The 18-year-old, who hails from Dera village in Rajasthan, makes sure that children from underprivileged families go to school. A large number of students dropped out of school to become domestic helpers. These kids earn a couple of hundred rupees from some odd jobs. This money provided their families with two meals a day, but at the cost of their future.

Lalita, still a child herself, saved 57 children and got their parents to re-enroll them in a village school.

“I, along with other members of the Bal Panchayat, went door to door and convinced parents to re-enroll their child in school. We explained to them how important education is. However, some parents ask us to leave and tell us that their child will work as a laborer like them to earn some money,” she said, adding, “It is always difficult to convince children and parents of anything, but we keep trying. As we visit their home again and again, people finally understand that we want the best for them.”

At the age of 18, Lalita Duharia is fighting against school dropout, child marriage, child labour, untouchability and other issues affecting the lives of children and young people.

Dukharia was an active member Ball Mitra Gram — an internationally recognized model for child-centred rural development since 2015. Now, at the age of 18, she heads the Bal Panchayat (Children’s Council) as a sarpanch.

Few in her village initially took Lalita and her friends seriously, believing that they were solving serious problems at a young age. Although the journey has been difficult, she said people in her village have finally started to show support. She influences society by advocating for girls’ education, environmental awareness, health and hygiene.

Lalita’s father is a builder, mother is a housewife. She said that now her parents are supportive of the work she is doing, but earlier when the villagers would come and fight with her parents, they would ask her to stay away from all these things.

Lalita herself went through issues like class discrimination and untouchability. She says that when she was in 6th standard, she was denied food distribution in her village because she is considered to be a lower caste, but she took the issue to one of the Bal Panchayat meetings and fought for her right. Since then, she has been working to improve the lives of her community.

Lalita taught people to respect all religions and castes and above all to accept other people. She initiated a ‘community lunch’ on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, where she and other Bal Panchayat members from all castes and communities participate and have lunch together. With this initiative, they wanted to spread the message to the entire community to join hands and work together for the development of the community.

Her awareness campaign along with the Bal Panchayat led to the complete elimination of child marriage in her village and neighboring villages. She is a recipient of the Ashoka Changemaker Award and the Reebok fit to fight award.

Lalita has completed her studies and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree, as well as a teacher training course. When asked about her future plans, she said, “I want to get into the Rajasthan Administrative Service because once one gets empowered, it becomes easier to restore order.” Despite the fact that she is also interested in the teaching profession, she wants to continue working for the benefit of her country.

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