BEIRUT: Children from Lebanon, Yemen and the West Bank highlighted the importance of children’s participation in protecting youth from all forms of violence, during a presentation at the Fourth Arab Civil Society Forum for Children held Tuesday in Beirut.
This year’s forum, organized by the Arab Council for Childhood and Development with support from Save the Children International, discusses the topic, “child participation means protection.” The two-day conference opened Tuesday morning under the auspices of Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and Prince Turki Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, representing Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz who led the establishment of ACCD as an Arab League initiative in 1987.
The forum examines the progress of the region’s adherence to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child – which Lebanon ratified in 1990 – and highlights the necessity of children’s participation in the areas that affect their lives.
“In life, there are skills we need to know and information we need to protect our rights,” said 15-year-old Lebanese participant Malak Delbany, one of the six children presenters brought to the conference through Save the Children’s project. The project aims at “protecting adolescents from gender based violence through the promotion of their sexual and reproductive health rights.”
All of the child presenters, ages 14 to 15, spoke about their experiences with peer-to-peer learning, showing a practical side of children’s participation at the conference, otherwise comprised of adults.
“At our age, we don’t like to listen to lectures, we prefer to talk to someone our own age,” Delbany continued, introducing her fellow representatives, who demonstrated with puppets, songs and skits the tools they’ve learned to express themselves in various programs led by Save the Children.
According to Janie Shen, regional project coordinator for Save the Children, child participation and protection are intimately linked, and input from children has to be integral to designing programs that protect them from various forms of violence, including sexual abuse.
“For prevention and protection from child sexual abuse, a lot of the work has to do with education and capacity building of the children themselves.”
Save the Children’s three-year, EU-funded project began with field surveys of children and their parents to identify their level of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and particular topics of early marriage, female genital mutilation and HIV/AIDS.
“We found that for a lot of children, their first and only source of information is their parents – mother first, then their father. Very few would think of [getting information from] a health service provider or even a teacher, but when we surveyed parents about their knowledge about certain topics it’s quite low.
“For instance, they can’t name one or two STIs or they have misconceptions about a lot of health topics,” Chen said. She explained how from this base information, Save the Children created tool kits with different educational activities for 10- to 13- and 14- to 17-year-olds on everything from hygiene and introductory reproductive health information to activities to raise awareness on child sexual abuse.
The activities include projects on drawing, puppetry, theater and animation, all different avenues to broach these serious topics and help children feel comfortable to express themselves.
“Children hold opinions and hold social and political rights in building society,” declared presenter Dr. Hatem Kotran, deputy to the President of the U.N. committee on the rights of the child – the body overseeing the implementation of the convention.
Kotran presented progress reports from around the region on child participation, calling for improvements in children’s right to information and input in the decisions that affect their lives.
Regarding Lebanon in particular, Kotran expressed appreciation of the authorities’ efforts to promote children’s rights generally but highlighted certain areas where child participation is lacking – especially among vulnerable populations such as Palestinian refugees and in religious courts and tribunals, where parental custody is determined without any input from the children.
“Still, there is limited capacity for children to express their opinion in their family, school and society,” he said.