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Children get a voice in Turkey’s parliament

© UNICEF Turkey/2008/Bektas
Left to right: Mukadder Gokce (11), Speaker of Parliament Koksal Toptan, Sevval Lafci (13) and UNICEF Representative Reza Hossaini.

By Bernard Kennedy

The Grand National Assembly of Turkey has become the latest national parliament to set up a committee to monitor child rights – and children will be invited to contact the committee via the Internet.

News of the establishment of the new committee came in a speech delivered by Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan on 20 November, Universal Children’s Day. Addressing a joint meeting of members of parliament and boys and girls representing provincial child rights commissions, the speaker said the committee, “will take responsibility and carry out enquiries based on the information reaching it from public opinion and from children themselves.”

Mr. Toptan added that a website would be created to enable children to raise issues and make recommendations to the committee members at any time. The provincial child rights commissions could also play a key role in channeling information and ideas to the committee.

The new parliamentary Child Rights Monitoring Committee aims at ensuring effective implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Initially, it will have a multi-party composition of eight MPs, and will operate under the umbrella of the Health, Family, Labor and Social Affairs Committee.

© UNICEF Turkey/2008/Bektas
Posing for a photo are the representatives of Turkey’s provincial child rights commissions at the doors of the Grand National Assembly.

Partners for Change

UNICEF Representative Reza Hossaini welcomed the formation of the new parliamentary committee.

“Children, worldwide, are an unexplored rich source of ideas and a potential partner for change,” he said. “Children freely cross the borders we adults have created for ourselves; they don’t differentiate between colours of skin, ethnicity, and political grouping. We adults should learn to listen to them.”

Mr. Hossaini also underlined that Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child obliged governments and the public sector to assure children of the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them.

During their joint session with MPs, the 81 girls and 81 boys, all aged between 12 and 17, highlighted issues ranging from staff shortages in children’s homes to the problems of getting leave from school in order to take part in child rights activities.

Feeling Important

Meanwhile, the marble chambers of the parliament building played host to an exhibition illustrating the activities of the provincial child rights commissions, such as teaching other children about their rights, conducting surveys and awareness-raising campaigns, helping children with addictions, visiting detention centers for children and collaborating with mayors and provincial governors to monitor child rights implementation at the local level.

The 162 children were in Ankara for the Child Forum, an annual event now in its ninth year, which is jointly organized by the Government of Turkey and UNICEF with financial backing from the European Union.

“This is a process and it will take time,” commented Hilal Altindag (age 17) from Kütahya, when questioned about the likely impact of the new parliamentary committee. “But today has made us feel that we are important.”



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