This year I was given the amazing opportunity to attend the third Pan-American Child Forum in Cartagena Colombia. At the forum 80 Children (including myself) were given the opportunity to not just speak about children’s rights but handed the responsibility of helping shape international and national implementation of children’s rights as outlined by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
During my time at the forum, I learned many things and met a multitude of people from every background imaginable. Though I must say that some of the most inspirational people I met were the other youth. They had come from far and wide to share their expresses with their rights. This took an amazing amount of bravery from every youth in attendance to share their experiences. From mistreatment to stories of perseverance there was no topic too small or large to discuss.
This amazing discussion turned into even better conclusions and recommendations. These recommendations include items like calling for the end of violence against children and calling for governments to set up youth advisory panels. These recommendations and many more were directly read out by youth to relevant experts and adult representatives from nation-states.
The effect that reading this out to nations is that they get to understand and see these issues from the perspective of real youth. By these means, these representatives get a much broader understanding of how it feels to be a youth who is uniquely affected by modern and ongoing issues. Most of these officials though they deal with you can often go stretches without involving youth in design making. Often this is unintentional meaning that it is even more important that we as youth get involved through whatever method, maybe through in-person meetings and conferences or through any other means.
The effect that this has is that every youth no matter experience or background could get their story heard and their recommendations reviewed by appropriate officials but that this early happens in regular day to day life due to a lack of an avenue to do so. There are many reasons that this avenue may not exist but for the most part, it is due to youth not being considered when public policy is in the planning and implementation stages.
Think to the last time that policy was implemented in your community, were youth actively engaged and informed? I hope you can say yes to this question yet sadly this is not always the case. This is exactly why this forum was so valuable; because it allowed youth to reach these officials and make the case for youth involvement.
What this conference proves is that if youth are given a voice and channels to express that voice they will and they will do it with confidence and strength, that youth with the proper supports really can represent their views at every level. This is such an important lesson for the international community to learn because it signifies a point in which they can know that youth can be empowered and can be advantageous to any conversation about youth.
So, in short, the 3rd Pan-American Child forum was not just an opportunity for youth to share our views, but an opportunity to proves that we can represent our views respectfully and knowledgeably.
We as individuals can help changes the views of the policymakers and officials in our local and national governments by meeting with politicians, sending letters, or any other means of expressing your voices on youth issues. Or if you are currently planning any events or making plans that involve youth, engage the children affected by your decisions.
After all, you cannot talk about youth unless you first talk with youth.
Written by: Joshua Himmens.