Marking the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: Conference of Ministers and unveiling the Wall of Children’s Wishes and Requests
By Semir Mujkic
On the last day of the week when the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was marked, a Conference of Ministers was held and a Wall of Children’s Wishes and Requests was unveiled at the national Parliament. The Conference of Ministers was opened by Mr. Zlatko Horvat, Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Conference was organized by this Ministry, in cooperation with UNICEF and the Management Board of the “Enhancing the Social Protection and Inclusion System for Children in BiH” Project. Mr. Horvat noted that equality had to be ensured for all children and that the child should be viewed as a unique person. He added that certain steps had already been taken to improve the status of children in BiH through the drafting of a Social Inclusion Strategy for BiH.
- In this respect, we hope that the Conference of Ministers of Education and Health in BiH, and a more active cooperation with Ministries in charge of social protection will bear fruit in our efforts to ensure for all children European standards for development and protection – Horvat said on behalf of his Ministry.
According to official UN data, 24,000 children under five die from preventable infectious diseases every day. Following a few appropriate words to express her pleasure to have the honor to open this significant conference on this symbolic day, Florence Bauer, UNICEF Representative in BiH, noted that even in the most severe financial crisis governments should not make any cuts in allocations for children.
- The Convention for the first time in history recognized that children had specific rights and that government authorities had to do all they could to respect these rights – Bauer said, noting that the 20th anniversary of the Convention was marked this week in seven BiH towns and also that 193 countries had signed the Convention.
In addition, Bauer said that over the past 20 years, considerable progress had been achieved: Death rate of children under five years of age was reduced by 28 percent; 1.6 billion people gained access to safe water; 84 percent children of school age in the world were in class; and progress had been made in combating AIDS by expanding the testing for this disease to include pregnant women.
These results have also been achieved in BiH and I would like to congratulate you for that – Bauer said, adding that there were three challenges remaining for BiH: poverty (while GDP per capita had doubled, one in five people in BiH still lived in poverty, and children were more affected by poverty than adults); social exclusion; and services, or rather unequal provision of social services.
This Conference also served as an opportunity for UNICEF to present its first periodical report in BiH on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Four years ago, an Initial Report for BiH was made and an action plan was developed to prepare the First Periodic Report on the implementation of the Convention.
Saliha Ðuderija, Assistant Minister for Human Rights and Refugees, said that the First Periodic Report was being translated and would then be sent to the Committee for the Rights of the Child. With respect to shortcomings in the implementation of the Convention, this report listed differences in the age limit defining children in different cantons, as well as the lack of accurate statistical data on the number of children; due to this lack of statistical data, they had to rely on assessments, according to which there were 750,000 children living in BiH.
- Exploitation of children and juvenile justice were issues that received special treatment in this report. We have still not resolved the issue of differences in cash transfers, but there have been some significant improvements in education, and a number of laws have been passed – Ðuderija said, adding that the capacities of the country were not nearly sufficient to meet children’s needs.
The report particularly noted UNICEF’s support to programs aimed at improving child protection, and its significant contribution in financing different projects.
Žarko Papić, Director of the Independent Bureau for Humanitarian Issues (IBHI), a UNICEF Partner in BiH, noted he did not want to sound too harsh and therefore could only say that the situation was not good.
- The social protection system is quite inefficient in combating child poverty. Even though we allocate four percent to fight poverty, which is far more than in the EU member states, merely 18 percent of these resources reach those who really need them –Papić said, concluding that the system was not based on actual needs.
He presented official data on the status of poverty according to which 18.6 percent of the population in Bosnia and Herzegovina were living below the poverty line. This meant that 630,000 of its citizens lived on 253 marks per month. According to Papić, they are at a great risk of becoming the most vulnerable group; frequently, they do not have health coverage and cannot afford to go out for a cup of coffee or even buy a toothpaste.
He believed that even more alarming was the fact that poverty had not been reduced in the period 2004-2007, at the time when the country was recording economic growth. The poor and their children remain poor, trapped in the vicious circle of poverty.
- Child poverty is much worse than adult poverty because of lost opportunities that cannot be made up later – he explained, adding that only one in ten children in poor families had a personal computer.
Six children from Foča, Novi Travnik and Sarajevo were given an opportunity to express the actual needs of children. These PAR group participants in their communities informed conference attendees that they knew how to express their own opinions, and they made it clear that they were aware of their rights safeguarded by the Convention:
- This is our day, accept that! We want our rights from the Convention, give us our rights – they spoke clearly from the speaker’s platform.
Among others, speakers at the conference included Safet Omerović, Federation Minister of Health, Predrag Mitrović, Assistant Federation Minister of Science and Education, and Ivica Marinović, Advisor to the Federation Minister of Labor and Social Policy.
They presented activities of their ministries as they related to children, and shared the opinion that their activities were and had to be directed specifically at children.
So that these official do not forget their promises and children’s wishes, children left a reminder for them in the hall of the national Parliament building – a wall of their wishes.
One of the final activities of the week marking the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the unveiling of a Child Wish Wall at the entrance hall of the national Parliament building.
- This is a part of our wishes. To place all our wishes, even the Great Wall would not be enough. We want this wall to remind you to make decisions in the best interest of children – was the message sent by Matea Franjić and Hafsa Mulalić to parliamentarians and ministers before the wall was unveiled.
The wall included ten child wishes and requests that were written during the last Kid's Festival by 40,000 children from the whole of BiH. In addition to simple wishes for improved school playgrounds and purchase of PCs in schools, children also wished a country clear of mines, a country without hungry and poor; they wished to have safety and equality, and they also wished that children in Bosnia and Herzegovine were not involved in politics.
Zlatko Horvat of the Ministry of Civil Affairs of BiH told children to raise their voice and added it was not a coincidence that this wall was placed in the Parliament building.
For UNICEF Representative in BiH, Florence Bauer, this was a very emotional experience.
Michael Tatham, UK Ambassador to BiH, compared this child wall to the Berlin Wall. He said that no one liked the Berlin wall, but he very much liked this children’s wall.
- I am very glad that children are determined to make their voice heard and I would like to thank them for that – Tatham said, with a message for everybody that they should not look back to the past, but rather to the future for the benefit of children.
In a true celebratory mood, Boris Iarochevich of the European Commission remember children who were not as privileged and asked everyone to show solidarity.
- We are all parents and we should think of child well-being every day. I really like the wall and I hope these wishes will come true – Iarochevich said, while everyone present agreed that some space should be left on the wall to write down what had actually been done and how much child wishes had been respected.