Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Provincial children’s forum: Voice of children from Lao Cai province


Chau Thi Tao, 15, was attending Lao Cai’s Children’s Forum in July 2013, where she and 51 other young students voiced up for their rights to participation. They were gathering to influence the amendment of the Law on Protection, Care and Education of Children.

“I want child marriage to end. I can talk to my friends and other people in my homeland about children’s rights and how the Law protects them.” – Tao said. “Early marriage cannot help people to escape poverty. I hope policy makers will consider this issue more seriously when they amend the Law.”
Chau Thi Tao before the National Children Forum. ©  UNICEF Viet Nam\2013\Nguyen Huong Ly

Chau Thi Tao showed such strong determination toward solving social issues. Tao is now living in a Social Protection Center of Lao Cai province. She has been taken care of by the people there since she was 9. Her mother passed away when she was only four, then her father was gone a few years later. Tao has a sister – Chau Thi Tang, who is two years older than her. Tang got married when she was fourteen.

“We were born in Bac Ha district, where the majority of Hmong ethnic group live. It is a little area located in the North of Lao Cai, surrounded by rice terraces,” Tao said, smiling and touching her chin as she talks. “During the rainy season, Bac Ha is engulfed in fog.”

“My homeland is beautiful, but life there is not that nice,” she shared. “Families are having many children and they don’t want to send them to school. Children have to work at their early age or get married early in order to reduce the number of dependent persons in the family. Child marriage is common in Bac Ha. Every time when I come back to visit my village, I’m worried for my friends’ future.”

UNICEF’s support

The provincial children’s forum is an annual event which has been systematically organized in Lao Cai since 2009. This forum offers an opportunity for children from various ethnic minority groups across Lao Cai to come together and discuss issues they are facing. The forum often ends with an open dialogue where children discuss their issues and propose solutions with provincial leaders. The provincial children’s forum in 2013 focused on how the Law on Protection, Care and Education of Children should be amended that could address the best interest of children from Lao Cai province.

Two-day Workshop, ©  UNICEF Viet Nam\2013\DInh Hong Anh
In preparation for the forum, UNICEF provided a two-day training workshop for the children and young people, before they talked to their leaders. The purpose of this training was to help children understand more about their rights, about the Law and how to link their concerns with the existing Law to come up with a specific proposal to improve it.

Before the forum, Tao was already very aware of the issue facing children from her district. After the two days training, she gained a lot of confidence and together with her group, came up with many suggestions for improving the law.

Dialogue with provincial and district leaders

At the dialogue with provincial and district leaders, Tao asked several questions, one of which related to early marriage: “I see that early marriage is very common in Bac Ha district. One of the reasons is lack of awareness and understanding about the Law on Families and Marriage. I would like to ask you as leaders of the province, if you have developed any measures to address this problem. In addition, could you also advise where and who we could go and talk to about this problem?” The Deputy Director of the provincial Department of Justice thanked Tao for her questions and said that he would consider opening a counseling office where children can come for advice. At the end of the Children’s Forum, Tao was nominated as one of six students to represent the 200,000 children of Lao Cai at the National Children’s Forum in August.

“I’m so lucky and honored to be here. Attending the National Forum is something I has never thought I’d do.” Tao said excitedly.

“I want child marriage to end!” Tao concludes. Her voice is so strong that it sounds like the voice of the whole province in hope for a brighter future.

By Nguyen Huong Ly

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