Children s participation: Mekong Youth Forum and COMMIT

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1 Children s participation: Mekong Youth Forum and COMMIT Briefing paper Introduction Human trafficking is one of the most serious problems affecting children and young people in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). Most trafficking victims from this sub-region are under 30 years of age, with a large proportion of them younger than 18. The issue is complex as it intertwines with other socio-economic problems such as poverty, lack of education, lack of job opportunities, and ill-prepared migration. Despite the efforts of governments, international organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who have been working for several years to combat human trafficking, it is still an ongoing problem with no quick or easy solutions. Save the Children together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), World Vision International and the United Nations Inter-agency Project on Human Trafficking in the GMS (UNIAP) believe that children and young people have the power, and indeed the right, to help adults in combating trafficking and the related labour and sexual exploitation that result. As stated in the UN convention on the Rights of the Child and the ILO Convention 182 on eliminating the worst forms of child labour, children must be involved in the decision-making process when those decisions will have an impact on matter that affect them. We have seen that children and youth have already been working alongside adults to combat trafficking in their communities, for example, in research and data collection, in project design and implementation, and in awareness-raising activities. It has become clear that children and youth often have their own views on how to prevent abuses caused by human trafficking, a view that is often unique, insightful, and valuable.

2 By involving children and youth in a meaningful way, we can design policies and programmes that are more effective in helping to prevent human trafficking and protect those already affected by it. The participation of young people is critical in ensuring that the respective States listen to the views of girls and boys; integrating their experience and perspective is vital for developing appropriate measures for their protection. Through the life of the Save the Children s Cross-border Project, children and young people have been given opportunities to express their views, advocate for their own rights, and influence decision making processes. The Mekong Youth Forum is a regional event that brings children s voices into the dialogue of policy level. Young people from the six Mekong countries Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam came together to discuss their experiences of migration and human trafficking. They presented recommendations to their governments on how to combat trafficking of young people, make migration safer, and improve engagement of young people in the issues surrounding migration and counter-trafficking policy-making and implementation. Milestones The Mekong Children s Forum on Human Trafficking, October 2004 Our Voices, Our Views. It was within the spirit of child participation that Save the Children UK s Cross-border Anti- Trafficking Project launched the Voices of Children initiative in The first major activity under the Voices of Children was a series of national and provincial children s forum in August and September These penultimate events were the forerunners to the sub-regional Mekong Children s Forum on Human Trafficking (MCF) held in Bangkok in October MCF brought together children from Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam to find common ground between their ideas and concerns regarding the issue of human trafficking in their countries as well as making suggestions to their governments, from a child s perspective, as part of a broader sub-regional effort in fighting trafficking. Results: The children of MCF produced a total of 42 recommendations on the topics of social and economic developments, laws and policies, child labour, child rights and family, advocacy and awareness raising, education, and victim support. MCF generated significant interest and recognition from government agencies on the importance of children s involvement in the discussion. The MCF served as a challenge for the children to become leaders in their own right

3 and in their own communities. In several cases, young participants from 2004 now have become local resource persons in 2007, said one of the MCF organisers. At the national level, the MCF impacted policy makers by getting them to listen to what children had to say. Mekong Youth Forum on Human Trafficking, 2-9 September 2007 selected youth delegates worked together to better understand the situation of children s vulnerabilities across the GMS and how they relate to internal and cross-border trafficking. One of the main objectives was to develop recommendations on how best to fight trafficking at all levels local, national and sub-regional. The weeklong forum concrete action within six key themes: migration, victim protection, prevention, education, participation, and nationality. Are you listening? Three years after the MCF, the two founding organisations ILO s Mekong Project to Combat Trafficking in Children and Women and Save the Children UK s Cross-border Anti-Trafficking Project were joined by two others: World Vision International s Regional Advocacy Anti Child Trafficking Project, and UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP). The MYF would also be the first collective attempt to review what changes in policies and programmes addressing human trafficking had occurred since the first Children s Forum in A series of national and provincial forums in the six GMS countries preceded the 2007 Youth Forum. During these events, discussions were held with senior government officials and in each case a set of national recommendations was drafted and presented to the governments. Five youth delegates from each of the six countries were selected by their peers at the national level to represent their groups at the sub-regional forum in Bangkok. Through a participatory and constructive manner, the thirty Senior government officials from the six Mekong countries (also involved in the COMMIT process) were invited to take part on two occasions to discuss anti-trafficking measures. The first dialogue brought the children in contact with international policy experts on children s rights, child labour and human trafficking, as well as midlevel implementers of the anti-trafficking policy work in Thailand. The 2 nd, and much larger dialogue, brought together the young delegates and some officials from the COMMIT Task Forces from the six countries. This second session was a chance for all involved to discuss the issues, ask questions, and examine the first draft recommendations from the youth delegates. Results: The youth believe that their stories and recommendations can help governments produce better policies and develop better programmes that can put an end to human trafficking. They have also gained confidence in their ability to become partners with adults in the fight against human trafficking.

