UNICEF Youth Advocates drive change through innovative solutions to address access to justice
Introducing five teams of young people who have been at the forefront to developing solutions to improve the access to justice for children in contact with the law
When given the appropriate platform and opportunity children and young people are able to propose solutions, give ideas and inspire others to bring positive change in their lives. Child and youth participation is much more than having a voice. It is about being informed, engaged and having an influence in decisions and matters that affect the lives of children in the family home, at school, in the community.
UNICEF is supporting participation initiatives to help adolescents develop the skills they need to form and voice their opinions, understand and exercise their full range of rights. Such an initiative is the Youth Advocates for Justice for Children, that has engaged youth to develop solutions for improved access to justice for children through human design thinking approach.
Following an open call, sixty children and young people coming from different social and economic background from across the country joined UNICEF’s initiative Youth Advocates for Justice for Children. This programme is unique in its approach as the diverse group also included children and young people from the educational correctional institution and the small group homes, thus creating an opportunity for them, guided by their own experiences with the justice system, to be part of the solutions and make their voice heard.
The one-year long programme enabled a safe space where children and youth could share their problems, challenges and fears and look for solutions together. The initiative has exposed them to their diverse realities and challenges with the system that strengthened their commitment to stand up for the rights of children in contact with the law.
With the support of five professional mentors with substantial experience in the justice system, and after a 3-day training on children’s rights, the Youth Advocates for Justice for Children developed mechanisms and solutions and presented their ideas for direct support, advocacy or potential scale-up to a forum of government representatives, academia, civic sector and other partners. Here are their solutions.
Team 𝐄𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝟒𝐀𝐥𝐥 on raising awareness on the right to education for children in contact with the law
“With this initiative we wanted to openly say that every child should have access to education and this right must not be denied because the child has made a mistake or has entered in conflict with the law. Education must not be project based and should be provided by the State,” said Simona Pereska 18-year-old girl from Skopje.
Emre Xhelin, 18-year-old boy who is currently placed in an educational correctional facility, was part of this group. He says that authorities should put their commitments in practice – ensure uninterrupted education for children in conflict with the law. “We don’t have continuous education in the institution. We are requesting this issue to be resolved once and for all.”
“When during the design thinking workshop in Krusevo, Emre first shared this issue, we knew that we want to work on this initiative and raise the awareness about the right to education of children in conflict with the law.” said Andrea Velinovska from Gradsko, Veles.
The team Education4All came up with recommendations on how to achieve a systemic solution, including partnering with human rights organizations to amplify their advocacy efforts.
Team 𝐒𝐩𝐞𝐚𝐤 𝐋𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐧 𝐑𝐞𝐬𝐨𝐥𝐯𝐞 on introducing peer mediation in the education system
“Honestly, we did not want to experiment, in fact we wanted to introduce peer mediation because we saw how effective it is in other countries. We received training from the Chamber of Mediators and would love to transfer this knowledge to our peers so that they can become school mediators. All of us are aware that when children experience some problem, they tend to open up more with their peers rather than with institutions. If the peer mediator does not come to solution, then we activate/alert the school experts,” said Desanka Nikolova, an 18-year-old student from “Dimitrija Cupovski” high school from Veles.
The team prepared a video explaining what needs to be done when witnessing or experiencing peer violence, which will be presented in various schools, starting from their own schools. They hope this will encourage young people to either report the issues themselves or talk to their peers.
“Peer mediation in general is a far more effective tool, even from a financial perspective, because court proceedings can be costly and very long, and in many cases they don’t reach easily a verdict. Going immediately to a mediator can prevent going to the court at all,” notes Stefan Atanasovski Trajkovic, a 17-year-old student from “Koco Racin” high school in Veles.
