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Child Assembly ensures a voice for youth affected by crises in Swat, Pakistan

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

SWAT DISTRICT, Pakistan, 2 February 2011 – Seventh-grade student Malalai Yousafzai, 13, confidently chaired a session of the Child Assembly held recently in the Swat District of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Participants in the assembly “voice their concerns about child-rights issues and present practical solutions to address these concerns,” Malalai explained.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Eduardo Cure reports on the activities of the Child Assembly for children affected by emergencies in the Swat District of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.  Watch in RealPlayer


“Girl members play an active role,” she added. “We have highlighted important issues concerning children, especially promoting girls’ education in Swat.”

The UNICEF-supported Child Assembly provides a unique opportunity for young people in the Swat Valley, which was the epicentre of insurgency and ensuing military operations that resulted in massive displacement in 2009. The same region bore the brunt of Pakistan’s 2010 monsoon floods, causing massive destruction.

‘Strength and confidence’

Shahab Khan, 16, whose family hails from the Swat town of Qambar, is a ninth-grade student at Khpal Kor Model School and Orphanage and an active member of the Child Assembly. “Through this platform, children like me have learnt about our rights and have been given the strength and confidence to set up positive goals for our future,” he said.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Jameel
Malalai Yousafzai, 13, chairs a session of the UNICEF-supported Child Assembly in the Swat District of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Returning to a normal life has not been easy for Shahab, who witnessed the brutal murder of his father, Sarfaraz Khan, a police officer, in early 2009.

“I was emotionally very disturbed,” he recalled. “Coming to Khpal Kor has helped me a lot. I have been given psychological counselling and have been involved in different activities, such as the Child Assembly, which have made me a stronger person. Now I am looking forward towards a bright future.”

Children affected by conflict

The Khpal Kor Foundation, a non-governmental organization and UNICEF partner, aids children affected by years of conflict in Swat. Last year, with assistance from UNICEF, the foundation established the Child Assembly, which is composed of 65 young members selected from various schools around the district.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Jameel
Eighth-grade student Seema Aziz presents a resolution banning corporal punishment in schools during a session of the Child Assembly in Swat District, Pakistan.

“Such opportunities are playing a crucial role in building peace and a protective environment for children of Swat,” explained the founder of the Khpal Kor Foundation, Muhammad Ali. “Children in this region have witnessed severe trauma, even brutal deaths of their parents. Presently, we have over 200 orphan boys who have lost their parents during conflict and need special care and support.”

Through the Child Assembly, Mr. Ali said, “children are presenting their concerns and providing solutions in front of their adult counterparts and other stakeholders.”

Child Protection Centres

Multiple complex emergencies in north-western Pakistan during 2009 and 2010 have exposed children here to major risks – including separation from their families, gender-based violence, child marriages, sexual exploitation and trafficking. To help them cope in the aftermath of conflict and floods, UNICEF and its partners have established Child Protection Centres providing children with basic education, recreation and psycho-social support.

Through these centres and the Child Assembly activities, said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Farman Ali, “we are promoting a protective and safe environment to ensure that rights of vulnerable children of this area are not violated.”



Voices of Youth

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