4 The high level representation of the six Mekong governments present at both national and subregional Youth Forums is further evidence of the acknowledgement that the voices of young people resonate the with authority. Many government officials who participated in these events have vowed to act on the proposals and seriously consider the issues raised by the young people. Mekong Youth Forum on Human Trafficking and Migration, October 2010 Let s talk, Let s Act! To build on the pledges made at the previous Senior Officials Meetings, the MYF pushed for a more sustainable approach to youth participation in the COMMIT process. Rather than a large scale event held every three years, more regular and local initiatives for engaging children and youth at provincial and national forum before the selected youth delegates came to the MYF in Bangkok. Each young person in MYF 3 joined the forum with a wealth of knowledge from their own activities in protecting children and promoting their rights in their villages. Some have very personal insights and ideas to improve the situation based on their direct experience of surviving trafficking situations. Each one came to the forum with a mandate to represent children s views, questions, and recommendations after they have listened and talked with many other young people like them during the National Forums. Apart from fully engaging young people as participants, the two former youth delegates from MYF 2007 as main facilitators of the forum. Together with two young persons from MYF, another youth from the Metropolitan Teen Theater League added the element of basic integrated theatre arts into the workshop. The workshop is the main component of MYF where the national recommendations which participants bring with them were consolidated to become Mekong Recommendations. It is the first time that the workshop utilised basic integrated theatre to focus on surfacing and expressing young people s demands and recommendations to the region s policy makers regarding human trafficking and migration while allowing artistic expression through dance and movement, acting, visual arts and poetry. During the workshop, participants of MYF also joined the Mekong Performing Arts Laboratory organised by the Philippine Educational Theater Associations s (PETA) Mekong Partnership Program with the support from Save the Children UK s Cross-border Programme. The seven new performance pieces were launched specially for MYF to address various issues and problems confronted by children and young people from Mekong. Result: MYF 3 had the stronger commitments of governments and the international community to make children s participation real and meaningful. COMMIT has included this kind of event in their sub-regional workplans.

5 Impacts The three regional events and series of national forums have demonstrated the value of child and youth participation to government officials in the region. In 2007, the Prime Minister of Vietnam assigned relevant ministries to review and consider children recommendations that the children submitted during the National Forum and ensured youth delegates that their recommendations will be reflected in the National Plan of Action. A greater acknowledgement of the value of youth participation came when the Government of Vietnam co-organised another youth forum in 2009 and the Thailand Government hosted the Thailand National Forum which is jointly organised the International Labour Organization (ILO), Save the Children UK, World Vision, and the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP). Article 17 of the COMMIT Senior Official s Joint Declaration and Recommendation (2007) is a pledge to consult with affected groups in the formulation of future policy. At the COMMIT Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) in January 2010, an explicit recommendation from the senior officials was that full support should be provided for the continuation of the Mekong Youth Forum and National Youth Forums to be included in the 2010 COMMIT workplans. In the COMMIT s Sub-regional Plan of Action , it states that the consultation with persons affected by human trafficking, including victims of trafficking, vulnerable populations, children, and youth to gain their inputs on national actions against human trafficking. In 2012, Thai and Vietnamese youth delegates from MYF 2010 were invited to present their recommendations again at the Inter Ministerial Meeting and Senior Official Meeting in Vietnam. Until now, many participants of the MYF are now our youth leaders in their communities leading the work on safe migration and human trafficking prevention as well as involving in child protection network or committee at local level. A few have become youth advocates for bringing the voices of other children to other national and regional policy platforms. Some of the recommendations by children are reflected in provincial and national policies. For example, China and Myanmar established protection centres for returnees before they reunified with their family and supported those who might be at risk to be trafficking victims at the border of the two countries; Thailand launched the new regulation on preventing children to work at seafood and food processing factories in Save the Children is recognised by governments as the leading agencies in promoting children s participation. We have been appointed to be one of the regional cofacilitators such as conducting a consultation of children in the ASEAN regional workshop on the implementation of CRC in September 2012.

6 Next Steps for Save the Children Continue to support the governments of the 6 GMS countries and the COMMIT in strengthening their work on prevention, protection of victim of human trafficking, cross-border collaboration and the facilitation of meaningful participation of children. Reflection of the past experiences of organising the three Mekong children and youth forums as well as review the progress of all recommendations of children in the policy changes at provincial, national and regional levels. Support the governments in conducting the next youth forums on migration and human trafficking at local, national and regional level. Continue to use the artistic approach in engaging young people to present their voices to high level dialogue From the previous consultations with children in the latest MYF in 2010 and the follow up meeting with MYF youth participants in 2012, Save the Children realised the importance of expanding the issues on child trafficking and migration to cover the issues of children on the move such as unaccompanied, separated, asylum seeking, refugee, stateless, and those who migrate for work. The Regional Cross-border Programme has now become the Regional Children on the Move programme which aims to advocate for the protection and the rights of all children who move in Southeast Asia countries especially ASEAN. Lobby for and facilitate meaningful children s engagement in policy discussions at regional (especially ASEAN) and global levels, including in monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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