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Speaking up to protect children’s rights

A new pilot program is giving youth skills and knowledge to be change makers

By Patrick Canagasingham, CEO & child sponsor

I have three wishes for my son — I want him to be healthy, safe and happy.

 

I know I’m not alone. But, not all children have these needs met. And, what happens to those whose rights aren’t respected? How are we keeping them safe?

 

Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) is working within the ChildFund Alliance to address this issue. As a member of the group of 11 child-focused development organizations, we’re giving children and youth in vulnerable communities the skills and tools to champion their own rights through a new pilot project launched in India, Mexico, Paraguay and Vietnam. It was the theme of a recent briefing between my ChildFund colleagues and government representatives in New York, during the time of the High-Level segment of the UN General Assembly in New York (Sept. 18 to 29).

 

I had the pleasure to share learnings about two CCFC locations that were part of this project — India and Paraguay. I’d like to share with you what we discussed.

 

First, what was CCFC’s goal for the project? To train children and youth in child rights, violence prevention and child protection; to encourage them to identify gaps in their community’s child-protection systems, and to ask them to develop suggestions to improve those systems.

 

In India, children led a meeting with key government stakeholders for the first time. In Paraguay, youth like Jéssica (pictured below) met with their local mayor who signed a commitment to address issues such as installing an office for children’s rights in the community.

 

Jessica Youth Paraguay

 

The process united children and youth with a new confidence, improved their understanding of their rights and put them in the position to be real change makers. But, I confess, more work needs to be done.

 

There were challenges. For example, some children were too busy with schoolwork to participate, and there were some concerns raised that youth were questioning authority. It makes me wonder if we’re placing too much pressure on teens and pre-teens to make change, rather than enjoy their childhood. Isn’t it the duty of parents, teachers and policymakers to protect them?

 

CCFC is exploring these concerns as we determine how to apply the learnings to our child-sponsorship programs. We’re also considering differing needs around the globe. In India, children are grappling with issues of child marriage and child labour; in Paraguay, violence against children is a problem.

 

The good news is many participants in the pilot projects are excited to continue what they started. “I go to bed dreaming about this,” said a 14-year-old girl in India.

 

That makes me smile. We believe children deserve the chance to chase their dreams. And, it’s our job to make sure that happens with guidance from supporters, community members, government workers, CCFC staff, local partner organizations and the youth themselves.

 

We’ll be driving that message in Ottawa this month as we join with partners for a special meeting with the World Health Organization and youth from our Paraguay program. Stay tuned for more information in weeks to come.

 

Knowledge-sharing: (top, l to r) Anne Goddard, ChildFund International; Meg Gardinier, ChildFund Alliance; Sonia Bozzi, ChildFund Mexico; Patrick; and Antonia Antonopoulos, UNICEF share their findings from their youth advocacy pilot projects

 

(Top photo) courtesy of Amy Mayes/Jenna Bascom Photography

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About Christian Children’s Fund of Canada:

Christian Children’s Fund of Canada works globally to support children and youth who dream of a better world. For nearly 60 years, we’ve brought together diverse people and partnerships, driven by a common belief: education extends beyond the walls of a classroom and is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world. We focus on breaking barriers preventing access to inclusive, quality education for all, especially girls.