Meeting of Under-18 Delegates to
the United Nations Special Session on Children
5-7 May 2002
New York 

    The 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.

  I 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.

  The 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.

   We came 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 tomorrow.

  The 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.

  From yesterday' 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.

  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 world.

   Discussions 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.

  By 6pm, 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.

  The 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 development.

  By 5pm, 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.

  I felt 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.