The island where the future is at home
Children's Local Council, part of the Child Friendly Cities Initiative
“The island” is an area of Bacău that most children and teenagers identify as probably “the most beautiful place of the city”. Coincidentally or not, it is where the meetings of the Children Local Council are taking place, in a welcoming Scandinavian-looking building, through the windows of which one can see the wooden dock and the calm waters of the river Bistrița.
The Council, made of 20 children aged between 11 and 17, is one of the immediate results of UNICEF's Child Friendly Cities Initiative, implemented in Bacău, in partnership with Bacău City Hall and the Bacău Social Assistance Department. Through this initiative, UNICEF encourages children and young people to express themselves freely and participate in local decision-making.
Tudor, Ana, Alin, Ștefania are four of the Council members. They start discussing about the bullying workshops that the last two held that morning in front of several classes, in a high school and a school from Bacău. A 10th grader and founder of an NGO, Alin, 15, is keen to get involved, meet new people and feel he can "change things for the better". He admits he was nervous at first but is glad now to be part of the Council and to be able to communicate the needs of children and young people directly to policymakers.
There are many things that the children who are part of the Children’s Council in Bacău, as representatives of their generation, want to see improved. The discussion about the events they want to organise in the city of Bacău for Children's Day also touches on much deeper issues, and the light-hearted and serene tone of the discussion suddenly takes a serious note in which one can see the genuine concern they have for their present and future, both in terms of choices and opportunities. “It is clear that we want to have as much diversity as possible in the options our city offers. We want good schools, good colleges, places to spend our free time, to feel that we are evolving. There are kids who want to leave Bacău for other cities, to go to other colleges, but there are also those who want to stay. It's only natural that we should do our best to make things change for the better around here." The discussion continues with an abundance of proposals and those considered valuable are retained and written down.
The two adults present at the Council meeting, Oana Antal and Carmen Vasluianu, experts from the Local Coordination Unit for the Child Friendly Cities Initiative, look at the children carefully and do not intervene in a discussion that is mature, reasoned and showing the awareness that everyone at the table has the same goal. "It is very good that this Council exists, that children are given a chance to speak directly, to have a voice. And these 20 children are so involved that the change for the better is almost certain", remarks Oana Antal during a break.Some time later, on the dock next to the Council building, the seven members present become, for a moment, children again, joking and laughing. The need to find a new slogan for the Council elections and to increase the number of children involved in future Council projects takes on the playful dimension so necessary and appropriate for their age.
It's only natural that we should do our best to make things change for the better around here.
The Child Friendly Cities initiative (CFCI), which gave birth to Local Children's Councils, is currently implemented in communities in over 47 countries, including Canada, Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Argentina, which have committed to respecting children's rights and integrating them as much as possible into local development programmes.
In Romania, the CFCI is part of the project “Romania for every child. Making social inclusion real - breaking the cycle of exclusion for the most vulnerable children in Romania” which benefits of a 4.2- million-euro grant offered by Norway under the Local Development Program supported by the Romanian Social Development Fund.
Memorandums to participate in The Child Friendly Cities Initiative were signed in July 2021 by five municipalities and communes - Bacău, Brașov, Colonești, Corbasca and Moinești.
Within the framework of the initiative, The Local Children Councils have been established, through an open recruitment process. Through the decisions of the Local Councils, they have officially become children's consultative structures, participating in local decision-making.
From the beginning of the project until now, more than 1,350 children have participated in workshops on children's rights, a Children's Mayor has been elected by the free vote of children in the locality of Colonești, there has been an exchange of experience between members of the Local Children's Councils, consultations between local authorities and Local Children's Councils on local budgets for 2023, and their proposals have been integrated into the approved local budgets.
Members of the Children’s Local Council participate in a meeting with other colleagues and discuss future projects.