25 April 2012

Children's Rights and Business Principles: UK Parliamentary Launch

Yesterday, I attended the Parliamentary Launch of the Children's Rights and Business Principles in the UK, at the House of Commons. The Principles set out business actions to respect and support children's rights. Read on to find out what was discussed at the launch!

We started by watching the video below, which gives each of the ten Principles. You can also read them here.

Children's Rights and Business Principles

We then heard from the following speakers: David Bull, the Executive Director of UNICEF UK, David Harris, the Director of Responsible Investment of the FTSE Group and Karen Johnson, the Responsible Business Advisor from the Private Sector Department of DfIDMP Jeremy Lefroy chaired the discussion.

Developing the Principles

UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children worked in partnership to develop the ten Principles. Children aged from seven to seventeen, in nine countries in the Global South, took part in a consultation process. You can download the children's feedback and the report written on their consultations from this page on the Business and Children Portal. David Bull told us that these children included street children, children with disabilities, child soldiers and child labourers.

A variety of other consultations also took place - with the private sector in the Global North and South; regionally with businesses; and with the public though the Business and Human Rights website.

David Bull said that corporate social responsibility usually took into account child labour, but this was too narrow a conception and the Principles go beyond this. They look at children's rights in the workplace, and in the market place. They are concerned with business' responsibilities within the community where they operate. They refer to looking after and protecting the environment, which children depend on to grow healthily. They look at children indirectly too, with regards to work practices concerning mothers and caregivers. 

How will the Principles be put into Effect?

Jeremy Lefroy, stated how important it was that the Principles do not just remain on paper, but that action is taken to implement them.  Various ways to ensure that businesses implement the Principles were discussed. David Harris from the FTSE Group said that the Principles would affect different sectors in different ways. For example the food and drink sector should take into account issues such as childhood obesity and underage drinking, and the communications sector should think about protection for minors using social media.

Before looking in more detail at possibilities for implementing the Principles by businesses, it must be noted that David Bull emphasised that under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the primary responsibility for children's rights rests with governments. It is hoped that the Principles will inform legislation. Ideally, businesses would take up implementation of the principles, but governments must effectively regulate companies which do not respect children's rights. Businesses should face consequences if they exploit children, whether directly or indirectly

Businesses and Implementation of the Principles
These were the main points discussed:
  • For the Principles to have effect, companies must be monitored, be accountable, and must not be given credit where it is not due. 
  • The FTSE Group can independently monitor companies, which is better than companies monitoring themselves. The Principles then have the chance to be properly and independently assessed.
  • David Harris talked about the FTSE4GOOD Index Series, which measures how environmentally and socially responsible companies are. The Principles will be a vital measurement for this Index. Research will be commissioned through IRIS against companies in the FTSE4GOOD Index to see how well they are implementing the Principles.
  • The implementation issue is not about philanthropy, but about business. Karen Johnson said that to be properly effective, it must make business sense to implement the Principles and this should resonate with the core decision makers of a company - not just the corporate social responsibility department.
  • The Principles must be integrated into existing policies, management and public reporting, to be effective.
  • Businesses should be made to see that happy and healthy children are better for the communities in which they operate. Children can be consumers; their parents are in the work force; and the children make up the future talent pool for businesses.
Other issues were also brought up during the question and answer session. The Principles were formulated to be as broad as possible for all types of businesses across the world, but it was impossible to encompass all factors, and the principles may not be so helpful with regard to the informal sector. It was also noted that the FTSE Group deals with the largest, registered companies in the world and so would not assess smaller businesses. Reputation is important to businesses though, even if they are small, and this would hopefully encourage them to implement the Principles. 

What Happens Next?

David Bull said that it is important to disseminate the Principles as widely as possible. According to UNICEF's Corporate Social Responsibility website, a launch event for the Principles took place in Sweden today and such events will also happen in Moldova and China next month. It is vital that business leaders know about the Principles, so that they begin to be implemented. David Bull also told us that UNICEF should be producing a workbook which will offer some guidance to help businesses implement the Principles. 

Businesses have far reaching impacts on children, and this is a good initiative to try to ensure that they respect and support children's rights. Jeremy Lefroy observed that he cannot see any of the Principles being burdens on a company. Let us hope that the Principles can be publicised and then effectively implemented, to reduce (and hopefully stop) business' negative impacts on children and build on, and improve, their positive effects.

Volunteering With and For Children: Part 3

On April 22, my organisation, CHW, had its fifth anniversary! I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our supporters and volunteers. Below is a thank you note for you all.

If anyone wants to join CHW, please get in touch! We always need volunteers to help us with the children's projects we support.

21 April 2012

Volunteering With and For Children: Part 2

Do you want to Volunteer?

It is Global Youth Service Day this weekend! I posted about that yesterday in Part 1 on the theme of volunteering with and for children. I also gave some details about the Service Innovation Summit, which I recently took part in. As well as all this, it will be the fifth anniversary of my organisation, CHW, tomorrow, so no wonder the subject of volunteering has been on my mind!

Although it might be a bit last minute to find a project for this weekend, volunteering at any time is a very positive thing! Here are some links to help you get started. Some have general volunteering opportunities, but you can search specifically for placements with children's projects, if that is what you particularly want to do.

Searching for volunteer placements or projects:
  1. Idealist - I post CHW's volunteering opportunities there. Lots of organisations use this site and there are many types of opportunities you can choose from.
  2. Betterplace - One of CHW's volunteers told me about this site. So far I have just posted CHW's appeals for donations, but some organisations advertise for volunteers (which I may also do in the future!) and it is worth taking a look.
  3. 7 Billion Actions - Organisations have posted their profiles here, with contact details. CHW has been contacted by new volunteers through this site and there are lots of organisations you can look through, to find one you like.
  4. Junction49 - This is a site for people aged 13-25 in the UK. It supports young people in setting up their own projects and other young people on the site can volunteer and help out with these initiatives. The site was recommended to me by the Volunteer Services Unit at UCL, when I was a student there.

