala panchayats to function well. "Panchayat members are now preparing databases. "We have already seen it in action. adults. This was due largely to a failure to meaningfully involve children. their effectiveness has varied considerably across Karnataka. Only enlightened adults who probe and question the status quo and consistently review the situation can act responsibly towards developing a healthy socio-economic basis for democracy to thrive. In order to prevent adult apathy. Critics are concerned that the emphasis on children’s participation may be misconstrued as a dilution of adult responsibility. presidents of school development bodies. The concept of makkala panchayat was conceived as a village-centered program to address the problems faced by children in rural Karnataka.Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation. must be trained to appreciate their importance and to conduct the proceedings in ways that enhance their impact (Sahu 2007). especially those responsible for facilitating the gram sabhas. Despite the government’s September 18. Children need special guidance in order to derive optimum benefit from the gram sabhas. thereby reducing the event to a mere ritual. adult community leaders must not make this an excuse to shirk their responsibilities and grow apathetic towards child-related issues. Although a number of such gram sabhas were conducted. The CWC now intends to train gram panchayat presidents. They need to be made aware of the importance of enabling children’s participation in local self-government. Intensive and systematic capacity-building is required to enable children to effectively use these gram sabhas to realize their rights through active participation and cooperation with adults in authority.

the CWC’s process of empowering children to be agents of change is a key to the success of this program. The meetings should be conducted in a lively and interesting way to motivate children to attend and discuss their problems honestly and without inhibition. The current government order makes it mandatory for panchayats to report back on the actions they have taken. A non-judgmental and safe environment must be ensured for all children (Sahu 2007). in order to transfer information.. For more information on makkala panchayats or on the work of The Concerned for Working Children. Gram panchayat members and government officials involved in enabling the special children’s gram sabhas should be provided with information regarding children’s rights and addressing violations of these rights. 204 each village pose challenges that will have to be carefully considered.. and their comfort level in working with one another. ensuring a degree of compliance. please visit their website: http://www. and the access to and use of financial. For the makkala panchayats and the children’s gram sabhas to be successful. Each problem will have to be tackled with patience and imagination to arrive at equitable solutions that are acceptable to the entire community (Sahu 2007). they need to be inclusive in their scope with a greater emphasis on bringing children with special needs into their fold. such as migrant children or children out of school. The empowerment addressed three main areas: obtaining of strength or power through democratic. commonality of their issues and concerns. panchayats can show lack of funds as an excuse for Anirban Pal is an academic staff member at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) in Rotterdam.workingchild. A lesson to be drawn from this is that the role of the NGO needs to be redefined as that of a catalyst and partner in development. This helped the CWC to tap into the children’s own potential to mobilize them for a common cause. inclusive organization and leadership. The children fell into natural groupings and the CWC did not impose their thinking on them. He is an urban planner specializing in . Part of the public budget at the panchayat and gram sabha level should therefore be made available for the children’s councils so that they are able to fund their own initiatives. Finally. without taking the role of a leader that steers the process in any particular direction. training and resources. The CWC allowed the children to form organizations based on their needs.Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation. the ownership and tactful use of information. They need to be made aware of the importance of enabling children’s participation in local self-government. However. financial resources must be specifically allocated towards addressing the issues raised by children. human. Adults also must be trained to make the best use of the system. as well as monitor and evaluate the process. and material resources (Reddy and Ratna 2002). Likewise. Such a role would also ensure that the model is easily replicable even without the presence of a strong NGO.

"Beyond Formal Education. and local government institutions.thehindu. Kurian.. environmental justice. Children Speak Up. Bangalore: The Concerned for Working Children. Anirban is in no way connected to the work of the CWC or the makkala panchayats other than being an interested outside observer. Bangalore: The Concerned for Working Children. Sahu. Mangalore. References Acharya. "Children Protest against Child Marriage . D.htm. Online Edition. S. — (2003). J. He has conducted research in India. democratic decentralization. and K. Pune.They Seek Your Support." India Together.htm." Protagonism. Journey in Children's Participation." Protagonism (2008). Ratna (2002). N. and the Netherlands on a number of different issues ranging from urban land tenure. (2007). 205 urban governance. (2007). metropolitan decision-making processes. India: InfoChange. Available from: http://www.. M. Bangalore: India Together. the United States. This field report is based on information from secondary sources.indiaseminar. housing. China. "Little by Little.Makkala Panchayats: Institutionalization of Children’s Participation. 14 November 2007." The Hindu. (2006). (2004). . Kenya. Keradi Gets Better. "Makkala Gram Sabhas to Be Made Meaningful. and utilization of research in public policy and planning. "Makkala Panchayat Elections in Shenoy." Available from: http://www. The Concerned for Working Children (2002).

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