The second International Assembly of ECPAT International, working against commercial sexual exploitation of children, was held from September 4 to 7 at Hotel Ambassador, Bangkok. Sangeet Shirodkar, a student of Class X, Apeejay School, had the chance to attend the conference, and was the youngest delegate to do so. Here is what he had to say:
It all started one fine July afternoon.
I had a bad day at school. As I stepped out of the gates, I switched on my cellphone and suddenly it started to buzz… It was someone from Sanlaap, an NGO working against trafficking in South Asia. They had planned to nominate me as ECPAT’s Asian Youth Representative!
Passport hassles over, I was off on September 2. My first international flight — all alone. I reached Bangkok at 7 pm. The youth co-coordinator of ECPAT, Igor, was there to receive me. We (the youth representatives) had a meeting lined-up at 9 pm. Besides Igor and myself, Marija Masanovic, a 25-year-old from Eastern Europe had arrived. We spoke about ourselves and the situation in our respective regions.
The next morning, we were let off for a bit of sight-seeing, after which, we regrouped at the hotel. Sandra Atler, 24, from west Europe and Aurelio Suero, 20, from the Americas joined us. Sandra, who had just returned from the UN Earth Summit, turned out to be the most experienced. Aurelio is an educator and animator while Maria conducts workshops in her region, spreading awareness on how to combat exploitation of children. I, on the other hand, am a student journalist. We would all be contending the elections for the post of ECPAT Youth Representative.
The International Assembly officially began on September 4, with Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand Korn Dabbaransi as keynote speaker. The youth board had the chance to meet him before he congratulated ECPAT for its effort in combating commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). He announced a new special police force to monitor CSEC, which can even arrest corrupt police officials.
The first thematic discussion was ‘Focus on Commercial Sexual Exploitation’. Then, the Assembly met for administrative amendments and resolutions to be passed. Ron O’Grady, honorary president, ECPAT, was the speaker for the evening. He recalled how ECPAT was formed 10 years ago at a consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Horror stories of a young Filipino girl sexually assaulted and killed by an Austrian tourist, an American running a child shelter in Thailand, using them to entertain his paedophile friends, poor families selling their daughters to buy a television set all came out... That meeting turned professionals into activists.
A theatre presentation on how minors had been trafficked from Myanmar was organised during dinner, after which the youth board met again. We all agreed that whoever was to be elected youth rep should be spokesperson for the group. We would work as a team with a common agenda. But when Igor told us at midnight that we had to cut short our speeches to just three minutes instead of the initially-allotted 10, the mayhem began. I was up till 3.30 am to prepare for the elections the next day.
On D-Day, we all spoke of the need for youth participation, and described what we expect from adults — full independence to make decisions related to youth. It was overwhelming when the gentleman representing Pakistan came up to me and said “Son, you were too good… I am voting for you.”
After the vote count, Aurelio was named Youth Representative, a post he will hold for three years. I am, also for the next three years, the Asia Youth Representative.
We all attended a youth participation workshop on the need to involve children in decisions regarding child rights. Adults have a duty to take children’s opinions into account, and to take them seriously. Child participation in communication means more than having children wear a campaign T-shirt. It means involving them in planning, delivering and evaluating, regarding them as partners, rather than dependants. Are the adults and decision-makers prepared to give us kids a role in decisions that affect us'
Work groups on things like development of child protection units, trafficking of children for sexual purposes, monitoring mechanisms for CSEC were also held. On Day III, Sompop Jantraka, an expert in combating trafficking, spoke of his experience in saving children in Thailand. I also attended a session on “Internet safety and hotlines”.
Talks were held with Interpol officials, diplomats, Unicef, government representatives. Feedback sessions on the working groups concluded the International Assembly, after a joint declaration was presented by us — the newly-formed ECPAT Children and Youth Advisory Committee. Some policies adopted by the committee include promotion of youth participation in our respective regions, to link existing youth groups with the ECPAT network, to work on all issues related to exploitation of children, with a focus on CSEC and to build communication between the ‘privileged’ and ‘underprivileged’.
Joint-board and regional meetings followed, where the youth representatives were given equal status. At the ECPAT-Asia meet, coordination was an issue of discussion, where cross-border trafficking, early marriage, and paedophiles from western countries are problem areas.
But back home, the work has just begun. The more people that get involved in the project, the better. Those interested in finding out more can write in to [email protected] com, or to Sanlaap at 38B Mahanirban Road, Calcutta 700029.
Feast of fests
It was a pre-puja bonanza this weekend, with two leading schools lining up their annual fests. First up, on Friday and Saturday, was Ambience 2002, Carmel High School’s annual convention with the theme “challenge to perfection”. As Sayani Bhattacharya of the organising club put it: “We wanted to give perfectionists a chance to compete in a healthy environment.” South Point, St Lawrence, Apeejay, Birla High, M.B. Girls’, St Thomas’ Boys, St Thomas’ Girls and Don Bosco Park Circus were all there.
The first day featured the regular rounds of quiz, medley, mock parliament and eastern music. Day II saw antakshari, western music, fashion show and choreographed dances. Numbers like Kaliyon ka chaman and Ishq samundar struck the right chord. Don Bosco were declared winners, with Birla High coming second.
Next up was Matrix ’02 of M.P. Birla Foundation. With events like Matrix wits, Matrix beats, Matrix moves and Matrix show, it was fun-time, teen-time at GD Birla Sabhagar. Participants belted out numbers like Hotel California and Tum Bin… for the perfect finish to a ‘fest-ful’ week. Mahadevi Birla came out on top here, with South Point a close second.
— Harsh Vardhan Sonthalia,
St Xavier’s College
Thoughts on science
The 10th Dipta Memorial Symposium was held on September 13. The discussion on ‘Development of Science: Panacea or Curse’, organised by the symposium committee and the Bose Institute Research Scholar’s Forum, was held on the Bose Institute campus. The meet is organised in memory of the late Dipta Chakraborty, a young research scholar who died of renal failure. The talk included speakers Dr A.K. Ghosh, director, Chem Biotech International, T.K. Ghatak, additional director, environment cell, CMDA, Prof A.K. Samadder of the University of Kalyani and Prof M. Siddiqui, director, Bose Institute, Calcutta.
A science quiz followed, with participation from various universities, featuring questions on recent and historical scientific feats and their relevance to the common man.
— Anshuman Biswas,
Give and take
For a change, the teachers had butterflies in their stomachs. Students of Shree Bharati on New Taratolla Road had recently gone to the nearby Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy on an “exchange” programme. “The aim of the programme was to make our students aware of the problems and obstacles faced by challenged children. We were apprehensive about the reaction from the kids since it was the first time for both the schools,” said a teacher of Shree Bharati.
However, things could not have been better with both groups sharing poems, telling jokes and playing games. IICP students prepared cards and snacks, which were a big hit. The Shree Bharati students were also given a guided tour of the various sections of the institute.
On September 9, it was their turn to play host, when the IICP gang came to Shree Bharati to present a skit on the importance of trees under the banner of the Better Kolkata project. Students and teachers of Shree Bharati applauded them for their “amazing acting and communication skills”.
2 St Peter's College had its annual show on September 7 at Rabindra Sarovar. The highlight of the event, where students put up dance and musical shows, was a concert by a band from Trinidad.
2A chance to take on the world’s best yoga practitioners is about to slip out of promising hands. Gopal Chandra Das, a 26-year-old yoga champ has been invited for the British Wheel of Yoga championships in Brazil on September 28 and 29. But due to financial constraints, he can't make it to the international meet without sponsorship. If anyone is interested in lending him a hand, do call Gopal at 694-5153.