While going through the schedule of projects implemented by Non-Governmental Organizations in the north, in terms of the task I was given of coordinating assistance to make it more effective, I found a number of different projects to establish Children’s Clubs, with a sum of Rs 1000 granted for each Club. I was surprised by this, and even more surprised when I found that the Divisional Secretaries concerned had no idea about these allocations.

However, following a helpful report I received from the Divisional Secretary of the Vavuniya Town Division, I asked others too for records of Children’s Clubs in their areas, and found that a number had been set up. I also found errorneous my initial assumption that the projects were not very coherent, and could not serve any great purpose. I had asked Save the Children, which had been instrumental in developing one Project to establish Children’s Clubs, for details, and received a very clear exposition of the initiative. While clearly there needed to be better liaison with the Divisional Secretaries, this had in fact been envisaged in the Project, as was clear in the note Save the Children submitted on the subject, making clear how important the concept was.

Most of what follows is taken from that note, which Save the Children, which had been the international NGO Representative on the Civil Society Partners for Reconciliation that has been meeting in my office over the last year, kindly supplied at my request. It was entitled Children as Agents for Change which indicates the importance of providing space for children to enjoy themselves whilst also learning to take on responsibilities and care for their own lives.

‘Children’s clubs and societies are not a new concept in Sri Lanka particularly within schools. Literary societies, activity clubs, environment clubs etc have enabled children with a particular interest to get together and explore and gain experience from a wide variety of sources. Children’s clubs in the present day context do much more than engage in fun activities. Children have proved to be change agents in their communities.

Children’s Clubs in the Development Context

In the development context, setting up children’s clubs (CC) outside the school has primarily been an entry point to a village, where the focus on children brings the community together. These CCs function in communities outside of school hours and all children are welcome to join. Many development agencies such as Child Fund, Worldvision, Plan Sri Lanka, Forut, Save the Children and their local counterparts such as Sarvodaya, YMCA etc set up and lead CCs in many parts of the country. In addition to this, community based organizations with a focus on children also support children’s clubs. A majority of CCs in Sri Lankan villages are focused on fun activities such as singing songs, play acting, conducting quiz programmes and indoor and outdoor games. However children also get involved in Shramadana and community voluntary work, and organizing events such as new year games, religious events and children’s day celebrations.

Children’s Clubs take the formal approach of selecting office bearers through proposing and secondment and such office bearers serve a term of one year. Meetings are held regularly and minutes are taken. Most children’s clubs do not have a permanent place to meet and often meet at the temple, church, community hall, someone’s house and even under a tree. Members of the CCs pay a monthly membership fee which allows them to get stationery and other material to run activities unless an organization offers them support with material. The management of these clubs mirrors the function of societies and associations run by adults.

Children’s Clubs supported by the State

More recently the Department of Probation and Childcare Services (DPCS) has taken up the idea to help also with its role of protection and care for children. Since 2009 it has set up children’s clubs at the Grama Nildhari division level in order to promote child rights. The DPCS has a total of 3450 children’s clubs registered at the Divisional Secretariats island-wide with a total of 103,500 child members. A membership fee of 2/= rupees is required monthly to be a member. These CCs are supported by the Child Rights Promotion officers while the Grama Niladhari, Samurdhi Officer and village leadership (such as Chief priest of the village, principal of the school) function as patrons.

The Children’s Council was established on 1st of October 2009 in an effort to uphold Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which promotes the child’s right to express his or her opinion and to have that opinion taken into consideration in any matter or procedure affecting the child. Through this initiative the Department of Probation and Childcare Service has promoted the National Convention provisions of ensuring Children’s Rights for participation and also exercising their right to join or set up associations. Under the auspices of the Department, Children’s Clubs have been formed as group institutions at village level, throughout the Island. These children’s clubs have been formed at Divisional and District level.

As the apex of this project of forming children’s clubs, the National children’s Council has been established at the national level. The National Children’s Council is formed with office bearers and members of the district children’s councils while the district children’s council is formed with office bearers of divisional children’s councils. Office bearers of village level children’s clubs form the divisional children’s council.’

There is more in the note which I will expand on later. The concept is indeed noteworthy, and I found that some of the Projects I had been concerned about were in fact part of a larger initiative to protect children promoted by the National Child Protection Agency, which has done much in recent years in the North. Identifying children at risk of institutionalization, and providing livelihood support to families to ensure children can be kept at home is one aspect of this, while developing forums for raising awareness of such situations, through Children’s Clubs, has helped to focus attention where it is needed.

The Island 6 August 2012 – http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=58521

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