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Turkish children assert their own rights in new campaign

UNICEF Turkey / 2003

Ankara, 28-12-2006 - Children from all over Turkey have launched a campaign to promote the rights of the child. The campaign is the brainchild of the Child Forum, which held its seventh annual gathering in Ankara on November 18-21.

It represents a new departure in the activities supported by the Government of Turkey and UNICEF with a view to ensuring that children have a voice of their own. The coming twelve months will show how far adults are prepared to help children to make themselves heard - and to listen to what they have to say.

Turkish children have launched their own campaign to promote and raise awareness about child rights, and to boost children's participation in decision-taking at all levels.

The ground-breaking campaign was launched on November 20, World Child Rights Day - the date on which the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. Some 300 children and public officials from all over the country crowded into the lofty, chandelier-lit meeting room in the East wing of Ankara's monumental Grand National Assembly (parliament) in order to mark the occasion.

The excited audience, which included about 30 members of parliament, listened to a message from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a speech by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Nevzat Pakdil. The prime minister expressed his belief that the children's campaign would make a valuable contribution to increasing awareness of children's rights. For their part, the children presented a list of 23 wide-ranging demands including safe, child-friendly schools, better provision for pre-school and university education, an end to forced early marriages, more social activities in children's homes, improved media coverage and clearer traffic signs.

This was followed by a vigorous question-and-answer session. From the speaker's chair, Hazal Hürman (17), coordinator of Turkey's six year-old Child Forum, confidently fielded enquiries on the rights of Palestinian children, passive smoking and child abuse. Her colleagues commented on adult attitudes to children working on the street and deplored the bad examples of physical and verbal violence set by TV serials and even some parliamentarians.

Seventh Forum

This unaccustomed National Assembly debate was the highlight of the 2006 Child Forum - an annual event which brings together one boy and one girl from each of Turkey's 81 provinces. From November 18 to November 21, the children took part in an intensive programme of meetings, workshops, training sessions and drama groups, as well as sporting activities and a painting event sponsored by Algida, the ice-cream manufacturer.

The Forum was initiated in 2000 by the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (SHCEK), with the support of UNICEF, as a result of a National Children’s Congress. SHCEK is the national agency respopnsible for monitoring implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Simultaneously, child rights committees for adults and children were set up at the provincial level. Since 2004, meetings of the Forum have focused on child rights training - in which Forum delegates learn from their peers how to train children in their own provinces on topics like children's rights, communication skills, effective learning methods, gender discrimination, conflict resolution and protection from violence.

The campaign trail

The "Rights of the Child Promotion Campaign" is the brainchild of the Forum. The campaign will go ahead in twenty-five provinces spanning the entire country from Tekirdag to Hakkari. The first phase of the campaign will last until November 20, 2007, and will be managed entirely by children. The provinces in question have been chosen because they have active child rights committees and/or are candidates for the Child Friendly City initiative being conducted by the Ministry of the Interior with UNICEF support.

This year's Forum saw children from the 25 provinces present their action plans for the newly-launched campaign. Clearly, much work has gone into the preparation of the action plans since boys and girls from the selected provinces attended a campaign strategy workshop in Istanbul on May 31-June 2. Words like "message", "activity", "partner", "media", "budget" and "sponsor" trip readily off the children's tongues. They plan to print brochures, posters, T-shirts, hats, mugs and newspapers; to stage competitions, tournaments, exhibitions, theatrical performances, picnics, walks, torchlight processions and regattas; to shoot films, visit officials, fly kites and plant trees. They aim to work with children in detention, disabled children, children on the streets, children in institutions, children requiring special education and children out of school. And in addition to raising public awareness - among children and adults alike - they expect to make a difference in areas as diverse as rural health services, the quality of education, birth registration, substance abuse, family planning, earthquake readiness and traffic congestion.

Open doors

The campaign is being supported by SHCEK, UNICEF, the European Union and Algida. SHCEK is leading a technical committee including representatives of the Ministries of the Interior, Health, National Education, Labour and Justice, NGOs, municipalities, the gendarmerie, the State Planning Organisation, the Turkish Statistical Institute and the public institutions responsible for broadcasting and sports. SHCEK provincial units will also provide the children with basic office facilities. UNICEF is to provide each child rights committee with technical support and a small cash grant to meet minor expenses. Algida will be providing public relations support.

A child-friendly version of the CRC has been developed, a campaign newsletter has been designed - which will be published quarterly - and five regional meetings are being pencilled in for 2007. The participating committees have been equipped with lists of public and private contacts, and are now busy recruiting volunteers. All looks set for a resounding campaign. Yet however thorough the preparations, success may depend on whether a bus arrives on time, a message gets through, or a TV slot is made available... For this reason, the children are counting on the open doors and open ears of public officials, potential sponsors and the media.

A chance to participate

The stakes are high. If the campaign succeeds, it will not just promote the rights of children to an identity, liberty, justice, parental care, health services, education, social security, recreation, an adequate standard of living and protection from violence, neglect, abuse, exploitation and discrimination. At the same time, it will put into practice the right of the child to freedom of conscience, expression and association, to a voice in public debates and to an influence over decisions which affect him or her personally. Although Turkey signed the CRC in 1990, and ratified it in 1994 - and although children make up over a third of the population - traditional barriers to children's participation in decision making at all levels from the family upwards have still to be broken down.

Perhaps the last word should go to Orçun Doğan (23), the long-"retired" founding coordinator of the Child Forum. "Of the four main areas of the CRC - survival, development, protection and participation," he told the assembled adults and children in his keynote speech on November 20, "I have always held participation a bit above the others. In my view, this is the route to the other rights."



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