“Why are these children here?” was repeatedly asked by my co-participants referring to two little children who accompanied their father to attend a Saturday writing class.
While we were about to start our class, a man who could barely walk and two of his children, a boy and a girl, came in. Knowing that there were remaining chairs around, my friends took three chairs and asked them to sit down. The children were arranged to sit between their father. Consequently, we soon realized that the father could not sit due to his physical condition. So, the children settled down on two chairs while their father stood behind them.
A few minutes later, a few participants came. The chairs were running out. Eyes were on those two children. Here came the questions: “Why are they here? Do they come to learn as well?”
I said “No, they just come with their father.”
Again there was another question. “Then why do they sit here?”
I responded that “Well, they do not need to come to learn to be seated here. They just simply deserved a good treatment”. Then they stopped asking the question but I felt that the questions should not be raised at the first place.
The knowledge of child participation is too low. In a big child-related meeting at one ministry in Phnom Penh, there was a representative from a child right organization who suggested that a child representative should be invited to attend and take part in the committee. Then, there was a strong rejection from a senior man who said that “How can we involve children in such a big deal meeting?” What if he or she cries? What can we do? Soon after, there was another high ranking government officer who said “We cannot accommodate any children here. We are senior people who hold the titles of excellency, how can we invite children to sit with us”.
When it was time to vote, there was only one hand raised while about 40 people didn’t. Children are welcomed. Sad.
Child Participation is not only a core principle in the Conventions on the Rights of the Child but also an obligation of state parties ensuring opportunities provided to children to freely express their opinion.
Reflecting to the recent incidents in high rank meeting in government institution and in my writing class, full and wider child participation is still too far to reach. The country needs a lot of time and effort in lobbying and advocating for a broader understanding of involving children in development issues.