Children Put Forward Clear and Specific Demands to Representatives of Local Communities at Public Debates
At the series of public debates titled “Child Friendly Municipalities” held on the eve of the local elections, children have had the opportunity to meet municipal mayor candidates and representatives of municipalities and local governments of Derventa, Tešanj, Čelinac, Gacko, Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, Kupres, Posušje, Prnjavor, Velika Kladuša and the Brčko District.
The public debates provided a forum for the children to ask of political candidates and representatives of current local governments everything they wanted to know about violations of and respect for child rights in their communities. It was an opportunity for the young people to speak about problems they face and suggest solutions to those who are empowered to make and implement decisions at the community level.
The first public debate in Tešanj already showed that local community representatives had no easy task ahead and that children would not hesitate to ask questions. “When are we going to get a bowling alley?”, “Why is there no cycling and skateboarding lane?”, “Why is there no lighting in our school yard?”, “Why do we have water supply cuts?”, “Why cannot we use the sports center free of charge?” These were some of the questions that the children asked of municipal mayor candidates. The children were very clear about their expectations of the winning candidate.
“I want us to have a mayor who will serve the citizens, rather than the other way around!” said Zerina, an eight-grader at the primary school in Tešanj.
“Who is responsible for the deteriorated snake-infested hotel building filled with trash? Children spend a lot of their free time playing just around the corner from there. When will you build us a park to play at? What should the parents who cannot afford textbooks for their children do? Why are there only a few traffic signs near the school? Will a dog shelter ever be set up, considering the ever growing number of stray dogs? Is it possible to have experts such as firemen or doctors hold short lectures about health and safety?” These were some of the many questions raised by the children during a two-hour debate in Velika Kladuša. Children in Brčko also expressed many concerns, ranging from the lack of a movie theater and pool, issues of safety in traffic and peer violence, heating systems in schools, condition of gyms and school playgrounds to pollution and air quality in Brčko.
“Why is there no women’s football club in Brčko?! Some of us girls would like to play football!” asked Ivana.
“Would municipal authorities in Posušje have done anything on their own, if we, the children, had not taken initiative and pointed out all the concerns previously mentioned?” a student in Posušje was equally critical. This goes to show how seriously the children understood their participation in this process.
The children of Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje asked mostly about school transportation. They objected to schedules due to which they frequently had to wait for the bus a full hour after classes. They also complained about the fact that bus drivers were often intoxicated and that fares were expensive and inconsistent.
Their peers from Čelinac were extremely interested in discussion. They asked dozens of questions about education, healthcare, culture and sports as ways to spend free time. They also identified a pressing need for a pool and expressed concerns about the safety of children in Čelinac Municipality and lack of environmental awareness of all residents of the municipality.
“When will we get a pool so that children and youth can train swimming? Why have the children not seen a single movie, even though there is a movie theater in the Municipality of Gacko? When will that be possible? Why do not we have a promenade? When will we get a park to play at? The youth here go to Partisan’s cemetery to hang out. When will they have any kind of adequate space to gather at? When will the police increase control in the school yard which is used as a meeting point for drug addicts? When and how can teacher-student communication be improved and when will students stop being evaluated based on their family ties?” These were some of the many questions asked of representatives of the Municipality, the police and political parties in Gacko.
“There is no heating, we are freezing! Especially those in the classrooms in the west wing!” complained children from the primary school “Fra Miroslava Džaje” in Kupres.
This was an opportunity for the children to take active role in the functioning of the local community. They fought for their voices to be heard among adults. Some of their questions produced concrete answers, even promises, while others required additional clarification. Government representatives were completely unaware of some of the concerns raised by the children at the public debates. They gave sound promises that the problems would be resolved. Children – child rights champions will not hesitate to knock on the doors of current and future government representatives to remind them of their broken promises and demand explanations. By doing so, the children will remain active participants in the functioning of the community and help in building child friendly municipalities.
UNICEF BiH remains focused on the activities with the aim to supporting the establishment of formal mechanisms of participation of children in the decision making process at the municipal level.
The debates were organized as a part of the Program “Enhancing the Social Protection and Inclusion System for Children in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. The Program is implemented in BiH with the support of the European Union and UNICEF and with the participation of the relevant institutions at all levels of government in BiH. The European Union has been funding the Project since 2008 with 4.1 million Euros, using the Instrument of Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). The Project aims to help the strengthening of a system which will provide adequate social protection policy and inclusion to children and their families.