Team 𝐒𝐭𝐮𝐝𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐂𝐥𝐮𝐛𝐬 on a manual for establishing student clubs
Becoming an initiator, someone who demands action can upend the way students perceive their role at school. Bisera Girovska, a 4th year high school student in “Orce Nikolov”, Skopje, says that “children are largely unaware that they can propose and lead an extracurricular activity at school. Also, in cases where their rights are denied, they don’t know the proper authorities to report to. Many among them think that even if they do report, the authorities will not genuinely listen to them.”
“We need to get out of that mindset. Regardless of how small the issues are, it’s important to take the initiative and tackle the problems,” says Bisera.
The team developed a manual to help students identify their interests, find support from teachers and mentors, and ensure materials and resources are in place for school clubs to function. “The manual we developed will guide students step by step in how to organize and open various school clubs. The plan is to have the manual available in all schools,” says Stefanija Jakimovska, a 4th year student from “Koco Racin” high school in Veles.
“I believe that when we are given an opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities, in projects that are beyond our school lessons, we gain more insights into the world around us and into ourselves. We build a sense of justice and initiative,” says Bisera.
Stefanija believes that creating school clubs goes beyond traditional “great way to develop students’ hobbies and talents”. She believes that being engaged in extra-curricular activities may create an opportunity for vulnerable children to build their self-confidence, sense of belonging and channel their energy in a positive way. “This way, we can prevent bullying, violence and eventually getting in contact with the law.”
Team 𝐌𝐞𝐜𝐡𝐭𝐚 on mechanisms to enable all children have information about the services offered in one place
The third team worked on mapping out resources and support that are available but are not widely known to children and young people.
“Our idea came during the workshop when, at the question: who would you approach if there is a problem or violation of your rights, we named school pedagogue, parents or the police,” says Ilarija Dimulkova, a 4th grader from “Orce Nikolov” high school in Skopje. “Later, we discovered that there are other institutions, resources and helplines that are available, but are not sufficiently promoted among children and youth,” added Ilarija.
To offer a solution, they created a website called mechta.mk where young people can find web and social media contacts of civil society and youth organizations providing advice, legal aid and support in cases of discrimination or abuse.
“We must bring these services closer to children and young people. If they don’t know helplines exist, why do they exist?” asks Ilarija. “Why having helplines if no one is calling them!?”
“Many young people are not familiar that such support exists,” says Leon Ali, an 18-year-old high school student at “Shaip Jusuf” school in Skopje. “To reach children and young people with no access or with limited access to internet or smartphones we will be disseminating posters in elementary and high schools starting with our own school.”
Team 𝐅𝐨𝐫𝐮𝐦 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐫𝐞 on raising awareness on bullying through theatre
“When we first started discussing the issues which we would like to emphasize, we realized there is one theme that unites us all regardless of where we come from – bullying. With this performance we wanted to raise the awareness among students, teachers and parents on the role each of us play in tolerating behaviours that can lead to bullying and our role in preventing violence and discouraging the bullies, “says Sara Elmaz, a student from “Arseni Jovkov” school in Skopje.
By using forum theatre, they explored different solutions to behaviors featured in the performance while engaging spectators to influence, stop or change the performance.
“Forum theater is a great tool to get an immediate experience of what it’s like to be bullied. I think that drives the point home in a very effective way,” adds Lora Milloshevska, a 17-year-old student from “Orce Nikolov” secondary school in Skopje.
At the forum of government representatives, Ombudsperson Office, academia and civic sector, the five teams have demonstrated how important it is to consult children not only because they are creative and can see different angles of an issue. They have demonstrated that getting young people systematically involved in the affairs of society is the way to help them grow into resilient and active citizens who can speak up and make the change.
The activities are part of the two-year initiative “Just(ice) children – EU for juvenile and child-friendly justice” funded by the delegation of European Union and co-funded by UNICEF will support Government reform efforts to ensure the justice system protects the rights of children who come in contact with the law. The initiative Youth Advocates for Justice for Children was implemented in collaboration with the Youth Educational Forum.