Maral and Sasha learn about their rights and responsibilities at National Children’s Forum
“I want our opinions to be heard!” Maral Kurbandurdyeva, participant at Turkmenistan’s National Children’s Forum
By Bjørn Lyngstad, UNICEF Turkmenistan
“When politicians make decisions, they should listen to the children first because we can have different opinions. Sometimes politicians forget that they were all once children too,” says participant Maral Kurbandurdyeva, age 17.
During a two-day National Children’s Forum almost 200 children aged between 12 and 17 learned about child participation and child rights. The event took place in Ashgabat in early June and was jointly organised by UNICEF and the National Youth Organization.
All children have rights
“We learned that children have rights and responsibilities and all children have equal rights,” said Maral. “For example, children with disabilities have the same rights as other children and should receive the same education as them. We should also help children with disabilities.”
“I think it would be good if we learned about rights in school because all children should know that they have rights,” says Sasha Zasorin, a 15-year-old from Mary province.
Both teenagers say they will do their best to share their experiences from the forum with the friends back home and to encourage them to take part in decision-making.
By supporting children’s fora in Turkmenistan, UNICEF raises awareness in the young population about how decisions are made and the children are encouraged to express opinions in areas that affect their lives. Regional fora are held annually at which children are selected by their peers to take part in the national forum in the capital Ashgabat.
Both Sasha and Maral have opinions about what is good and what is not good about the conditions for children in their country. “It is good that we receive maternity allowances and that orphans are taken care of. But we should have better school books and it should be easier to study at the university,” says Maral.
Sasha thinks it is good that health care is free, but that health care for children should be improved. What both of them really want see are more courses, activities and summer camps for youngsters.
“This is very important so that children are not neglected or idle,” reflects Sasha. “It is also important that more jobs are created for young people.”
Want to learn about foreign countries
Sasha and Maral are happy that they now will attend ten years of school after the government recently added a tenth year of basic school education. But they are already thinking about further education.
“We have free education which is good, but there should be more support from the state for us to enter university,” according to Sasha.
“We should also have opportunities to study abroad. I would like to see different cultures and it is good to learn more about the world,” adds Maral.
So will the politicians in Turkmenistan listen to what the children at the forum have to say? The conclusions from the Forum have been consolidated and sent as a letter to the government.
“I really hope they listen to us and include some of our decisions in the laws of the country,” says Sasha.
Maybe next year’s Forum participants will celebrate the impact made by Maral, Sasha and their fellow decision-makers!