children' s forum was held prior to the Special Session on Children on the 8th
of May. It gathered over 300 youth participants from around the globe for three
days to discuss key issues concerning children. Representatives under the age
of 18 had come from both government and non-governmental bodies. The Malaysian
government had sent twelve children to New York in conjunction with the Special
Session on Children but only two were selected to participate in the children'
s forum due to limited space. My colleague, Rina Ayob and I felt honoured to have
been given the opportunity to be the two participants advocating the voices of
Malaysian children in the forum.
felt thrilled and nervous at first to be able to participate at an international
level. I did not want to let my country and myself down. Therefore, I countered
these feelings by equipping myself with the proper knowledge and information.
I had spent the week before I left reading up articles on the United Nations website
to learn more about the Special Session on Children and also about the general
development of children worldwide. Rina and I often met up to do a little research
and fact-finding. Prior to our departure, we did not receive any information from
UNICEF or UN about how the proceedings of the children' s forum were to be conducted.
So, we prepared ourselves for the extreme. We drafted a ten-minute speech briefly
introducing Malaysia and outlining our achievements regarding children development
locally. We even had an accompanying slide presentation.
opening of the children' s forum was graced by the Secretary General of the United
Nations himself, Mr. Kofi Annan. After a short speech and a few interesting performances,
we got down to business at 10 in the morning. At first, all delegates were divided
into ten regional groups. These include East Asia Pacific, South Asia, Central
Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Latin America, North America, English speaking
African countries and French speaking African countries. Malaysia joined the East
Asia Pacific group which covered countries from Indonesia to Japan. We were facilitated
by Fei from Malaysia and Emmen from Pakistan. The morning was spent collecting
views on possible issues that would be addressed during further discussions. As
participants raised their hands to speak, we had come up with a list of important
issues that affected children in our region. They included education, children
participation, child abuse, child labour, poverty, armed conflict, HIV/AIDS, health
and family care. To my surprise, we were told to only select the two most important
issues to be discussed and leave the rest out. As a result of our votes, the topic
of children participation and education were chosen. As we had concluded this,
it was time for a short lunch break. Food and beverages were fully sponsored for.
back into Conference Room 4 of the United Nations building after about an hour.
The activities for the rest of the day were a contrast from what we had been doing
so far. The events were truly straightforward and not at all interactive. All
youth participants sat down to listen to a panel of speakers introducing us to
the Special Session on children. Mostly, they talked about the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, the Global Movement for Children and the Say Yes for Children
campaign. For most of us, this was a mere repetition of what we already knew.
Nevertheless, we managed to gain a deeper understanding on the efforts of the
United Nations. They guided us through the key document "A World Fit for
Children" article by article which proved to be very informative. The talks
ended at about 5pm and all participants returned to their hotels to prepare for
next day, the venue of the children' s forum had been changed to the Manhattan
Center on the 34th Street. There were activities lined up from 9am
till 9pm. As usual, upon arrival all participants joined their separate regional
groups to receive further instructions. The East Asia Pacific group was the largest
and had to be divided into two. The group I was in was facilitated by Emmen. Before
we began, she informed us about different committees that were to be formed in
order to proceed with serious discussions. We were told that there was to be a
rapporteur committee to collect outcome from each discussion and a closing committee
to plan for the closing ceremony the next day. My colleague Rina was elected to
be the rapporteur for our group. I had the opportunity along with eleven others
from different countries to participate in the Intergenerational Dialogue with
Asian political leaders later during the week. When all elections were done and
everybody had their own task to perform during the forum, we adjourned.
s short discussions, the organising committee had identified seven main issues
for the children participants to discuss. They were education, children participation,
health, poverty, HIV/AIDS, child labour and the environment. Participants were
allowed to choose only one of these topics to discuss. Then, separate groups would
break off under the guidance of facilitators to different areas. I chose to participate
on the discussions regarding war and armed conflict. Even the " war
and armed conflict" group had to be split in two due to a limited number
of translators for Spanish, French and English during most of the discussions.
on war revolved mainly around three main issues - problems, possible actions
by leaders and possible actions by children themselves. Most participants from
countries involved directly in war such as Israel, Palestine and Azerbaijan shared
their true-life experiences with us. As we were discussing, we discovered that
innocent children in war torn countries fall victim to fear, oppression, child
labour, abuse and deprivation of education. The conditions are unsafe even to
walk on the streets. What worries us even more is the young children that grow
up in these situations. They grow up with a sense of confusion and hatred within
themselves that it affects their psychological development. They might grow up
blindly continuing the fighting and forgetting the true struggle for peace. As
we listed all these problems for everyone to take notice, we started to think
about possible solutions. We identified three key players - international
organisations, national governments and local municipalities. International organisations
should put their feet down in ensuring that all negotiations take place peacefully
without armed conflict and should intervene whenever boundaries are crossed. Other
nations not at war have the responsibility to condemn such terrible acts of war
and not condone it by supporting or supplying arms. Local governments and municipalities
should ensure children involved in war or refugees are not deprived of basic rights
like food, shelter and most importantly education and knowledge about the outside
paused for about an hour for lunchtime. After enjoying a couple of interesting
performances during the break, we continued discussions again until about 5pm.
Representatives from each topic group presented their findings on stage in front
of the crowd. I had the opportunity to represent mine. Basically, every group
highlighted the problems and the suggested solutions for responsible bodies to
take. The rapporteur committee paid close attention to what they had to say as
they were to get together to discuss this later.
the atmosphere in the auditorium changed dramatically. We all queued for dinner
while a music DJ pumped up the sound system. Everybody danced and partied until
9pm. It was sort of a reward for the hard work we had been doing so far.
next day, we were mostly wrapping things up. The rapporteur committee spent most
of the day discussing the outcome of yesterday' s presentations. They had to come
up with a final document that generally highlights all issues forwarded. The closing
committee had called for any volunteer performers to perform during the closing
ceremony at 5pm. Participants chosen for the Intergenerational Dialogue on Thursday
spent the morning discussing possible questions to forward to Asian political
leaders. We prepared questions regarding current issues that relate to children
the hall was flooded with people. Many reporters from the media had come to witness
the closing ceremony graced by Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel and Nane Annan. It
was a half-hour event consisting of interesting traditional performances, songs
and dances. Nelson Mandela and Nane Annan addressed the audience briefly to mark
the close of this amazing forum. Before leaving the building, all participants
took the opportunity to exchange gifts, take photographs and bid their final farewells
to each other.
very thankful to God to have been given the opportunity to be able to represent
my country to this international event. I have gained so much from this forum.
I have learnt about how children across the globe have been working hard to uphold
their rights. The Convention of the Rights of the Child has been playing an important
role in their lives. It is sad to say that many in Malaysia have not been a part
of this development. Most children still have not heard of the CRC. Although the
government had adopted the convention more than ten years ago, the public has
not been well informed. Various campaigns and discussions had been held in vain
because the media has not been playing a role. Upon return to Malaysia, the youth
delegates will be working towards a more serious approach and understanding to
the CRC among all Malaysians, especially children.