Youth voices matter most at the Children and Young People?s Forum held in conjunction with the 7th East Asia and Pacific Ministerial Consultation on Children (Mincon) organised by United Nations Children?s Fund in Siem Reap, Cambodia, recently. BRAT CHAN KIT SZE who was there as a youth reporter writes about her experience.
BROUGHT up with the idea of ?adults command, children listen?, I was beyond excited to be at a place where young people?s views would be heard and taken seriously.
It was our chance to demonstrate to government officials attending the Mincon how young people can contribute towards building a harmonious society. We also had the opportunity to review and comment on the Siem Reap Declaration for the Mincon.
?Our mission here is like a journey to the Angkor Wat,? said Lakan Perlyn Bunyi, a facilitator of the forum.
We were asked to raise relevant issues that directly affected us and identify concrete, do-able solutions for a dialogue with government officials at the end of the forum.
Hence our work during the forum was the journey, and Angkor Wat was represented by our presentation to the government officials.
The five main topics that were discussed throughout the three-day forum were education, HIV/AIDS, child participation, cultural changes and employment of young people.
Discussing the topics and reaching a consensus was not an easy task as every country had so many issues to raise. It was also time-consuming as language was a problem. Not everyone could speak English. So, we had to speak slowly and allocate time for translation.
Being a Malaysian, I had the upper hand. I could understand the delegates from Indonesia, China and Timor Leste, and also served as their translator at times.
We were divided into groups according to our preferred topics. I was particularly interested in HIV/AIDS, as adolescents and young people are the group most at risk of being infected. The statistics are shocking, with an estimated 11.8 million young people living with HIV today. Each day, nearly 6,000 more people are infected.
Through the discussions, we agreed that everyone must have accurate information about how the virus is spread and how they can protect themselves.
I started to wonder how many of my peers back home actually receive proper and effective sex education. Not many, I concluded finally.
?You can?t stop people from having sex. But you can help save their lives if you give them the right education. Peer education is one good way. It?s about positive peer pressure to do the right thing,? said Tanes Rianglaem, 18, from Thailand.
Tipsuda Chadee, 15, from Thailand, stressed on the need to use the media to champion children?s issues.
?The media has the power. As a child, I want that power so I can change bad things for my peers.
?I joined a children?s media club called ?Thai Youth News Centre? in my school two years ago when I was 13 years old. I am now the chairperson of my club and help to produce and host a weekly news programme revolving around topics relevant to young people, like sex education, quality schooling, etc.?
In between all the serious discussions, we managed to squeeze in fun energisers. Every country had a chance to share and appreciate other cultures as traditional games, songs and dances were introduced. During Malaysia?s slot, we played the game of Helang dan Ibu Ayam.
During the forum, we also had the privilege of meeting and speaking to our Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
?Malaysia is progressing relatively well in our policies but we need to keep up with times to suit the needs and demands of children these days,? she said.
Shahrizat added that she was interested in organising a similar forum in Malaysia for young people back home as a platform for them to be more active in promoting children?s rights and to voice their views.
At the end of the forum, we performed a short sketch which expressed our views to the government officials.
?I hope that all the ideas we get from this forum will not just remain on paper. I hope that all of us will develop our ideas into concrete action so that we can make life better for all children in this region,? said Tipsuda.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Angkor Wat, a huge temple built by Suryavarman II. I was overwhelmed as I set foot on the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It was a wonder how well it was built without modern technology hundreds of years ago.
?I hope the Malaysian delegates? participation is a testament to our country?s contribution in the struggle for active child participation. As young people, we cannot wait for adults to decide what is in our best interest. More than ever before, with the active collaboration of government and non-government organisations and young people recognised as individuals with rights, we have to express our thoughts,? said Jayaram Gopinath Nagaraj, 20, from Malaysia.
After my six-day ?journey to Angkor Wat?, I came back armed with newly acquired knowledge from my peers around the region. I had gained greater understanding of issues affecting young people.
|Forty youths from 20 countries in East Asia and the Pacific attended the three-day Children and Young People?s Forum on the concerns and capabilities of adolescents in the region. |
Five topics identified for discussions were education, HIV/AIDS, child participation, cultural change and media, and employment opportunities for young people.
Education: Common issues include the high cost of education, lack of facilities and infrastructure, and violence in school. The youth delegates urged governments to allocate enough funds to ensure that every child ? including girls, the disabled and children in difficulties ? have access to education.
HIV/AIDS: Provide sex education for youths so that they can learn about safe sex and how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. Peer education programmes could be more effective. There is also a need for more counselling and support services for young people who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
CHILD PARTICIPATION: There is a need to improve communication between parents and schools. Children?s views should be represented in different sectors and units of governments.
CULTURAL CHANGE AND MEDIA: Media is a big influence on youths. Allow greater participation by youths in media content, and censorship policies.
EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES: Youths are unemployed due to lack of opportunities for employment. Governments can help by analysing the current employment market and implementing policies to create employment opportunities for people.
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