UNICEF and youth: Working together for 'A World Fit for Children'
By Amy Bennett
NEW YORK, 15 January 2008 – The year 2007 marked the five-year anniversary celebration of the UN plan of action, ‘A World Fit For Children’ – a commitment by world leaders to protect and promote child rights. It was also in year in which UNICEF further expanded its efforts to empower children and let their voices be heard.
In December, ‘A World Fit For Children Plus 5’ – the follow-up meeting to the 2002 UN General Assembly Special Session on Children – gathered together more than 90 youth participants from over 50 countries to act as representatives of their respective governments and non-governmental organisations. Child delegates from many countries got the chance to speak at United Nations headquarters in New York City and attend roundtable events.
“I’m happy because at least we’re going to talk about something that we all feel passionate about,” said Galaletsang Matlhaga, a youth delegate from Botswana. “We are here to achieve a goal that is to get a better world for children.”
Personal histories unfolding
During the UN meeting, UNICEF asked children to voice their opinions about the world they live in and the work UNICEF is doing, as the organisation continues working to get young people involved in identifying their own unique needs.
‘Our Stories’, a newly launched online archive, documented the thoughts and opinions of dozens of these youth delegates. The project, which is supported by UNICEF in partnership with Google and One Laptop Per Child, chronicled the youths’ impressions of New York, songs they composed, stories of home and messages to world leaders. Many children recorded stories in their native languages for audiences at home, while others interviewed fellow delegates from other nations.
“The act of sharing allows us to form that necessary human connection that is often missing,” said former child soldier and author of the best-selling memoir, ‘A Long Way Gone’, Ishmael Beah. “One of the most significant changes in my life has been the ability to tell my story for the benefit of others.”
By identifying each child’s story with his or her home country, UNICEF hopes to help young people visualise the global landscape and imagine the multitude of personal histories unfolding worldwide each day.
Speaking out and taking action
Through UNICEF, young people have the opportunity to take part in sharing ideas with their peers from many different countries. UNICEF’s Voices of Youth program, for example, offers a safe and supportive global cyberspace within which they can explore issues important to them, and discuss and take action on human rights and social change.
In a related initiative, the Voices of Youth Digital Diaries provide first-person accounts of the lives of young people around the world. And the UNICEF-supported International Children’s Day of Broadcasting (ICDB) partners young people with broadcasters, while the yearly ICDB Awards recognise broadcasters for their dedication to youth participation in media.
With so many ways for children to get involved, UNICEF becomes not just an organisation that provides humanitarian and development assistance to young people, but one that incorporates their ideas and concerns about their world.
As Marian Brehmer, a youth delegate from Germany, told the UN General Assembly last month: “We are not the source of the problems, we are the resources that are needed to solve them.”
(All links to UNICEF global website)