Message of UNICEF Iran’s Representative on the Occasion of Children’s Day: Listen to Children!
Tehran, 8 October 2009- Each generation is faced with new challenges – listening for and to the views of children is one of ours. We often complain of intergenerational gaps and lack of understanding between the young people and their parents, teachers and other adults. To overcome this issue and to build a safe, secure and healthy society, Children’s Day this year focuses on the responsibility of adults to seek out the perspectives and opinions of children and to take them seriously; and on the responsibility of adults to help children and adolescents develop their competencies for authentic and meaningful participation in the world.
Child participation involves encouraging and enabling children to make their views known on the issues that affect them. Put into practice, participation is adults listening to children — to all their multiple and varied ways of communicating. It ensures their right and freedom to express themselves and takes their views into account when coming to decisions that affect them. Engaging children in dialogue and exchange allows them to learn constructive ways of influencing the world around them.
Child participation must be authentic and meaningful. It must start with children and young people themselves, on their own terms, within their own realities and in pursuit of their own visions, dreams, hopes and concerns. Most of all, authentic and meaningful child participation requires a radical shift in adult thinking and behaviour — from an exclusionary to an inclusionary approach to children and their capabilities.
Consultation with children will not be easy in cultures and contexts where they are still widely expected to be seen but not heard. But one key reason why the practice is gaining ground is that when children’s needs are genuinely taken into account, the results tend to bring improvements for the community as a whole.
The journey from where we are today to a world where children’s opinions are routinely sought cannot be made overnight. Like all intellectual journeys, it is a process that depends on acquiring new knowledge, increasing understanding and overcoming old habits and resistance. And as the necessary intellectual work is being done and new understandings are being put into practice, new skills will be needed by all those involved – children and adults, families, communities, cities and organizations.
In order to do this, adults must develop new competencies of their own. We must learn how to effectively elicit the views of children and young people and to recognize their multiple voices, the various ways children and young people express themselves, and how to interpret their messages – both verbal and nonverbal.
What’s more, we must ensure that there is opportunity, time and a safe place for the opinions of children and young people to be heard and given due weight. And we must develop our own capabilities to respond appropriately to the messages and opinions of children and young people.
UNICEF Iran has, and will continue to collaborate with the government of Iran, civil society and other important stakeholders for children to promote child participation across many development areas. For example, participation of children has been an important element of the Rural Girls Education Model during its inception in 2004 and 2005. This programme was developed in close consultation with the children in rural areas of Sistan and Balouchestan and the local communities residing there. As such, the Community-Based School Management Model allowed in an innovative way children’s participation in school related decision-making processes.
Another successful example is the Adolescent Friendly Service centers, established in 7 cities in 6 provinces of Iran. The Centers directly engage at risk children, youth and women in the design, coordination and delivery of a variety of services of which they themselves are the primary beneficiaries. For the last two years, peer educators who participated in the project reached well over 65,000 individuals through different outreach activities, 43% of whom were considered at risk or most at risk.
It is UNICEF’s belief that if we are to meet the goals of the “Outlook 2025 of I.R.Iran” and attain the Millennium Development Goals, if we are to make the world truly fit for all people — we will only do so with the full participation of children and young people.
Let’s Listen to kids!On 8 October Iran celebrates Children’s Day. The United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF) in Iran has chosen “Listen to Kids!” as the main theme for this year’s celebrations.
Children have a lot to say, about their environment, homes, schools, neighborhoods and cities and about the decisions that affect their lives.
As images often speak more than words, Peer Educators from Adolescent Friendly Service Centres in Tehran, Mashhad, Bandar Abbas and Qeshm are exhibiting their photos on Children’s Day as a way to show us that their world is to be taken seriously.
Adolescent Friendly Centres were initiated with the Health Ministry’s cooperation in 7 cities across the country in 2005. In these centres children get educated about HIV/AIDS and then educate their classmates, kids in their neighbourhood and family on the subject with their own language. This September they got photography training and then shot photos of their environment, neighbourhood and daily life with disposable cameras. Photos with a simple hope that says; “Listen to us!”
These photos look at the world from a different angle – their own. They show us a world mostly inaccessible to adults. They show us a world of friends among friends, recorded moments of dreams and challenges, sadness and happiness. But most of all, behind the visors of the peer educators’ cameras, they show us children as pioneers of a better life, for themselves, as well as those closest to them.
Children do not have much opportunity to express themselves. Many programmes are developed “for” them, but too often without their say. This year’s Children’s Day aims to remind us that whatever is done for children, let it be through media, education, protection or health programmes, is best done when children’s own views, aspirations, expectations and capacities are taken into account when and wherever possible. Children ought to be involved, commensurate with their age, in the decisions that affect their lives and be able to express their opinion about the issues that are important to them. Such is a child’s right, and a guaranteed means towards the better development of society as a whole. In short:
Children’s voices must be heard!