| Matters of the hearth
Child trafficking has become a billion-dollar-a-year business, with an estimated 1.2 million children falling victim annually...An estimated 300,000 children are thought to have been coerced into military service, whether as soldiers, porters, messengers, cooks or sex slaves, with 120,000 in Africa alone.
These are extreme cases, but in every society adolescents are the most likely age group to find themselves marginalized, abused, exploited and disregarded, and in perilous limbo, neither young enough to inspire adult protectiveness nor old enough to grasp the power and possibilities of adult society. Almost all countries have populations of adolescents scraping out a living on the streets of their urban centres. The latest estimates put the numbers of these children as high as 100 million.
Many of these are children who work the streets but return to a family home at night; others, however, are far from the protective, nurturing reach of a family. Many may have never experienced their family home as a safe haven, since child abuse is often a key factor in their decision to leave home and take to the streets.
In all countries, children who live or spend most of their lives on the street are more at risk on every count: from malnutrition or HIV infection to being dragged into the drug underworld. In some cities their very survival is at risk daily. Inevitably living on the margins of the law, they often find themselves in conflict with local authorities, and studies from many countries report that these children’s most pervasive fear is of violent death...
In Brazil, the boys and girls who live on the city streets have found in the National Movement of Street Boys and Girls, a space for participation that has permitted them to become aware of their rights, reorganize their perspective on life and fight for their rights. In 1985, educators from all over the country who were already working with street children founded the movement after a national meeting attended by delegations of adolescents representing local groups. In 1986, some 600 children who live on the streets from all over the country and street educators met and defined the four main objectives of the movement: to change laws that punish poor children for being poor, to combat violence, to support and expand the movement to permit more boys and girls to participate and to train educators and activists to develop the necessary competencies and appropriate approach to working with these children...
By participating in the movement, boys and girls who have spent time on the streets learn how to return to family and community life, attend school and take advantage of a space of their own where they can fight for their rights...
Because the family is the first place where children learn to participate, it is also the ideal forum where children can learn to express their views while respecting the perspectives of others. As the committee on the rights of the child advised in one of its early sessions:
“Traditionally, the child has been seen as a dependent, invisible and passive family member. Only recently has he or she become ‘seen’ and…the movement is growing to give him or her space to be heard and respected…. The family becomes in turn the ideal framework for the first stage of the democratic experience for each and all of its indiv-idual members, including children.”
But the task facing parents and an extended family is not an easy one as they balance their responsibilities both to support a child’s participation and to protect and guide the child...Recognizing the critical and vital role of families, many organizations have developed programmes and advocacy campaigns that support parents and families in their efforts...
Collective attempts to gather, evaluate and analyse efforts in child participation are emerging in countries and regions around the world, and increasingly at the international level. One such forum is the Children as Partners Alliance, a coalition of international and national NGOs working with children, who recently met with representatives of the committee on the rights of the child, the Canadian Government, youth from young people’s organizations and researchers. CAPA’s purposes are to learn from experiences in working in “partnership with young people throughout the world” and to create an accessible data-base of these experiences.
Among its objectives are to establish standards of practice for programming, research, policy dialogue and advocacy, to engage in high-level advocacy to realize children’s right to participate in decisions affecting all aspects of their lives and to support the development of child-led organizations and of participatory research by children and young people.