Voices of youth
How UNICEF is upholding young people’s right to a voice in the Philippines and around the world
At a workshop in Manila, six groups of young people are working on media projects about children’s rights. One group presents a stop motion animation, illustrating the issue of children caught in conflict.
A boy made of clay appears waving against a collage background of sun, trees and clouds. Without warning, a missile shoots in from the right and blows him into pieces. The animation shifts to night time, with toy soldiers firing at each other. Miraculously, the boy reassembles himself and starts waving again. The video ends with the message “If only children were made of clay... but they’re not. Uphold children’s right to protection.”
UNICEF’s work, both in the Philippines and internationally, is based on upholding children’s rights, including the right to a voice. Every child has the right to a voice in the things that affect them and for their views to be taken seriously. However, many children do not get heard. Their feelings, their views, their worries, their ideas are ignored.
"Unless we listen to children, it is not possible to help them," UNICEF UK Trustee and children’s rights consultant Gerison Lansdown comments. "How can we know when children are being abused, whether they have had breakfast, whether they understand their lessons, why they are living on the streets, why they are crying, if we refuse to listen? It is only by understanding more about how children experience the world that we can help to ensure their rights are realised."
This issue is particularly relevant in 2009. Twenty years ago, the world made a set of promises to all children when it adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). While great progress has been made since then, children’s rights are still being denied and much remains to be done. As the champion of the CRC, UNICEF is working to help every child realise their rights, including the right to be heard.
Word on the street
Here in the Philippines, UNICEF has been helping fund a five-year project to uphold young people’s right to a voice. Kabataan News Network (KNN) works with around 160 young journalists from ten regions across the Philippines. It produces segments for a regular show, Kabataan X-Press, which explores issues that concern young people, such as teenage prostitution and juvenile justice and also showcases print, radio and video pieces on its website, Kabataannews.com.
Kabataan means ‘youth’ in Tagalog, the main local language of the Philippines. KNN trains young people to produce news reports using video, radio, print and photography. The young journalists are not just given technical training, they’re also taught about children’s rights. To mark the 20th anniversary of the CRC this November, KNN asked young people from 32 youth media organisations from across the Philippines to produce pieces in different media, illustrating children’s rights.
Ros Padua is Project Coordinator for KNN. “We wanted to focus not just on what children’s rights are but on their impact, on what has happened to the Philippines since it signed the Convention” she comments. “Most of the young people on this project are 20 or younger. They were born around the same time as the CRC. A lot of good things have happened in that time but there are still a lot of things that we can improve. So we wanted to ask their help, to determine what more can be done.”
Learning in a box
Another of the Manila groups has made a short film about the right to an education. In it, a street child draws a school on a flattened cardboard box. She then assembles the box and crawls into it, followed by a number of other children. The video ends with a call for people to unite to uphold the right to an education.
Guillermo Ocampo, 21, from Baguio has dreamed of being a reporter since he was a child, so the project was a great opportunity for him. “We were given the topic of the right to an education,” he said. “While thinking about the story, we had the idea of a child that wants to go to school but doesn’t have the resources. When I was a kid, I liked to play with a box and imagine things with it. And the video shows that when one child has created a school with the box, other kids would like to go there too.”
“Here in the Philippines, even though there are lots of students starting school, few of them finish,” he continues. “In our video, we show that for every 100 children who start Grade One, only 30 will finish high school. So even though we know that every child has the right to go to school, not all of them are getting the chance to finish.”
Guillermo says the main thing he learned through the project was that, while many people support the idea of children’s rights, they often don’t know what they can do to help uphold them. “Even though some people are aware of these rights, they don’t know how to act or do something about it,” he says. “So most of the pieces in this workshop are public service announcements. Through them, we urge people to take action and let them know where they can join.”
It’s clear that young people not only have the right to a voice, they have important things to say that adults need to listen to. With UNICEF’s support, more young people will have their voices heard as the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on their rights.
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