Thai children represent the country at a special UN General Assembly session
By Nattha Keenapan
BANGKOK, February 2008 - Growing up in the Suan Plu slum area, one of Bangkok’s poorest neighborhoods, 18-year Thaveesak Srikrathum had never imagined that he would one day find himself sitting among the world's top decision makers at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
But that is exactly where Thaveesak, a Grade 12 student at the Nonsi Witthaya School in Bangkok, found himself last December after being selected as one of two Thai youth to represent the country at a special UN General Assembly session. The ‘World Fit for Children Plus 5’ plenary meeting, 11-13 December 2007, was held to measure progress made by each of the world’s countries towards achieving the goals of “A World Fit for Children”, the plan of action adopted at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in May 2002.
Thaveesak, together with 17-year-old Nittaya Promsom, a Grade 11 student from Bajra Kitiyabha 3 School in Surat Thani, were among the 75 youth delegates representing 50 countries at the December UN General Assembly Session. The Thai delegation was lead by Poldej Pinprateep, then Deputy Minister of Social Development and Human Security.
The youth’s trip was supported by UNICEF Thailand.
A few weeks before their trip to New York, Nittaya and Thaveesak and some 100 other youth delegates from all the country’s provinces took part in the National Child Rights Forum at Government House in Bangkok. At the forum, organized by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the youth delegates discussed problems facing children in each region and proposed solutions to the government. The other delegates at the forum selected Thaveesak and Nittaya to represent Thailand at the UN General Assembly Session.
Thaveesak said the youth delegates gathered in New York two days before the General Assembly session to discuss what issues they wanted to raise in the General Assembly plenary.
“We had to think of the problems related to each topic that we wanted to propose.” Thaveesak said. “We also performed a play for ourselves about what we thought our roles are in relation to each issue.”
Twenty of the youth delegates were selected to address the General Assembly sessions on such issues as climate change, education and HIV/AIDS.
Nittaya said she learned a great deal about the many different problems facing children around the world at the youth delegate meetings and in the General Assembly.
“I think there should be a knowledge development policy for parents so that they know how to treat their children in a constructive way.” Nittaya said.
Thaveesak said he is most concerned about children’s access to education. While the youth delegates from Africa talked about how child soldiers are forced to take part in wars instead of going to school, Thaveesak said he is worried about how many stateless children in Thailand do not have the opportunity to attend school and about how many children in his own community drop out of school to go to work.
In Thailand, about 900,000 primary school-aged children are not in school or enroll late. In addition, only 73 per cent of children of secondary school age are attending school.
An outstanding student, Thaveesak said it was focusing on “the importance of education that allowed me to get this far. I grew up in an environment where drugs and violence are common, but because my house was next to the library I spent most of my time there. I think that library played a major role in making me who I am today.”
For the past five years Thaveesak has received scholarships from the Sikkha Asia Foundation, a non-governmental organization working to promote access to education in the country’s urban slums and poor rural villages. Today, Thaveesak supports the foundation by helping out at his local library and organizing recreation activities for young children, in the hope that this will keep them in school and away from drugs and violence.
“I used to think that the problems we face as children have nothing to do with us,” Thaveesak said. “But later I realized that if we don’t help start solving these problems, no one else will. Everyone – including children – has a role to play,”
The closing address at the General Assembly Session was made by a youth delegate from Kenya, who urged governments to make children their first priority and to step up efforts to meet their needs.
Both Nittaya and Thaveesak say they want the Thai government to push for a “totally free” education for all children. Although students do not pay tuition to attend school in Thailand, they still must pay at least 2,000-3,000 baht per semester for uniforms and other miscellaneous school expenses.
“I have learned at the UN meeting that children have to speak out,” said Thaveesak “Children from other countries were really brave and were not shy about expressing their opinions. So Thai children should tell adults what we think should be done.”