|Young participants attend Eritrea’s first-ever Children's Forum, held in the capital, Asmara.|
By Kutloano Leshomo
In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.
ASMARA, Eritrea, 21 July 2009 – About 100 children from all over Eritrea took part in the country’s first-ever Children’s Forum, organized by UNICEF and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students earlier this month.
Held in the capital, Asmara, the 9-10 July meeting was part of the ongoing mid-term review of the programme of cooperation between the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) and UNICEF.
The boys and girls, all between 10 and 18 years of age, came from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. Among them were children from rural areas and towns, children both in and out of school, disabled young people and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS and poverty.
Need for education on rights
Among the objectives of the Children’s Forum were to:
|Yosef Simon and Danait Amanuel, both 13, facilitate one of the group discussions at the Children’s Forum in Eritrea.|
During their deliberations, the children discussed issues cutting across all country programme priorities in Eritrea. They decried early marriage and the scourge of rape and abuse. They noted that while their views are generally respected at school, their voices are never heard in the community. And they pointed out that neither they nor their parents are sufficiently educated about child rights.
Going to the grassroots
At the end of the meeting, the participants produced a statement that will be given to all stakeholders who work on children’s issues. It expressed appreciation for UNICEF’s work in Eritrea but urged the agency to evaluate its programmes at the grassroots level in order to ensure that they benefit the poorest children.
“We call upon UNICEF to play a greater role and provide more resources to make all children equal,” the participants said, adding that the country needs a government “ministry for children” to give youth issues greater priority.
The forum participants seemed well informed about HIV and AIDS but noted that cultural barriers still make it difficult to discuss issues of sexuality with their parents. To address the problem, they urged UNICEF to actively raise awareness by using the mass media and conducting workshops for parents.
‘The future of Eritrea’
The children’s went on to call for child-friendly health services, as well as more schools and sanitary facilities across the country.
While thanking their government for its efforts to improve their status, the forum participants asked that young people be made partners in their country’s development – because “the future of Eritrea lies in the well-being of children.”
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