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Children Part of Future of Democracy

First-Ever Azerbaijani Child Parliament opened on June 1st International Children’s Day

 By Sandra Iseman

BAKU, June 2007 - Eighty-five young and excited faces sat looking on from the large armchairs usually occupied by adult MPs in the Milli Majlis (Azerbaijan Parliament) on 1 June 2007. Dressed in their most formal clothes, side by side with adult MPs, these young, but professional and confident, representatives elected from their districts for a three-year term already feel the weight of their responsibility as Azerbaijan’s first-ever elected Child Parliamentarians. In a program formed on the basis of a memorandum, signed 1 April 2006, by the Parliament, the Education Ministry and UNICEF, the Child Parliament opened its first session on this year’s International Children’s Day.

 This first session became in a way a culmination of a year-long training during which young junior deputies learned about CRC, leadership skills, how to communicate with policy makers, and how to address issues of their concern at the Milli Majlis.

Children have already formed the ruling structures and eight parliamentary commissions. These commissions will provide the opportunity for the young politicians to address children’s issues regarding violence, poverty, health and development, early marriage and more thorough recommendations on policies and direct contact with MPs.

Child Parliament sessions will be held twice a year at the Milli Majlis meeting hall. The youngsters’ first assignment is to make recommendations regarding the Parliament’s draft policy on Youth and Sport.

Newly-elected speaker of the children’s parliament Taleh Aliyev outlined his mandate for issues he wishes young deputies would address during their three-year term. “We will ensure the following: no violence against children, education for all, child-friendly schools, and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.” Deputy Speaker 14-year old Farida Aliyeva followed by saying, “we trust you adults, because we can’t solve all these problems ourselves. Please don’t forget we are your future.” “You Presence here today is an honour to you, but also a big responsibility on your shoulder to make sure that the voices of those other children who elected you are heard. It is your responsibility to make sure that the voices of more vulnerable children are heard…You should not take it lightly…..I challenge you to raise issues regarding child rights – right for quality education, right for participation, right for protection against violence, to support your government in eradicating poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, promoting gender equality,” said Hanaa Singer UNICEF Azerbaijan Representative, addressing young deputies. “You and other young people in the country are potential leaders of tomorrow. We understand that they will sooner or later receive the reins of power from us. It is our hope that Children Parliament will not only enrich children's capabilities to participate in the decision-making that affects their lives, but will also contribute to Azerbaijan's efforts to institutionalize democracy by creating a generation that has respect for the values of democracy,” she said.

 The newly-elected young MPs enjoyed opening remarks from MPs, the Minister of Education, UNICEF.

 While several officials and government representatives addressed the children encouraging them to take up their responsibilities with confidence and reminding them of who they represent, it was clear the young parliamentarians want to take their responsibilities seriously and truly hope they can help their constituents from their own districts but also of all of Azerbaijan.

 Cabbarli Sitara, a 16-year old girl spoke of her hope for the new Child Parliament. “We have very bad problems with children and I believe if we work very hard we can do anything to help our people. I hope everything will be good and improve for the children and the people of Azerbaijan. We will do everything in our power to help the people,” she promised. 17-year old Alim Isgenderov from Naftalan shares this hope, saying “I think that this parliament will help children, help with their problems, and maintain their rights.”

The concerns of the elected children varied, 17-year old Joshgun Abbaszade said that he hopes to address sports, international relationships, and early marriages: “In some of the villages, children become married. It’s very bad”. While Suad Huseyn-zade, a fifteen-year old spoke on the importance of children participating in finding solutions to their own problems. “Our problems are due to misunderstandings by adults regarding children. I think we as children have to try to help solve child problems, because the adults cannot do it without us. And we are the future of them.”

Adult MPs, ministers, representatives of international organizations and foreign diplomats turned out for the opening session in what the Minister of Education called “an historic moment”. The Chairwoman Bahar Muradova commented that “the example of gender balance can set a good example for the adult Parliament,” she said referring to the thirty-two girls and fifty-three boys sitting in front of her.

 Gender isn’t the only issue they children have agreed to address. Since the elected young deputies’ training sessions on functions and working principles of Child Parliament in Baku on 4-6 January, 2007, they have been thinking of ways improve democracy in the Parliament, and bring democracy home to their schools and communities. While these responsibilities are large, no matter what age, these children are not too young. As 14-year old Rufana Novruzlu commented, “I want to try for the children of Azerbaijan. Two ways I think we can help them is through international communications and through our education system here at home.”

The young deputies will now go back to their communities, having a chance to discuss emerging issues of concern with their peers. Next time they will meet during a summer camp, where they will be joined by adult MPs to discuss, brainstorm and better articulate issues that they would like to raise during autumn session of the Mejlis.

While the World Child Parliament Assembly has members from over fifty other countries, Azerbaijan was given further privilege of hosting the 8th meeting of the general assembly.

The Child Parliament is a major attempt by UNICEF Azerbaijan, in partnership with National Parliament, and Government of Azerbaijan to strengthen young people’s participation in the life of their schools, communities and in the national policy-making environment. This builds upon the work conducted in previous years, particularly the attempts to include youth participation into the designing and monitoring of the State Programme on Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development in Azerbaijan 2006-2015.

 For further information please contact:

Ayna Mollazade, Communication Officer

 Tel: 99412 492 3013

 Fax: 99412 492 2468




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