Adults really need to listen to young people
By 9 a.m. on Election Day, 2 July, 2000, voters had formed long
lines in Mexico City as they waited patiently to start a new chapter
in Mexican politics.
The democratic process that day was a family affair. Across the
street from each polling station, children were also lining up to
make their voices heard in a vote designed especially for them.
One of the first to fill out and post her ballot in the ‘Consulta
Infantil y Juvenil’ (Children’s Consultation) was Sandra Jimenez
Loza, 13, one of the child rights activists who inspired millions
of children to register their opinions. Adults really need to listen
to young people,” she says with the smile and confidence of a seasoned
The 13-year-old girl has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair.
She speaks slowly, with conviction, though with difficulty. Yet
she spent much of her summer promoting the voting project and encouraging
Mexican children to take part.
“The last thing that I would consider an obstacle is my disability,”
she says. “If anything, it is a plus. When people see that I don’t
consider it a problem, they see that they can also reach their goals.”
Shortly before Election Day, Jimenez Loza participated in a children’s
radio programme in which she was interviewed about the Consulta
by a panel of other children. The programme on Radio UNAM, a community
station, received a record number of calls as children around the
country phoned in to pledge their support and promised to vote.
By the end of Election Day, 4 million Mexican children cast their
ballots and registered their opinions about family life, school,
their communities and their country.
“It is important to listen to children because we are also citizens,”
the young activist explains. “After all, we are the ones who will
rule the world and the country in the future.”
The children’s Consulta was established by the Federal Electoral
Institute (IFE). The project has also drawn the support of some
500 non-governmental organizations, the private sector and UNICEF.
IFE set up 300 children’s polling stations close to the voting
booths for adults. Each station contained separate ballot boxes
for three age groups: 6–9, 10–13 and 14–17.
Instead of voting for a candidate, the children filled in a questionnaire
(of increasing complexity for each age group) requiring a “yes”
or “no” answer to such questions as:
“In your home, do you feel safe?” or “In your school, do adults
listen to you?”
The colourful ballot sheets were then folded and slipped into
a special ballot box by each child or teenager. In a country where
almost one third of the population is under 18 years old, this exercise
in democracy had particular relevance.
The results of the Consulta are now being carefully studied by
academics and lawmakers. Through the power of their ballots, the
children of Mexico made a clear statement against violence and called
for more respect.
“Promoting the Consulta hasn’t changed my life but being an advocate
for children’s rights has,” says Sandra Jimenez Loza. “There are
many countries where children suffer much more than in Mexico and
that is why I’m very interested in getting to know other activists.”
So far, the young Mexican hasn’t done too badly. She’s met South
African anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu, former Polish president
Lech Walesa and British film star and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
“I’m inspired by human rights fighters,” she says. “The best job
for me as a children’s rights activist would be Secretary-General
of the United Nations. Then I know I would be listened to.”
For now, Jimenez Loza sees the Consulta as the first step toward
ensuring a world in which children’s rights are fully respected.
“We have to take advantage of these small steps,” she says, “because
they come together in a bigger way, opening up spaces in which we
can participate — not only in this country but around the world.”
Prepared by UNICEF on behalf of the Global Movement for Children,
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