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“Listen to children and young people? Yes but no”

A white card signed by the Coordination of NGOs for the rights of the child (see below).

Psychological distress. Dropout. Domestic violence. Waiting lists in child psychiatry services. Lack of prospects. Increase in child poverty … The impacts of the pandemic on children and young people are alarming: their security, their family life, their physical, cognitive, emotional and social development are in danger.

If the vaccination offers some hope, the picture remains very dark, and few elements reassure us as to what will happen next. The consequences are and will be dramatic for young people. This is moreover the observation already drawn up in numerous reports drafted by the children’s rights sector (1).

In this very worrying context, it must be recognized that the authorities have been attentive to the difficulties of children and young people: 100% face-to-face for specialized education, and partial for classic, additional funds for childcare, and for youth assistance… But these measures are very insufficient.

Acting upstream: participation and the best interests of the child

These measures are intended, above all, to be curative, and therefore often lag behind. However, it is possible, and essential, to integrate children’s rights earlier in their decisions. For the past year, this has been a request made, with one voice, by young people as well as associations and professionals in the sector.

This requirement is respect for the right of children to participate in decisions that affect them. This involves several prerequisites. First, ask them for their opinion on the measures. Then, that they are communicated to them directly and in a format adapted to their age and their capacities, downstream as well as upstream. Finally, at a minimum, that experts in children’s rights be consulted in these resolutions, to ensure that the best interests of the child come first.

A worrying inertia

Three million of our citizens are absent from the decisions that affect them. We don’t ask them anything. We don’t tell them anything.

One of the nine objectives of the Action Plan relating to the rights of the child, adopted this year by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, is to “guarantee the participation of children in decisions which concern them”. While waiting to see its implementation, it is at least a glimmer of hope. Because for the moment, only one example of direct and child-friendly communication comes to mind: last week, the Prime Minister visited the two children’s television news programs in the country, to discuss with them. After a year of health crisis, it was time!

At the time of writing, we learn that the possibility of closing schools is once again on the table, while pediatric experts keep repeating that they are essential. After 365 days of covid-19, asking young people for their opinion on the measures still doesn’t seem to be a priority. To ask that of the adults either, moreover. However, human rights associations have been calling for months for open debates on the management of the crisis. Moreover, there is no trace of participation in the pandemic law. What does this tell our children and young people about our democracy in Belgium?

A cry in unison

One year after the start of the pandemic, we are therefore still at square one when it comes to the right to participation. In the same year, to compensate for the failings of the State, civil society has not been idle. She tried to offer spaces of expression to children and young people, like the campaigns “Mon Cri” by Amnesty International, launched in February, or “#Enviedecole”, by UNICEF Belgium last summer. . She communicated information to them, via platforms like “Joy”, born in July 2020 (2). And she has submitted reports to the group of experts who are advising the authorities.

Are these voices not speaking loud enough? Dozens of carte blanche from psychologists, pediatricians, child psychiatrists, teachers, social workers, independent bodies, young people, etc.

This cry in unison is not enough? Since February 23, thousands of Belgians have gathered every Sunday across the country, via the citizen movement “Trace ton Cercle”, to support youth. And, this week, UNICEF Belgium, the Belgian Pediatric COVID-19 Task Force and the Royal Academy of Pediatrics took a firm stand against the closure of schools.

But how many petitions, platforms, citizen movements, reports, analyzes, carte blanche, will it still be necessary for us to understand the importance of integrating young people in the decisions that concern them? ? The principles of best interests and participation are two pillars of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Belgium has ratified it and has undertaken to respect it. Civil society should therefore not have to make these demands.

A clear message

But she does it anyway… and her message is clear. Let us say it again: the best interests of children and young people must be taken into account in decisions that affect them. Ask them! Listen to them! Talk to them! Not just in this crisis, but all the time. Participation is not a gift given to them, it is a right. Children and youth are not an adjustment variable. They are citizens, even without the right to vote. Without participation, they must be content to be the targets of the measures. To provide a better understanding of the situation, greater support and more appropriate solutions, they must also be the players. You would be surprised at their lucidity if you took the trouble to speak to them.

The message is clear, shouted through the megaphone by civil society which alarms, which lags, which is exhausted. Who wonders if its democratic role of defending the interests of children is really respected. His voice must be heard and taken into account, so that that of the youth is too.

The NGO Coordination for the Rights of the Child brings together 15 member associations:

Amnesty International

ATD Fourth World Youth Wallonia-Brussels

BADJE (Brussels Reception and Development for Youth and Children)

Defense for Children International (DCI) Belgium

ECPAT Belgium

Famisol – Solidarity Families

Youth Forum

GAMS Belgium

The Forum – Brussels against inequalities

Human rights league

League of Families

Plan International Belgium

Walloon Network for the Fight against Poverty

Youth Law Department Brussels

UNICEF Belgium

>>> (1) We can cite, in bulk, UNICEF Belgium, the NGO Coordination for the Rights of the Child, the Kinderrechtencoalitie, the Kinderrechtencommissariaat, the Youth Forum, Joy, the Observatory for the Childhood of the Youth and youth assistance, the General Delegate for the Rights of the Child, the pediatric task force covid-19, the advisory body of the National Commission for the Rights of the Child, etc.

>>> (2) An information and support platform for young people, led by the pediatric task force covid-19, UNICEF Belgium, the General Delegate for the Rights of the Child, and the advisory body of the National Commission for children’s rights.

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