Nawalparasi, Nepal, 24 December 2013 – It was an issue that not many people in Pragatinagar Village Development Committee had thought about.
Female students of the VDC in Nawalparasi district of southern Nepal had to drop everything and go back home whenever they had their menstruation in school.
“It was very difficult and embarrassing for us.” said Pratima Dhakal, 16. “It also had negative impact in our studies.”
Fortunately for Pratima and thousands of girls like her, the child representatives in a local health management committee brought the sensitive issue forward. The committee then decided to request the VDC to allocate funds to purchase sanitary pads and make them available in all 16 schools there.
The VDC not only allocated funds but also appointed a female teacher in each school as the point of contact for distribution of the pads.
“Now we don’t have to leave school,” Pratima said. “Our studies is also not affected.”
The scenario is one of many examples of how children and adults are working together in the VDC across multiple sectors to ensure children’s participation in local planning and budgeting.
On Dec. 24, Pragatinagar was declared as the first child friendly VDC in Nepal in line with the Government's National Strategy on Child Friendly Local Governance (CFLG), approved by the Cabinet in 2011. UNICEF has worked closely with the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development and has provided technical and financial support for CFLG since the inception.
CFLG mainstreams child rights in the policies structures processes of local governance as well as promotes and facilitates the prioritization of children rights in planning and budgeting. It also ensures participation of children in these processes, such that their voices are heard. CFLG also provides platform for sectoral convergence.
Under CFLG strategy, a VDC, municipality or district has to achieve at least 80 percent of the targets specified in the 27 CFLG indicators to be declared as child friendly. These indicators include various aspects of child survival, protection, development and participation such as immunization, breast feeding, access to safe drinking water, birth registration, establishment and functioning of child club networks, child club representations in local committees, etc.
Pragatinagar has allocated 15 percent of their budget for children and ensured that all schools have separate toilets for boys and girls. The VDC also has 100 percent immunization coverage, literacy and birth registration. All Pragatinagar households use iodized salt and there are no instances of child marriage. These are all evidences of the VDC’s commitment and dedication towards CFLG.
Creating a space and mechanism to listen to children and ensuring their meaningful participation is a core element of CFLG. Nepal is one of the few countries in the region where the government has ensured mechanisms to listen to children at the deepest level of local governance. About 80,000 children from child clubs are represented in the 40,000 Ward Citizens Forums (WCFS) of the Local Governance and Community Development Programme (LGCDP), and in the 3915 VDC level integrated planning committees – the key committee that makes the decisions on the allocation of block grants; and in the CFLG committees at district, municipal and VDC level.
CFLG has also been mainstreamed into the Government’s broader Local Governance and Community Development Programme (LGCDP). The Government of Nepal has made children and their rights a priority and has earmarked US$40 million per year from block grants that goes into budgeting and planning for children, women and the disadvantaged. Within Nepal, CFLG is well underway in 39 districts, 15 municipalities and 300 Village Development Committees and is being rolled out nationally through LGCDP Phase 2.
But policy unless practiced is of no value. And Pragatinagar VDC has led by example. Child club members are participating in all nine Ward Citizen Forums, in the integrated planning Committee in the all the school management committees (15), health management committees and the CFLG VDC committee.
The celebratory declaration event was attended by UNICEF Representative Hanaa Singer, Hon. Vidhyadhar Mallik, the Minister of Federal Affairs and Local Development, other government and UNICEF officials and thousands of residents.
“It is the advocacy done by you that has resulted in this great achievement,” said Ms. Singer to Pragatinagar children. “Also, thanks to your great adults in this village who have listened to you and have allowed you to be change agents.”
With integration of child friendly initiatives in its local governance, Nepal is considered as one of the 3 pioneering nations in the world, along with the Philippines and Brazil, in terms of CFLG.
“I would like to congratulate everyone in Pragatinagar on achieving this milestone,” Hon. Vidhyadhar Mallik said. “I am hopeful that you will fulfil your commitment to continue ensuring that Pragatinagar remains a child friendly VDC.”
CFLG positively impacts Pragatinagar children
CFLG practices in Pragatinagar have allowed children like Pratima to be integral part of the local governance.
Pratima is the chairperson of the VDC’s Child Club Network and Jagriti Club, the first legally registered child club in Nepal. She is also involved in health management committee, integrated planning committee and ward citizen forum (the VDC comprises of 9 wards).
With child representatives in all local planning committees, she said that children’s voices are being heard throughout Pragatinagar. A request by Mukti Child Club of Ward No. 7 for a park for children resulted in the VDC providing land for a children’s park as well as allocating NRs. 70,000 towards the project. Similarly, requests from girl child representatives in school management committees and district child club network ensured up to NRs. 30,000 for construction of separate toilets for girls and boys in all schools
She also said that CFLG helps develop communication and leadership skills in children from early on.
“Earlier I used to be scared to speak in front of adults,” she said. “Now I can confidently present my ideas and opinions.”
Arman Miya also feels the same way.
The 15-year-old is the secretary of the district-level child club network.
He said that earlier he would hesitate to ask questions in class even if he didn’t understand the lesson. But following his experiences in child clubs, he has become confident and doesn’t hesitate to ask questions in class.
“This has definitely had a positive impact in my studies,” he said.
Positive experience with CFLG in Pragatinagar has encouraged both Pratima and Arman to decide to work in the field of child rights and protection when they grow up.
“By being involved in child clubs, I learned a lot,” Arman said. “I would like to share this with other children as well.”
Beginnings of CFLG in Nepal
Pragatinagar’s journey towards a child friendly VDC had its beginning in the early 2000 when UNICEF Nepal with support of partners like the Norwegian government and others, started working with women and children in the grassroots under the principles of decentralized planning in 23 districts, of which Nawalparasi was one. The experiences that UNICEF garnered through programs like Decentralized Action for Children and Women in Nepal have fed into the CFLG strategy. This national strategy has provided coherent guidance nationally and allowed Pragatinagar to achieve the CFLG milestone.
Pragatinagar resident Laxmi Ghimire Acharya remembers the time when she volunteered as a community mobilizer going door-to-door weighing babies, collecting data about which households had toilets, spreading awareness about the importance of immunization, etc.
Today, the 38-year-old is employed as a village facilitator by the VDC. She is being provided medical insurance and a bicycle, which helps her travel throughout the VDC.
The local ownership of the programme, combined with progressive adults who are ready to lend an ear to children, is one of the reasons of the success of CFLG in Pragatinagar, according to Mrs. Acharya.
UNICEF’s commitment towards CFLG continuity
Though Pragatinagar has achieved a lot in terms of CFLG, the VDC and the rest of the nation still has a long way to go, said Ms. Singer.
“Today is just the beginning. Today we declare one VDC as child friendly,” she said. “We hope to create a cascade movement so that we can turn more VDCs child friendly and turn municipalities into child friendly and ultimately create a child friendly nation.”
At the event, she called on all children and adults to work towards making Nepal a country fit for children.
“Like you made your VDC child friendly, promise to be the trail blazer to make Nepal also child friendly country,” she said.
Ms. Singer also expressed UNICEF’s commitment towards continued support in ensuring the rights of children by providing intensive support to CFLG in the 15 priority districts and further support roll in all 75 districts, in collaboration with the Government’s LGCDP Phase Two, where CFLG is a core component.