PRESS CONFERENCE BY YOUTH DELEGATES
Two young people selected by the Children’s Forum had just presented that event’s message to the General Assembly’s special session on children, Executive Director of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, informed correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this morning.
Participating in the briefing were youth delegates from the Children’s Forum, including: two young people chosen to speak at the General Assembly today -- Gabriela Azurduy Arrieta, aged 13, from Bolivia and Audrey Cheynut, aged
17 from Monaco, and members of the Forum’s Rapporteur Committee -- Arshela Amir Ali, aged 14, from Pakistan, Laura Hannant, aged 16, from Canada, and Alexandru Rosu, aged 16, from Romania. Among the journalists asking questions were child correspondents from Children’s Press Line.
Introducing the delegates, Ms. Bellamy pointed out that work on the Message had been concluded in just three days. One could hope that the General Assembly could learn from the decisiveness of the children who had participated in the Forum.
The three-day Children’s Forum, which ended yesterday, preceded the opening of the session, culminating in the adoption of the document entitled “A World Fit for Us” –- the Forum’s message to the special session.
“We want a world fit for children, because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone,” the message reads. Outlining conditions needed to achieve the children’s vision of such a world, the document focuses on respect for the rights of the child; an end to wars, exploitation, abuse and violence; provision of health care; eradication of HIV/AIDS; protection of the environment; eradication of poverty; and active participation of children. The document states “We are not the sources of problems; we are the resources that are needed to solve them. We are not expenses; we are investments. We are not just young people; we are people and citizens of this world”.
More than 300 children from all over the world had participated in the Forum, the journalists were told, representing both governments and non-governmental organizations. In short statements before the press, the youth delegates stressed the importance of children’s participation, explaining that it involved not only the right to be heard and express one’s views freely, but also to take an active approach and participate in decision-making. While in some countries that appeared normal and logical, in many parts of the world, children were denied such an opportunity. Stressing the fact that participation was essential for child development, the delegates said that the children should have the right not only to express their wishes, but also to implement them.
“Children are not given importance,” one of the speakers said. “We can make decisions, and adults should give us a chance to do that.” When adults spoke about children’s participation, they often meant kids being involved in programmes for children, another child delegate said. That should not be the case. All issues that affected the world affected the children, as well.
Among the obstacles that prevented children from such participation, they listed parental influences (“way bad,” as Alexandru “Alex” Rosu said); the lack of unity between children and young people; shyness and low self-esteem; lack of money; and weak representation of children in government at local, regional and national levels. Another issue emphasized by the children was poverty and the need for adults to invest in children as the future of their countries.
To what degree were children aware enough of current events to participate in their communities? a correspondent asked. A delegate said that many were informed, but there was also an issue of education. Many children were not given access to important information. They did not know that they had rights. One of the subjects discussed at the Forum had been the need to spread information.
Asked if she had any complaints about the Forum was handled, a speaker answered that the participants had been impressed that such a great diversity of children from different backgrounds had taken part in the Forum. It was also difficult, however, because the participants of the Forum had had only three days to put together a programme, which would be relevant for a period of up to
15 years. Greater commitment was also needed beyond the Forum to address the issues relevant to children.
To several other questions, the delegates replied that the children needed to continue to keep in touch and meet, whenever possible. It was important to create a network on the Internet to allow the participants not to lose touch with each other. They hoped that in five years, they would be able to come together again to evaluate the progress achieved since the special session. On a global level, it was the responsibility of governments and adults to bring them together again and organize similar meetings in the future. As for the political will of governments to advance the cause of children, it would become obvious in the years following the special session. “We have the next 10 to 15 years to see that,” a speaker said.
Asked if they understood the position of adults following the discussions during the Forum, a speaker replied: “We understand better what they are trying to say, what excuses and arguments they are using. This does not mean that we have an understanding why they have not taken better action. I do not think we’ll ever be able to understand why 28,000 children die every day; why children are suffering.”
If they did not receive education and values from family and parents, how could children make good decisions? a correspondent asked. A youth delegate clarified that when he was speaking about bad parental influence, he meant the mentality within many families around the world, according to which children were not seen as equal partners. Children were brought up not seeing themselves as full and capable people. Moral values were important, but such attitudes held the children back and kept them from participating in the life of society.
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