Building safe spaces for children and young people’s participation, together
With Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Representative for Thailand
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Almost 30 years ago, Thailand made a historic commitment to its children to protect and fulfil their rights. Millions of children have since seen better lives, greater opportunities and more rights than their parents. Even as the 21st century brings new challenges, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) remains a powerful lens to examine and uphold their rights in Thailand since its 1992 ratification.
In the past year, young leaders have been at the forefront of activist movements in Thailand and around the world. They are calling for action on the climate crisis, for a quality education and employment opportunities, for political reform and ending inequalities – and asking to be part of the solution. UNICEF as the custodian of the CRC believes that dialogue among children and young people, parents and caregivers, the private sector, civil society organizations and government is essential to helping ensure children’s rights to participation and protection in our homes, schools and communities.
Here are my thoughts on how we can all help build safe and inclusive spaces.
Safe spaces in communities
Upholding children’s rights generates obligations and responsibilities in our communities and for the government as the primary duty bearer of the CRC. Let’s ensure that children and young people can freely voice their opinions online and offline and equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge for constructive dialogue. They must be engaged, heard and play a key role in shaping the future that they will inherit.
UNICEF is working with the government, civil society organizations and young people to create inclusive online and offline spaces for their participation in decision-making. Young people from diverse backgrounds are helping shape the national five-year plan for social and economic development under our collaboration with the National Economic and Social Development Council, as well as helping develop a curriculum for 21st century skills with the Ministry of Education.
Safe spaces in schools
Our schools must be a place of hope and opportunity, where students are safe to learn and develop the skills and experiences they need to thrive. Teachers and school directors as duty bearers of the CRC are responsible for ensuring a voice and protection from all forms of violence for every child in the classroom. Let’s promote positive discipline over punishment and approach this moment of youth-led activism as an opportunity to reinforce learning about peaceful and constructive civic engagement – for children are citizens of the present with both rights and responsibilities.
UNICEF is working with educational authorities, teacher networks and student groups to ensure that all schools are safe and inclusive spaces for students to express their views and engage respectfully with others in accordance with the Ministry of Education’s guidance. We are engaging with the Ministry to strengthen mechanisms for preventing, reporting and responding to violence at school and supporting their centre for the protection of and assistance for students who experienced sexual abuse.
Safe spaces in homes
In our homes, every child seeks care, respect, support and a voice. Through positive parenting, children can feel safe, valued and heard when sharing their opinions and complicated emotions – and grow up to be a happy and confident generation with fewer reservations about seeking mental health support. So as parents and duty bearers under the CRC, let’s encourage children to observe and accept their feelings, use their voices in a constructive way and, as they grow and develop, to take on greater responsibility for decisions that affect them. With respect and support for one another, we can overcome generational conflicts and mental health challenges.
UNICEF is supporting Path2Health Foundation’s Lovecare Station in providing online counselling, face-to-face workshops and resources on physical and mental well-being and resilience-building for adolescents and on positive parenting for their parents. UNICEF is also supporting Childline Thailand Foundation in providing psychological first aid and basic counselling services for vulnerable children facing mental health challenges and family conflict.
Join me in building safe spaces fit for every child and young person to realize their full potential and see even greater opportunities than our generation.