An interview with Carol Bellamy
By Spiros Tzelepis, Greece
One of the strengths of the Convention is that it applies to all children in all countries. Another strength is that all rights are to be applied equally. There is no hierarchy of rights no one right is more important than another, and all the rights are interrelated. This means that when one is considering how to implement, for example, the right to education (article 29), one needs to keep in mind the standards set in the other rights such as ensuring non-discrimination (article 2), making education be in the best interests of the child (article 3), ensuring that children do not perform work that interferes with education (article 32), and encouraging active participation (articles 12, 13).
The body of experts which monitors implementation of the Convention (known as the Committee on the Rights of the Child) has identified guiding principles which must be considered when implementing the rights in the Convention. These principles call for all rights to be implemented without discrimination of any form, for all actions to be undertaken in the light of the best interests of the child, for implementation to enhance the survival and development of the child and for children to participate and have their opinions given due weight in all matters affecting them.
In each country context, the violation of -or failure to respect- a particular right will call for action and demand the attention of governments, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies, such as UNICEF. By ratifying the Convention, governments become legally bound to implement the rights therein. But in reality, implementing and respecting all the human rights in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, while it starts with governments, is best achieved through a combination of effort, including civil society: religious groups, youth groups, non-governmental groups, communities, families and the children themselves.
Furthermore, while all rights are equal, limited budgets mean that it often becomes necessary to prioritize where action will be directed. What we must be sure to do is to undertake a thorough assessment to establish where the most pressing need exists and why the problem persists. Through a collaborative approach, we then need to decide how to address the problem.
One action might be to identify with our government partners how changes in legislation, policy and practice might help. One example might be to introduce legislation that ensures girls as well as boys have equal access to education and are protected from hazardous or harmful labour.
For UNICEF, another action might be to work with partners to ensure that the education provided is of a high quality, that the status of teachers is raised, that health care is available to children at the school or that children have a say in how discipline is administered at school. It bears repeating that at all times we must make sure that our approach and support programmes reinforce the principles of non-discrimination, best interests, survival and development and participation.
For example, UNICEF works with governments to change legislation such as in India where a law was passed raising the age of compulsory school completion to keep children in school and away from the workplace for longer. But this is just one step. In 25 countries, UNICEF has also focussed considerable attention on improving the access to, and quality of, education systems; to make them more relevant to children and their communities, to involve communities more and to help communities understand the value of an education to the child.
Working with the ILO and others, we aim to assist governments to set targets to eliminate child labour, starting with the worst forms. We have also worked with the industries which are notorious for employing children and denying them an education to establish standards, to fund schools for the children and employ adults rather than children, and to eliminate hazardous and harmful working conditions. For example, UNICEF and the ILO have negotiated with rug making companies in Nepal and India and with football making industries in Pakistan to eliminate child labour from their production lines.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that only a minority of the children who work do so in the export areas. Many (perhaps as many as 95 per cent) are denied access to schooling or forced into hazardous work in what we refer to as the informal sector. We must ensure that while eliminating child labor in the export industry, we are also eliminating their labour from the informal sector, which is more invisible to public scrutiny ? and thus leaves the children more open to abuse and exploitation. The informal sector includes the many girls who are forced to undertake domestic work or are pushed into the sex trade. The real solution is to improve the incomes of the poor and provide their children with decent education.
The dream of the Convention was born from the that children and their needs were not been considered when policies were being made, laws passed or actions undertaken. Cities were being designed without concern for children their realiation right to play and leisure, to enjoy their culture, to access schools and health facilities. Have you every witnessed a child attempting to reach a public phone?
Thus the Convention is unequivocal in its call for children to be consulted, to have their opinions heard and to have their best interests considered when law and policies are being drafted. Here once again education is crucial, it enables children to be become more aware of their rights and to exercise them in a respectful manner which helps them shape their own future.
Children have in the past and continue to influence policy makers. One good example is the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia. The Movement was formed in 1996 as an alliance of children's groups and organisations working for peace. It aims to increase understanding in Colombia of the impact of the war there on children. Through the Movement, children have become a driving force behind the peace movement, thereby advancing children's rights.
One of the Movement's first achievements was to mobilise children to vote in a special election known as the Children?s Mandate for Peace and Rights - in which children were asked to choose which of their rights were most important to themselves and their communities. The Mandate received backing from UNICEF and the national peace network, Redepaz, and the support of many organisations, including the Catholic Church, the Red Cross and the Scout Federation.
The Movement grew so quickly that more than 2.7 million children, aged 7 to 18 years, turned up at the polls. They voted overwhelmingly in favour of the right to survival and the right to peace. Until the child rights election, the peace movement in Colombia had been weak. But in 1997, more than 10 million adult Colombians (compared with just over 4 million who had voted in the 1994 presidential election) supported a peace referendum that included backing for the Children?s Mandate, condemnation of the atrocities of the war and a personal pledge to help make peace.
Peace jumped to centre stage in the Colombian political arena. It became the primary issue in the presidential elections of 1998 and led to peace talks between the government and guerrilla organisations. Today over 100,000 children are active participants in the peace movement.
It is worth noting that when children's rights are respected and protected they not only survive, they develop to the very fullest potential. Thus survival and development are an outcome of a human rights culture and will continue to be at risk when human rights are not respected.
Young people can volunteer to work or raise funds for groups or organizations that work in this way with children in developing countries. They can write letters about children's rights to the editor of their local newspapers, to local politicians and their representative at the United Nations. And most importantly perhaps, children can learn about their rights, share their knowledge with the children of other nations, identify problems with them and establish how they might work together to address them. And each of us can practice rights ourselves, treating each other without discrimination, respecting each other's dignity and rights.
And young people are ideally placed to make use of the available technology. Your online Junior Journal is an excellent means of exchanging ideas, experiences and learning more about the lives of other young people around the world. Through understanding, tolerance grows and thus television, radio and the Internet are more than just excellent educational tools.
UNICEF's Voices of Youth has organized many Internet chats, like the one you participated in, among children and teachers around the world. Participants discuss and share their experience about important world issues such as the crisis in Kosovo, child labour and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
And UNICEF uses the Internet to spread ideas, exchange information, to raise awareness on rights and on how to better implement human rights. Programme areas such as teacher education are currently being addressed, and breakthroughs in nutrition or health care are immediately available to our staff and partners. While the technology revolution has yet to reach far into the households of those in developing countries, this is certainly another area where more developed countries can assist those in the less developed world.
If they do need the food products we have in excess, we must also ensure that the country has the means to distribute the food to the genuine poor, and for this we may need to provide the necessary transportation. In Sudan, for example, UNICEF has to airlift the food supplies to the people in the south of the country. This is costly.
It is important to note that food is just one of the several things that people need to be kept alive in emergency situations. For example, following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, thousands of people fled to neighbouring Zaire, as it was known then, (now it is called the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and food supplies were sent to them. However, many thousands died of cholera because sanitation and clean water could not be provided. When possible it is preferable to help people in need help themselves. As soon as the emergency situation is under control, it is important to provide seeds and tools so that people can begin to grow their own food again.
I suppose that what comes as a conclusion from above is that the children of our planet will live in a better world when all of us be active, concerned and caring.Even if some adults have forgotten the meaning of these words, there are the kids of the world who can find a way to remind these concepts to them. I am sure that we can do this.
Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002
© Copyright 2002 Spiros Tzelepis
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