Reporting and photos: Felipe Cala, ChildFund Alliance; Roberta Cecchetti, Save the Children; Agueda Barreto and Thiago Machado, ChildFund Brasil
Fourteen-year-old Maria Antônia has made a name for herself in her home of Crato, a city in northeastern Brazil, because of her determination and community participation. This week, she had the opportunity to be heard on a world stage: a panel on the prevention of violence against children, at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York.
“I see this opportunity as a process of inclusion,” she said before the event, “because young people from 10 different countries will contribute with relevant themes on our point of view, to achieve a better world.”
The March 23 side-event took place during the third gathering of U.N. members to negotiate the post-2015 development agenda, a global set of priorities to tackle such issues as poverty, hunger, inequality and disease in the next 15 years. The goals are expected to be finalized in September. The purpose of the side-event — hosted by the governments of Canada, Guatemala, Japan and Palau — was to highlight the importance of allowing children to grow up in violence-free communities, schools and homes, and to bring their voices to decision-makers in New York.
ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International, UNICEF and World Vision International, as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children and the Latin America and Caribbean Movement for Children, collaborated to organize the discussion.
Maria Antônia spoke about physical, psychological and sexual violence and children’s own recommendations to prevent and respond to violence, including ways to report incidents safely and increasing social services at schools and health clinics.
“It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said.
The visit was exciting and somewhat overwhelming for Maria Antônia, who is sponsored through ChildFund and also takes part in community projects with one of our local partners in Brazil. This was her first visit to New York City, and on the first day, she went to Central Park and saw snow for the first time (“It was beautiful,” she said). The next day, Maria Antônia prepared to speak at the U.N. headquarters, a daunting prospect.
“Early in the morning, I could only think that I would not be able to represent children and adolescents,” she recalled. “I felt fear and insecurity. But after my speech, I was congratulated. And that made me very happy. I had the feeling that I did what I had come to do.
“I realize how important it is to improve the entire environment where I live — my home, my community and my school,” she added.
And Maria Antônia is returning home with tales to tell. “My friends will ask me about the city, my experience in a new and different place, but what I really want to talk about is the opportunity to be heard. It’s a dream I could never dream.”
Every child has the right to live and thrive in a safe and caring family environment, free from all forms of violence. That’s what the ChildFund Alliance and our other peers believe.
Earlier this month, the governments of Canada and Paraguay co-hosted six child-focused agencies — ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages International, UNICEF and World Vision International — at the United Nations headquarters in New York to discuss violence against children and ways to prevent it. The goal is to make sure children’s rights are a high priority in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which is set to be agreed upon by United Nations member states in September 2015.
Millions of children experience abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence on a daily basis at home, at school, at work and in their communities. The consequences can be life-long and also spread to other generations; in the worst cases, violence can lead to a child’s death. Violence can also cause economic disadvantages: lost productivity, and a reduced quality of life. Most broadly, it has far-reaching costs for society, slowing economic development and eroding nations’ human and social capital.
During the eighth session of the intergovernmental Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, the governments of Canada and Paraguay co-hosted A World without Violence against Children, along with coordination from the six agencies. ChildFund Alliance, for one, has taken a stand to advocate for children’s issues — particularly freedom from violence and exploitation — to be included in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring the prevention and responses to violence against children to the debate about the U.N.’s future priorities, which affect its work in the countries where ChildFund and other agencies work.
Jim Emerson, secretary general of the Alliance, thanked the co-hosts, participating children and the speakers. He highlighted the pervasive presence of violence against children, and the importance of the post-2015 development agenda addressing this issue.
“But it’s not just our organizations saying this,” Emerson noted. “Most importantly, this is a call from children all over the world. Children are asking for an end to physical and humiliating punishment; sexual violence and abuse; harmful child work and child marriage; trafficking and other harmful practices.”
Migena, an Albanian girl who participated in a post-2015 consultation in her home country, organized by SOS Children’s Villages International, also joined the meeting via Skype. She highlighted the need for the next generation of development goals to address the different forms of violence, exploitation and abuse against children, as well as the importance of children’s participation in the process. Raising awareness in communities and getting state agencies more involved in regions where violence occurs are equally important, Migena said. “Children are going to rule the world in the future,” she concluded.
Canada’s and Paraguay’s U.N. ambassadors, Guillermo Rishchynski and José Antonio Dos Santos, both spoke about their countries’ work to bring children’s issues to the attention of the U.N. work group, and their speeches were followed by a panel discussion moderated by Al Jazeera English journalist Femi Oke. The panelists also answered questions from the audience in New York and online.
Marta Santos Pais, the U.N. secretary-general’s representative, added that she hears children in many countries talking about how fear defines their lives.
The panelists, among them UNICEF’s chief of child protection, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative on violence against children and the World Health Organization representative to the U.N., discussed many aspects of this issue. Susan Bissell of UNICEF noted that it’s important to communicate the fact that violence against children is preventable and that there are concrete solutions to the problem, drawing on successful programs from around the world. She also pointed out that the reduction of child mortality rates could be offset in the future by violence against children.
Marta Santos Pais, the U.N. secretary-general’s representative, added that she hears children in many countries talking about how fear defines their lives. Werner Obermeyer of WHO called attention to links between violence against children and other types of violence, which often lead to risk-taking attitudes that cause declines in health.
ChildFund’s Emerson highlighted the importance of this issue for development and remarked that violence against children has a series of economic implications that transcend the direct costs of responding to it. Evidence shows that prevention is much more cost-effective than response.
