Speaking up on issues that matter to youth
by Chan Kit Sze
Youth voices matter most at the Children and Young People’s Forum held in conjunction with the 7th East Asia and Pacific Ministerial Consultation (MinCon) organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Siem Reap, Cambodia, recently.
Forty youth from 20 countries in East Asia and the Pacific attended the three-day Forum on the concerns and capabilities of adolescents in the region. Five topics identified in the discussions were education, HIV/AIDS, child participation, cultural change and media and employment opportunities for young people.
The STAR newspaper’s BRAT (Bright, Roving, Annoying, Talented), Chan Kit Sze (18) joined the Malaysian delegation to participate in the forum as a youth reporter. She shares her experiences in Siem Reap with this article published in The Star.KUALA LUMPUR, 17 April 2005 – Brought up with the idea of “adults command, children listen”, I was beyond excited to be at a place where young people’s views would be heard and taken seriously.
It was our chance to demonstrate to Government officials attending the MinCon how young people can contribute towards building a harmonious society. We also had the opportunity to review and comment on the Siem Reap Declaration for the MinCon.
“Our mission here is like a journey to the Angkor Wat with the majestic temples representing our final presentation to the Government officials”, said Lakan Perlyn Bunyi, the forum’s principal facilitator.
And, hence our journey began.
Risk of AIDS
After some debate amongst fellow youth participants, we selected education, HIV/AIDS, child participation, cultural changes and employment of young people as the main issues affecting children and young people in our region.
We were divided into groups according to our preferred topics. I was particularly interested in HIV/AIDS, as adolescents and young people are the group most at risk of being infected. The statistics are shocking, with an estimated 11.8 million young people living with HIV today. Each day, nearly 6,000 more youth are infected.
Through the discussion, we agreed that everyone must have accurate information about how the virus is spread and how they can protect themselves.
I started to wonder how many of my peers back home actually receive proper and effective sex education. Not many, I concluded finally.
“You can’t stop people from having sex. But you can help save their lives if you give them the right education. Peer education is one good way. It’s about positive peer pressure to do the right thing,” said Tanes Rianglaem, 18 from Thailand.
Tipsuda Chadee, 15 from Thailand, stressed on the need to use the media to champion children’s issues. “The media has the power. As a child, I want that power so I can change bad things for my peers.
“I joined a children’s media club called Thai Youth News Centre in my school two years ago when I was 13 years old. I am now the chairperson of my club and helped to produce and host a weekly news program revolving around topics relevant to young people, like sex education, quality schooling, etc,” she added.
It was not all serious discussions and debate. In between sessions, we had fun energizers that allowed us to explore and learn interesting tidbits about other countries. Every country had a chance to share and appreciate other cultures as traditional games, songs, and dances were introduced. During Malaysia’s slot, we played a popular game from my childhood days -- Helang and Ibu Ayam (The Eagle and the Mother Hen).
Innovation for and with children
During the forum, we also had the privilege of meeting and speaking to our Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, Dato’ Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
“Malaysia is progressing relatively well in our policies, but we need to keep up with the times to suit the needs and demands of children these days,” she said.
Dato' Seri Shahrizat added that she was interested in organising a similar forum in Malaysia for young people as a platform for them to be more active in promoting children’s rights and to voice their views.
At the end of the forum, we performed a shot sketch which expressed our views to the government officials.
“I hope that all the ideas we get from this forum will not just remain on paper. I hope that all of us will develop our ideas into concrete action so that we can make life better for all children in this region,” said Tipsuda.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Angkor Wat, a huge temple build by Suryavarman II. I was overwhelmed as I set foot on the supreme masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It was a wonder how well it was built without modern technology hundreds of years ago.
Active child participation
“I hope the Malaysian delegates’ participation is a testament of our country’s contribution in the struggle for active child participation. As young people, we cannot wait for adults to decide what is in our best interest. More than ever before, with the active collaboration of government and non-government organisations and young people recognised as individuals with rights, we have to express our thoughts,” said Jayaram Gopinath Nagaraj (20) from Malaysia.
After my six day “journey to Angkor Wat”, I came back armed with newly acquired knowledge from my peers in the region. I had gained greater understanding of issues affecting young people.
The outcomes of the Children and Young People’s Forum are:
Education: Common issues include violence in schools, the high cost of education, and lack of facilities and infrastructure. The youth delegates urged governments to allocate enough funds to ensure that every child - including girls, the disabled and children in difficulties – have access to education.
HIV/AIDS: Provide sex education for youth so that they can learn about safe sex and how to protect themselves from HIV infection. Peer education programs could be more effective. There is also a need for more counseling and support services for young people who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Child Participation: There is a need to improve communications between parents and schools. Children’s views should be represented in different sectors and units of governments.
Cultural Change and Media: Media is a big influence on youth. Allow greater participation by youth in media content, and censorship policies.
Employment Opportunities: Youth are unemployed due to a lack of opportunities. Governments can help by analyzing the current employment market and implementing policies to create employment opportunities for people.
21 March 2005: