Unicef UK explain how young people can make their voices heard

11 Nov 2019

7 mins
Young People Protesting
Young People Protesting

We were delighted to be joined by Jessica Bool of Unicef UK at our recent Into Film Festival launch screening of climate change documentary 2040. Bool took part in a Q&A after the film, along with 2040 director Damon Gameau, speaking to the young audience - which numbered close to 10,000 since the Q&A was satellite linked to cinemas across the UK - about the rights they have, and ways they can get their voices heard, as young people are becoming ever-more involved in campaigns, protests and standing up for their planet and themselves.

Below, Bool explains further what 'the rights of the child' are, and how Unicef UK can help young people take action on the issues that matter to them.

The saying we all know well, "children should be seen and not heard". The old adage, "you'll understand when you're older". A throw-away statement like: "you're just a kid". These are phrases we've all heard, or thought, or maybe even said at one time or another. But kids, children and young people all over the world are changing things and forcing their parents and teachers, the media and even politicians to sit up and pay attention.

It is not just Greta Thunberg, but young people across the globe with first-hand experience of the catastrophic effects of climate change who are demanding that we sit up and pay attention to the impending crisis our planet faces:

In the UK, thousands of children and young people have turned up to protest and join the global youth-led movement demanding we take their voices on climate change seriously and act now. But they are also speaking up, starting campaigns and taking part in public debates on knife crime, body shaming, period poverty, and human rights.

This November marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - a landmark moment when leaders the world over agreed the rights of all children. Since then, the treaty has been ratified by nearly every country in the world and in doing this, governments have taken on a legally binding obligation to respect, protect and promote children's rights. The Convention forms the basis of all Unicef's work, both in the UK and overseas, and although it may sound like an abstract document, at its heart it is a simple promise to every child. It says that every child is entitled to an education, to a clean and safe place to live, to enough to eat, protection from harm, and to have their voices and views heard and taken seriously.

Children often have the answers adults can't find and enabling young people to understand the impact of decisions being made now on their futures is critical. At Unicef UK we know that teaching children about their rights and how they can call on those responsible for ensuring they are met leads young people to feel more engaged with their local community, their education and the global agenda. Moreover, discussing the issues we're all facing today helps young people to develop skills such as critical thinking, communication and organisation, and encourages confidence.

However, finding ways to dedicate already stretched resources to encourage youth-led advocacy in schools and youth clubs, and feel confident and responsible in doing so, can be difficult. At Unicef UK we've tried to remove some of the barriers and create entry points for those new to child rights and campaigning:

  • Use the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the articles it affords all children, everywhere, e.g. article 12 of the Convention states that children have a right to have their voices heard and taken seriously on matters that affect them.

Now is the time to harness the passion and energy the climate change movement has created and empower children to use their voice effectively.

In some ways, childhood in 1989 looked very different to the lives of children and young people today, so at Unicef UK we're using this moment to ask children and young people in the UK what child rights issues need the attention of our decision makers now. We hope this year's resources will help young people show decision makers where their attention is needed, whether it's children's right to play, to family life or anything else outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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