|Marleni with other youth delegates at the Trinidad consultation.|
By Blue Chevigny
Voices of Youth Digital Diaries are all about young people who want to know more…do more…and say more about the world. Our goal is to amplify their voices by inviting the world’s children to share UNICEF’s electronic podium. These reports are first-person/eyewitness accounts by young people from around the world.
BELIZE CITY, 16 May 2005 – Marleni Cuellar, 20, has dedicated herself to building a new youth movement called ‘Xchange’ which is launching in Belize and the rest of the Caribbean Region over the next few months. Xchange is all about building harmony and commitment against violence one person at a time, through musical events, dramas and other participatory methods.
“What we’re trying to do is create a culture of non-violence in the Caribbean, because it is becoming acceptable to use violence as a way of dealing with difficulties,” she says.
In March, Marleni participated in a Regional Consultation for the UN Study on Violence Against Children, along with other Caribbean youth leaders. The meeting was special in that youth perspectives were presented on an equal footing with the viewpoints of recognized experts on violence. The Consultation was held in Trinidad.
Over the next two months, Consultations on the same topic will take place in other regions throughout the world. Three are happening in the next two weeks: One in Kathmandu, Nepal; one in Bangkok, Thailand; and one in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At each of these meetings, young people will make their voices heard.
|Marleni Cuellar (right) with another youth delegate at the Trinidad consultation on violence against children.|
Marleni sees many types of violence affecting her community. She is working with UNICEF Belize to help create new approaches to combating this violence through Xchange.
She is especially concerned about gun violence and violence associated with street crime, which is on the rise in Belize. “Recently its been a lot of 15, 16, and 17 year olds getting killed with guns, which wakes up anybody to think, ‘Hey, this is getting out of hand,’” she says. Marleni heard from others at the Trinidad meeting that this type of violence is on the rise throughout the Caribbean.
Marleni is also concerned about violence in the home, which she says is rife in Belize, especially sexual and physical abuse and corporal punishment. She says that corporal punishment “is almost culturally ingrained. We have grown up with that form of discipline. We have to be able to recognize that corporal punishment is a form of violence.”
She points out that Belize was the fifth country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits all types of violence against children, and says that this is evidence of the nation’s commitment to child protection. Marleni believes that the government should now fulfill this commitment through legal measures such as making corporal punishment illegal.
She also believes that cultural attitudes must change, and that this only happens through mass movements. This is one reason why she is so excited about Xchange: Marleni is convinced that the movement has the potential to effect change on a wide scale.
“We have to be able to spread the message, spread the word and get other young people involved as much as possible. And through that we can start the creation of a new culture that doesn’t accept violence so easily.”
Marleni is just one of many young people participating in the UN Study on Violence through the regional consultations. Come back to unicef.org for more stories about the youth who are having a say in the direction of UN policy and programmes.