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Protecting children’s rights where they are not enshrined by treaty

© UNICEF video
Hawo Qasim, 13, is one of many children who fled conflict in Mogadishu and now lives in an IDP camp. She says she doesn’t have enough to eat and would like the right to an education.

by Misbah M. Sheikh

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified 18 years ago, on 20 November 1989. For this landmark anniversary, UNICEF has launched the 'CRC@18' campaign to raise awareness about child rights and the impact of the Convention. Here is one in a series of related stories.

HARGEISA, Somalia, 29 November 2007 – The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) turned 18 last week – a momentous occasion for children all around the world. It was of particular interest to youths in Somalia, one of only two countries in the world that have not ratified the CRC.

Somalia has been in conflict for the past 16 years and many children in the country have grown up not knowing what it means to have the right to education, clean water or protection.

“Children in Somalia live in one the most challenging circumstances in the world, most recently surviving a year that has seen floods, drought and a deteriorating security situation,” said UNICEF Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev-Olesen.

Ibrahim Sheikh Nor, 14, fled Mogadishu after losing his mother to conflict and now lives in the Kalagoye camp for displaced persons. “Children in the world have got a lot of rights, but we here do not have the similar rights to those children,” said Ibrahim.

Daily support for child’s rights

Despite the lack of an official treaty, UNICEF is still supporting activities in Somalia that pave the way for the realization of children’s rights.

At the official level, UNICEF is engaged in advocacy with members of parliament, government ministries and civil society representatives to promote the Convention.

Where children need support on a daily basis, UNICEF works in communities with health workers, teachers, non-governmental organizations, media professionals and children themselves to make child rights a reality.

“The right to information is indeed one of the key rights outlined in the CRC,” said Mr. Balslev-Olesen. “But until we can all build a society for children where they can survive and thrive, the right to participate will not mean much if that little boy in northern Somalia has to flee his house because fighting breaks out in his town.”

The Child-to-Child Network

An innovative project called the Child-to-Child Network is currently being piloted in 30 schools around Somalia. This initiative brings children together in small clubs that meet regularly to discuss issues of concern.

The network is supported by about 3,000 youths, aged 10 to 17, who serve as peer educators and speak out publicly on child rights and issues tha children care deeply about.

“We were very concerned in our neighbourhood that the new trees that were being planted were dying due to lack of water,” said Lela, a 17 year-old student from Hargeisa, in northern Somalia. “So we came up with a schedule and allocated water every day to make sure the trees were watered and taken care of.”

Reaching out to peers

With UNICEF support, the peer educators reach more than 30,000 adolescents around the country through a website, youth magazines and radio programmes.

 “I remember getting a phone call from a young boy who was about nine years old,” said Abdi, the editor of a youth magazine in Bossaso. “He was asking so many questions about HIV. Could he get it from a toilet seat, could it be spread through mosquitoes? It’s these types of phone calls that let me know that so much more needs to be done in the area of giving information.

 “So many children have questions out there who aren’t as brave as this boy and who need information.”




Displaced children living in Somalia speak out about their need to fully realize their rights.
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