Adolescents voice their needs and issues to decision-makers on the International Children’s Day
"Child rights through children’s eyes" forum brings together over 100 children from across Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh
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Like other countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, Armenia celebrates child protection day on 1 June that usually sports a line-up of concerts and fun events for young children. This year, the Human Rights Defender of Armenia teamed up with UNICEF to offer a platform to adolescent children to talk about what’s on their mind – issues that they are facing, needs that are not being met, aspirations and how they would like to see their country.
Over 100 children from across the country and Nagorno-Karabakh got together at TUMO Center for Creative Technologies to take part in the ‘Child rights through children’s eyes’ forum that also hosted a line of decision-makers and officials from the National Assembly, Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, the Police, European Delegation, European Council, embassies of Lithuania, the Netherlands, and counterparts from Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Children’s meaningful participation in decisions that concern them is embedded in their right to voice their opinions and is in their best interest. From this perspective, it is crucial that new platforms are provided to children. I hope that today’s event will serve that purpose.”
“For many years, UNICEF worked with the Human Rights Defender of Armenia to establish working mechanisms to better listen to and support children. One of the greatest outcomes of our cooperation has been seeing how frequently adolescents apply to the Human Rights Defender for support. But we still need to concentrate our efforts to make the protection of rights a reality for every child in Armenia. Today, we reiterate our commitment to continue working together to improve the child-friendly complaint mechanisms, increase awareness of child rights, and continue putting them at the heart of national plans and policies.”
Participants also heard from the EU Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin who shared how the Delegation works with adolescents and young people across a number of fields, such as climate change or education and is always inspired by how active young people are and eager to learn and participate in decisions that concern them. De-facto Ombudsman of Nagorno-Karabakh Gegham Stepanyan highlighted the importance of ensuring protection of rights for every child, no matter where they live or what their status is.
Participants heard from 23 children and young people who shared their experiences in adverse situations and war, issues related to education, social inclusion, cyber security and bullying. Born and raised in Iraq, Naro Ohanesyan shared her story of reestablishing her life in Armenia, while Avetis Balyan shared his experience of going through the war in Syria. Both speakers emphasized the need to look ahead, stay focused on the new day and the future, setting goals and keep on pursuing new avenues of learning.
Aspiring young mime artists David Amirshatyan, George Lalayan, Maria Poghosyan and Bella Hayrapetyan spoke sign language sharing their childhood experiences of feeling left out of the society and at school, striving to understand other people who speak with their mouth and not hands, like them, and dreaming that one day other people will learn sign language and be able to understand their world. Their group called on the Ministry of Education and schools to acquire sign language textbooks so that children with hearing disability have the opportunity to go to public school as their peers without hearing disability do.
Participants also heard from Elen Gevorgyan and Lucia Harutyunyan who shared their experiences of going through the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the negative impact that it has left on them and their friends, making a call for peace and recovery.
Participants had the opportunity to ask questions to decision-makers and hear from them, as well as discuss and present specific solutions to issues, such as how to improve textbooks or school policies and student life, how to support parents and children to learn more about cybersecurity, how to prevent bullying and encourage inclusion, as well as improve country legislation to better reflect the best interests of children. As a result of the forum, the Human Rights Defender’s Office and UNICEF will review and follow up on issues with decision-making bodies as well as seek to establish regular platforms of communication where adolescents and young people can exercise their right to voice their opinions and be heard.