Children's Board in Bucharest
"The great majority of children are unaware of the fact that they have the right to participate in decision-making processes that involve them directly." This is one of the conclusions drawn by UNICEF Romania; it is the outcome of a series of consultations UNICEF initiated with a number of youngsters from our country but also from across the European Union. Such a situation has occurred despite the fact that the UN Convention on Children's Rights includes an article stipulating the right of children to be consulted. Romania has decided to make amends regarding the ignorance children have with respect to their rights as well as regarding the adults' negligence in initiating discussions with the little ones, so to that end, UNICEF Romania established the Children's Board, a community made of elementary schoolchildren, pre-teens and adolescents.
"One-of-a-kind at national level, the initiative launched in January 2019 by UNICEF Romania has as its main purpose encouraging children and promoting a right included in the UN Convention on children's rights. Specifically, there is Article 12 stipulating children's right to be consulted and to participate in the decision-making process where they are directly involved. These are times when the public policies, whether we speak about Romania or the EU, are created by adults, for children. And that is something normal, but we'd better draw them out jointly with the children, because they influence their future as well. So we set up this board made of children with a different social and economic background. They come from rural regions but also from urban areas, these children are typical but also atypical, meaning they have all sorts of disabilities, they are children from a familiar back ground, yet there are also children living in child care public institutions."
The first step made by The Children's Board was to adopt a first draft of the Bucharest Declaration of the children from the European Union, a document that was then dispatched to all EU member states. As for the children, they are awaiting the reaction on the part of quite a few of the institutions.
"Specifically, we badly wanted a European consultation mechanism to be created for children, with respect to the decisions directly involving them. Romania thought it appropriate to bring up the issue and start rolling a little snowball. We made that snowball, while the countries that took over the Presidency of the EU after Romania should troll it over to make it bigger and bigger. Finland followed Romania, then there is Croatia holding that Presidency at the moment. From my UNICEF Croatia colleagues I know they also want to set up a Children's Board taking up on the Romanian model. Also, they want to continue that initiative Romania included on the political agenda. We all know the legislative route of any initiative is very slow. I was talking to the children on the Children's Board and I told them we were doing pioneering work together and that the seeds they sow now will only bear fruit in a couple of years' time."
Sophia Cirlan is 17. She is a high-school student with the Gheorghe Lazar High school in Bucharest. Latterly she has done volunteer work as part of several civic activities, so it was just as natural for her to get involved in the Children's Board, a project supporting the participation of children in the decision-making process, all the more so as she knew nothing about her right to be consulted.
"I didn't know about our right to be consulted. So, after I've learnt that, and the fact that the UNICEF children's board is looking for fresh members I was delighted. I realized that it was possible and decided to give it a try. I would like to give even a 1% contribution so that the coming generations of children can be consulted too and change things for them, as that wasn't possible for my generation. Education and environment protection are two domains of great interest for me."
A survey carried by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on young people with ages ranging between 14 and 29 shows they are not very interested in getting involved in the life of their cities. Less than a quarter of the respondents have participated in various projects and in comparison to the other nine countries from south-eastern Europe involved in the survey, Romania has the smallest percentage of politically involved respondents.
"These statistics are true because children and young people didn't have the opportunity to get involved and don't know what's all about. They are amazed to learn about this right of them, which they knew nothing about. However the Children's Board has among its priorities this one as well, namely to inform the young ones about their rights. These statistics are worrisome because part of these young people are young adults and if they weren't encouraged to get involved in these issues when they were young, they would become reluctant later. So we are running information campaigns and my colleagues have carried these campaigns in schools and are getting ready to make various presentations of the board and of UNICEF. So, people are going to learn about us sooner or later."
The Children's Board boasts 34 members, 10 of whom also served last year, while 24 others have been elected online after they provided answers to 15 questions asked by children. Among these there is an 11-year old student of a school in Bucharest, Rares Dragomir who wants to be consulted on decisions which will affect him directly, particularly those concerning people with locomotive disabilities, a category which he is part of.
"I cannot say I have concrete expectations but one of the things I want is to be heard, have our own voice in society. We account for 20% of Europe's population, we are its future and we must be heard. I've had a good life so far in spite of my disability and I have my parents to thank for that. I don't know how things would have been had I had other parents. For the time being I don't have anything to ask the authorities for, but I am pretty sure that issues will appear in future and want to be ready for that."
Children have wishes and wants that must be heard and they all hope that such a mechanism that can make their voices heard will be put in place without delay.
(Translation by Eugen Nasta and Daniel Bilt)
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