Santos Pais also read a statement of support from the U.N.’s Committee on the Rights of the Child, urging governments “to make the protection of children from all forms of violence a high priority goal on the post-2015 agenda, as an issue of utmost international as well as national importance.”
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
We’re pleased to announce that ChildFund Alliance (the global coalition formed by ChildFund International and 11 affiliates) is a finalist in the MY World People’s Choice Award, sponsored by the United Nations MY World Global Survey. The survey asks people to identify changes that would make the world a better place.
Because this is a people’s choice prize, we need votes! Please take a moment to vote for ChildFund Alliance, and then invite your Facebook friends to do the same. Voting closes at midnight EDT on Sept. 17, and the winner will be announced at an event in New York on Sept. 25.
The ChildFund Alliance created a child-friendly version of the survey and conducted more than 50 focus-group interviews with children, providing data to the U.N. To promote children’s engagement in the survey, the Alliance also organized a conference with more than 50 countries represented.
The MY World Awards recognize the work of organizations that have helped spread the word about the survey, which allows people to express their views about global priorities for the post-2015 development agenda. More than 850,000 people in 194 countries have participated, and the number is expected to top 1 million by the end of the month.
Thanks for voting!
By Virginia Sowers
When 16-year-old Denzel Matthew left his rural village of La Plaine in Dominica last Friday en route to the United Nations in New York City, it would be an understatement to say he was a tad nervous.
Accompanied and reassured by Francis Joseph, ChildFund’s national director for Dominica/St. Vincent, Denzel rose to the occasion from the moment he landed at JFK.
Representing ChildFund International, Denzel appeared at three separate events related to the United Nations Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
Throughout the day, Denzel mingled with ambassadors and U.N. officials.
While in New York, Denzel also had the opportunity to meet with a number of ChildFund donors as well as fellow Dominicans now living in the U.S.
As Denzel was preparing to return home, he graciously agreed to one more in a long line of interviews.
Q: What will you tell your family, friends and teachers about your experience at the United Nations?
I will tell my family and friends that speaking at the United Nations was a great experience for me.
Q: How did you feel when you stood up and delivered your statement before the large crowd at the United Nations?
At first I felt nervous and afraid, but I had a lot of support from ChildFund and friends, so I just stood up and delivered.
Q: What did you learn about yourself during this trip?
I learned that I’m a great photographer and a good speaker.
Q: Do you think that it is important for young people’s voices to be heard at the United Nations?
I think it’s important for young people to be at the United Nations because many people from all around the world go to the United Nations, and the young people’s voices will be heard.
Q: What was it like to meet the United Nations ambassador for Dominica?
Meeting the U.N. Ambassador (Hon. Crispin Gregoire) for Dominica was great! We even sat down at a panel discussion together.
Q: Has this trip inspired you to keep working on your goal to help other children when you return to Dominica?
This trip has inspired me in many ways, and I hope that I can help other children reach their goals by introducing positive and fun activities that they can take part in.
Q: Do you think this experience has changed your life?
This experience changed my life by opening a new door for me and allowing me to see my future in a positive and successful way.
Q: What was the most fun thing you did while in New York City?
Everything I did while in New York was fun and exciting! I went to see the play “Shrek” on Broadway. We went sightseeing and walked through Central Park. We went to see 3-D movies. And even though I was scared to speak at the United Nations, I enjoyed it and it was fun.
By David Hylton
Public Relations Specialist
A 16-year-old Dominican boy who overcame a violent and hopeless past through a program sponsored by ChildFund International will share his transformational story at the United Nations next week. The event is part of the commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the world body’s continuing observation of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Denzel Matthew is one of five children from an impoverished family in the Caribbean nation of Dominica. His troubled life centered on his involvement with a spate of violent activities until a photography course brought him purpose and direction. He will take part in two U.N. events on Monday, Oct. 19.
The first, “Children and Families Speak Out Against Poverty,” takes place 1:15-2:30 p.m., in Conference Room 2, U.N. Secretariat Building. This commemoration is organized by the International Movement ATD Fourth World, the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and co-sponsored by the Missions of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations.
The presentation will be followed by an interactive panel: “Children: The Future and the Present — Participation in Poverty Reduction and Accountability for Rights.” This event takes place at UNICEF’s Labouisse Hall, 3-5:30 p.m. The panel is organized in partnership with UNICEF by the NGO Subcommittee for the Eradication of Poverty and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with the support of the NGO Committee on UNICEF.
Like so many youth in Dominica, Denzel faced a bleak future, having been involved in violent activities since a young age.
“Every day was a struggle for me to survive, as I come from a poor family and community,” he says. “I could not see my future. I had nowhere to go.”
But last year, a photography course made possible by ChildFund International donors opened an unexpected doorway for Denzel. After years of despair, he discovered how to channel his energy in artistic rather than violent ways. In addition to providing him with new skills, the photography class introduced the teenager to others with similar interests. When the program ended, Denzel wrote in his evaluation that he no longer felt like dropping out of school or hanging out with the local gang.
“For the first time in my life, I had a way to let out my emotions without being violent,” he says.
As he shapes his own future, Denzel also wants to change the lives of those following in his footsteps. He has joined a youth group of about 20 peers who are committed to making a difference in their community. Denzel’s latest effort is to create a mentoring program to assist children in his community with reading and writing skills.
The youth group also is developing a conservation program to help protect an area known as Nature Island, a popular tourist destination on Dominica.
“Today, I am a happier person and am happy to tell my story,” Denzel says. “I hope I can change the future of others who may be in situations like me.”