Uzbek children demand a greater say from adults
By Nigina Baykabulova
Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 13 August 2009 - Family environments and the indifference of adults are the major obstacles to meaningful child participation, said young parliamentarians at the 12th session of the Children’s Parliament in Samarkand. They also think that they do not have insufficient knowledge about their own rights. A lack of interest along with low confidence prevent their peers from speaking up.
This session brought together 200 youngsters from across the country to discuss ways to increase child participation in decision-making. It also sought to introduce them national and international legislation related to child labour.
It is important to make children aware of the differences between acceptable work and child labour that affects their health, education and moral development. Understanding laws and rights will enable them to influence adults’ current decisions and practices that impact their lives.
“We children can help make things better. I always try to play a part in school and community activities,” says Shakhnoza Rasulova, 17 years old. Member of the Children’s Parliament since 2005, this time she made a debut as a trainer on participation issues.
She asks young parliamentarians to think of the roles children play at home, school or community and propose ways to overcome barriers to their full participation. For that, they use the “Ladder of child participation” - a concept popularized by sociologist Roger Hart. It describes different levels of child involvement in community development. The lowest, first rung also means the least degree of participation.
“Every child has got his or her own place in society. I think I’m already on the top of the ladder – where children and grown-ups share decision-making,” she adds with satisfaction.
Her parents have always trusted her and supported her actions. Yet, many of her friends have a different story to tell; they don’t have a say even in family decisions that affect them.
Learning to participate
Participation remains a learning experience for both sides in Uzbekistan. It is a country where 40 % of the population is under 18 and where traditional cultural norms still shape many adults’ attitudes towards children.
“Child participation is recognized and everyone agrees it’s about development and a way forward for the nation. Yet, it’s not always effectively practiced,” says Saida Musafaeva, leader of the “Atrof-Muhit” NGO. She is familiar with the issue: her NGO has trained hundreds of children, including young MPs, to make them better prepared for life.
“Adults need to listen to children, take into account their views and ideas and encourage their initiatives,” says Saida.
Children, too, need to make an effort to achieve full participation. “We have to know our rights and learn to be more convincing when talking to adults,” says Tulkin Yusupov, 14, one of the newly elected MPs from Surkhadaryo region. Now he understands the issue better; real participation means not only children initiating and doing good things on their own. It also means they work hand in hand with adults to solve common problems.
UNICEF has been helping to foster child participation in Uzbekistan by various means. The Children’s Parliament is just one of the telling examples of UNICEF support.
The parliament was initiated by the Uzbek Children’s Fund with UNICEF support in 2002. Since then it has become a learning platform for several generations of children willing to do something for public good.
It has connected hundreds of children across the country with similar interests and aspirations, helping them gain new knowledge and skills and take action within communities. Most importantly, the Children’s Parliament empowered young people by offering a space to exercise their right to participate. In one of the previous sessions young MPs provided inputs to the landmark Law of the Guarantees of the Rights of the Child which was adopted in 2008.
“I have seen some of these young people grow and mature through participation in the Children’s Parliament,” says Siyma Barkin-Kuzmin, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, and carries on: “Just recently, I witnessed one of the young MPs taking part in training on child rights and child labour run by the President’s Academy in Jizzak. He was so convincing that made adult participants listen to him and engage in serious discussion on the topic. ”
“The Parliament has given me a chance to step into political life of my country. I want to continue my studies in law and work for the protection of human rights in future,” says Shakhnoza.
It is too soon to say how well the junior, first-year parliamentarians will do back home in getting a word about children’s participation out and inspiring their peers for action.
“80 % of success depends on how they will be able to present themselves. It’s a huge responsibility but I’m sure they will handle it,” says Shakhnoza.