|© UNICEF/Turkey/2011/Oktay Ustun|
|Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States, stands with child advocates at the children's consultation on Turkey's new constitution.|
By Lely Djuhari
ANKARA, Turkey, 2 February, 2012 – Turkey is at pivotal point in its history. Parliamentarians are poised to make fundamental changes to the country’s constitution, and children will have a rare chance to leave their stamp on it.
A two-day consultation, ‘Children`s Opinions on the Process for a New Constitution', was organized by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, the Parliament and UNICEF Turkey. The event began this week, bringing together 162 children from child-rights committees from all the nation’s provinces.
With the conference, Turkey will become one of the few countries in the world where children have been consulted in the drafting of a constitution, the basis of all national laws.
The new constitution will influence the country`s future as a thriving democracy.
Amendments could pave the way for greater freedom of expression, and will change the relationship between the judiciary and political parties, allowing the President and Parliament to have a say in the composition of the constitutional court.
In addition to consulting Turkey’s child representatives, academics, non-governmental organizations and disadvantaged groups were also asked to submit their opinions.
The conference is part of broader efforts to empower the country’s youth to take on active roles as citizens.
|© UNICEF/Turkey/2011/Oktay Ustun|
|Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States, speaks at the children's consultation on Turkey's new constitution. Child rights advocates Sevval Lafçi and Mirkan Özdemir stand behind her.|
Too many children in the country– especially those living in poverty – are missing out on health services, nutrition and education accessible to others. Tens of thousands of children of primary school age are not in school, and many children – particularly girls – may be in danger of dropping out.
Child rights committees, which meet at the province and national level, were established in 2000 to help young people advocate for the rights of those vulnerable children.
“Many of my friends don`t understand what child rights are, let alone why a constitution is important for them,” child advocate Berkay Saygin said. “It`s exciting to see this issue on TV and in the newspapers. The more I learn about it, the more I want to understand how it impacts my life.”
“We want the government to set their policy with child rights at the centre,” said 16-year-old child committee representative Sevval Lafçi. “Getting child rights into the Constitution will make it easier to for us to advocate for children`s rights in laws and making sure that resources are given.”
Participating in the future
“We need to have a constitution that includes the voices of all people,” said Fatma Şahin, Minister of Family and Social Policies, whose office is responsible for facilitating the children’s participation. “In the past, our constitutions were drafted during times of hardship. This is the first time that we are able to do it during peacetime. We need to capture the spirit of these new times.”
“I extend my wholehearted congratulations to the Government of Turkey for having accomplished this invaluable work,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States.
“The lesson I take from today is inspirational,” she continued. “I will take this as an example to the Governments of Europe and Central Asia of what can be achieved through children participating in the future.”