Children are entitled to be heard
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, February 26, 2008 – UNICEF in collaboration with The Student Press (TSP) hosted an award ceremony for winners of the first ever It’s My Right Essay Writing Competition. Winners received their prizes and over 230 students and officials participated in the awards ceremony on Friday February 22 at Hillview College in Tunapuna.
In her presentation to an exuberant predominantly male student audience at the College, first place winner, Marie Walker said, “No matter who you are, once you are below eighteen, you deserve adequate healthcare and housing, an education, a name and nationality, not to be hurt or discriminated against and lastly, the most important and most complicated, to be loved.”
UNICEF collaborated with a youth-led organization, The Student Press (TSP) for a national writing competition, It’s My Right, to promote awareness of children’s rights. TSP is a monthly newspaper written primarily by students for students addressing issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, incest, pregnancy, HIV, drug and alcohol abuse, psychological/physical abuse, education and children’s rights. With a circulation of 15,000 TSP is distributed directly to 100 secondary schools nationwide. As part of the campaign activities, the TSP team visited 40 schools promoting the writing competition and raising awareness of children’s rights among children, adolescents, teachers and principals and entries received from youth between the ages of 10-19.
One hundred and twelve (112) students submitted entries to the competition which began in November 2007 and concluded in January 2008 writing on issues of violence, abuse and children’s rights and responsibilities as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Seven prizes were awarded including six individual prizes to students and one school prize to the school submitting the most entries, Hillview College. Individual winners were selected in two categories, Upper School and Lower School. In the Upper School category, Ms. Marie Walker was the grand prize winner with her winning essay "When was the last time anyone really listened to us?" and second and third places were awarded to Ms. Dasia Edwards, Arima Senior Comprehensive and Ms. Lanora Feeney, International School of Port of Spain respectively. In the Lower School category, Mr. Zachary Subran-Ganesh of Presentation College, Chaguanas was selected the first place winner, while Shane Superville of Success Laventille Composite won second place and Nicolette Tahal of Providence Girls placed third.
While allowing children of Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity to express their feelings on a range of issues affecting them, the competition also helped increase their knowledge of rights and responsibilities. These sentiments were echoed by 12 year old, Zachary Subran Ganesh, first place winner Lower School, “ Children must be provided with different avenues for expressing themselves. This can be done through school activities, the media and community groups… But a child having rights does not exclude the child of his or her responsibilities. Children must respect the rights of others including their parents, peers and those in authority. They must also have respect for the laws of the land and contribute to nation building.”
November 2007 marked the 18th year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC was adopted by world leaders, including Trinidad and Tobago, on November 20, 1989 and outlines the fundamental human rights of all children. Copies of the UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children (SOWC) 2008 were also presented to all winners. The SOWC 2008 focuses on the child survival and progress made as evident in the 60 percent drop globally in the child mortality rate since 1960 and acknowledges shortfalls in the attainment of Millennium Development Goal targets worldwide.
More than 40% of the region’s population (510 million people) are under 18, and over half of these children and adolescents are living in poverty. Poverty itself generates social exclusion, which reduces access to basic services or adequate nutrition and gives way to other threatening situations that prevent healthy development in children. In Trinidad and Tobago, it is estimated that more than 24% of the population is living below the national poverty line.
In full support of the children’s efforts, representatives from the Ministries of Education and Social Development, the United Nations and ChildLine participated in the awards ceremony that highlighted children’s rights and responsibilities. UNICEF Special Envoy to the Caribbean, Ms. Karin Sham Poo and Acting Director of Planning in the Ministry of Education commended the initiative of the young persons who participated in the competition.
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