19th November 2020 Skopje, North Macedonia
World Children’s Day-The Challenges of Children in the Past and the Children of Today
February 2010, Palais Wilson, Geneva
I clearly remember the excitement of strolling in Palais Wilson in Geneva, where me and Elena – two seventeen-year-old girls, were about to meet the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This UN body is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in each of the countries-signatories, and during that time, the Committee was gathering evidence on our country. Alongside with other children, and with the support of the Children’s Embassy “Megjashi”, we had prepared the First Children’s Report on the Situation with the Rights of the Child, informed by a country-wide survey including over 2.200 children. We were hoping that by presenting the report we would help the Committee detect the strengths and weaknesses and draft recommendations that will ultimately guide the country’s efforts in furthering children’s rights. I was feeling a great sense of responsibility, and as the Committee members welcomed us in the meeting room, the excitement mixed up with a bit of nervousness. During our presentation we spoke about the recent educational reforms resulting in the highest number of children enrolling in secondary school, but we also elaborated that many children, especially Roma children, remain out of the educational system. Most of the schools and school books were inaccessible to disabled students and we thought that the quality of education was not satisfactory. We shared our concerns about the persistent violence in schools, and in particular bullying, as well as the frequent cases of discrimination against children based on age, gender, social status and ethnicity. Moreover, we pointed out that many children are not familiar with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that there is lack of respect for the views of the child in all settings. The members of the Committee kindly thanked us for the in-depth insights and asked us a number of questions on aspects that they were further interested in. I wrote down all of the questions meticulously and placed them in a “special” folder containing other notes and materials that I thought would be useful for the next children’s delegation to the Committee. I left Palais Wilson hopeful that this meeting and the Committee’s recommendations will bring about a positive change in my country.
November 2020, Skopje
My “special” folder survived the last decade and I’ll soon share its content with the extraordinary group of 13 children that I have been mentoring in the process of preparing their Alternative Report on the State of Children’s Rights, to be presented to the Committee in February 2021. Reading the children’s report, I cannot fail to note that they have covered the very same issues we raised in 2010. Moreover, they have brought up some novel ones. Children voice concerns about the high level of air pollution during winter and its detrimental effect on their wellbeing. They emphasise the need for overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health and ensuring children have access to quality support services especially within their schools. Children are often overwhelmed by too much homework, leaving them no time for relaxation and leisure activities that are important for developing to their full potential. Digital technologies are being increasingly used in everyday contexts, but children need more guidance from adults in learning how to use them in a safe and responsible manner. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of their lives, and exacerbated the existing weaknesses in the education and health systems in the country. Many schoolchildren are unable to access remote learning during school closures as they do not have the technology and tools at home. Children also recognise that their peers affected by poverty are not always provided the needed help by the responsible institutions and conclude that a lot more needs to be done so that all children would grow up healthy, happy and safe.
Throughout the past ten years there have been certainly some efforts for protecting and fulfilling children’s human rights. Public institutions have been widely supported by non-governmental organisations, international child protection agencies and embassies. However, the Committee’s recommendations from 2010 have not been fully translated into the actions that I hoped for as a child.
Progress has been limited due to several key factors including lack of strategic approach, coordination and monitoring mechanisms, lack of financial and human resources, as well as week linkages between the institutions in the child protection system. Consulting children is central to designing child-focused and rights-based services, legislative and policy frameworks. Yet, children’s views are seldom sought when deciding on important issues that affect them.
World Children’s Day is not only a time to celebrate, but also a time to take action. I suggest we start by taking children’s views into account and letting them lead the changes they want to see! We should not allow the children of today and the children of the future face the same challenges as the children of the past!
Note: British Embassy Skopje offers its blog platform for guest posts. The views expressed in the guest posts are those of the authors.