Links from the Service Innovation Summit:
  1. Cuenta Conmigo Blog- This Blog was set up after the Summit and has resources and ideas to do with volunteerism - the focus is on Spain, but there are some blog entries in English too, which may be of interest. 
  2. Community Project Grant - Spain only. This is a competition for a grant to finance a volunteer project in Spain. The deadline to apply is 20 May 2012.
  3. Global Service Leaders Network - an online community for leaders from around the world who are concerned with volunteerism.

Volunteer with CHW:
  1. Your skills! - If you have any skill you want to share with us to help support the children we work with, please let me know. We have volunteers who help publicise appeals and arrange events, as well as those who do translations and have helped with designing our logo! See more on CHW's 'Get Involved' page, under the 'volunteering' section.
  2. Cake Sales - To celebrate CHW's 5th 'birthday' we are hoping as many people as possible will have cake sales to support our work throughout the year! If you are able to arrange a cake sale at your work, university, school or community, please get in touch!
  3. International Volunteering - Some of our partner organisations in Argentina, Ghana, Romania and South Africa run international volunteer schemes. They set the prices, so they are cheaper than doing placements with big gap year companies. I can put you in touch with the local organisations, if you want to volunteer abroad.
  4. Pass on our links! - This is an easy way to volunteer, if you want to help but don't have a lot of time. I have posted our two current appeals on both betterplace.org and kapipal.com. More info about these projects are on the appeal pages and to be successful CHW really needs people to pass on the links. If you are able to share them, by email, facebook, twitter, on your blog, or any other way you can think of, it would be a big help! Here are the links:
         Playground Project in Ghana on betterplace and on kapipal.
         Children's Music Therapy Project in Argentina on betterplace and on kapipal.

If you have other useful links for volunteering, please do add them as a comment below. I hope you find the volunteer opportunity that you are looking for!

20 April 2012

Volunteering With And For Children: Part 1

It is a big weekend for volunteering... both personally and globally! April 22 is significant for me as my organisation CHW will have its fifth anniversary. Everyone at CHW is a volunteer, and during the past five years, we have supported projects in five countries, through the local organisations we have partnered with. As well as this, CHW has its very first in-country team of volunteers, which has just been formed in Argentina. It is so exciting to be working with the volunteers there! 

This weekend is also important for young volunteers everywhere as Global Youth Service Day is being held from April 20-22 this year. It is a campaign which celebrates and mobilises children and youth who are volunteers around the world. 

I recently took part in another event concerning volunteering - the Service Innovation Summit in MadridI was honoured to be given a place and to be a speaker on a panel. Many thanks to the Meridian International Centre for this great opportunity! I spoke about volunteerism in the UK, and the impact of the economic downturn, along with two delegates from France and Greece, who gave the perspectives from their own countries. CHW consists of volunteers only, so learning about volunteerism in other cultures was very interesting, especially as we are aiming to build a network of people around the world who want to take action to improve the lives of children.

It was highlighted by various speakers at the Summit, that especially in these difficult economic times, governments cannot solve all the problems alone, nor do they have the necessary resources to do so. The problems cannot be solved by any one sector. Governments, companies and volunteers can all be part of the solution. Different speakers also said that everyone can be an agent of change. As emphasised by the Global Youth Service Day initiative, this includes the younger members of society too. 

Those hosting the Summit arranged a service project which took place today in the district of San Blas. If I had been in Madrid, I would have loved to have taken part! You can see some of the other projects that people organised on the Global Youth Service Day's website. If you are involved in a project this weekend, it would be great to hear from you and know how it went!

I will post Part 2 tomorrow, which will give resources for those of you searching for volunteering opportunities.

10 April 2012

Ideas to Help a School and Children's Home in Ghana?

I just had a phone call from the founder of Sankofa Mbofra Fie in Ghana, David. My organisation, CHW, supports Sankofa. David grew up on the streets himself. He started his organisation, which runs both a children's home and a school, to give opportunities to the children in the village of Eguafo. David started Sankofa in 2006 and it was less than a year later when I first met him. Since then I have seen how the number of children helped by Sankofa has just kept growing! There are now fifteen children living at the home and over three hundred attend the school. CHW has given donations, whenever possible, which have been used to buy food for the children and help to pay the teachers' salaries.

David phoned to let me know about some present costs. As well as immediate needs, like food, there are other things, such as having to pay the contract for the house Sankofa uses, renewing its NGO certificate and even getting photocopies of the exam sheets for the school, because the children need to be able to take their exams soon. All of the things are necessary for Sankofa to stay running and for the children to keep advancing in their education.

To be honest, my mind is racing! I am trying to think up some ways to fundraise quickly to get a donation for Sankofa.  CHW has larger, longer term projects that we fundraise for (currently a playground project at another children's home in Ghana and a children's music therapy project in Argentina). However, sometimes the local organisations contact us with issues like David did today. David, like the directors of the other initiatives we support, understands that fundraising can be difficult and we may not be able to help at short notice, but I still hope to be able to do something. He is doing amazing work for these children, and if it is possible to contribute to this, it would be a big help to all those at Sankofa.

If anyone has any ideas, or would like to help out - either by fundraising or donating, please let me know! I am always looking for new ways to fundraise anyway and it would be great to hear from you, if you have an idea to share.

Some of the children in class, during my last visit in 2011.

With David and some of the children - my first visit to Sankofa.

08 April 2012

5 Tweets for International Roma Day

Today is International Roma Day. Yesterday, I posted about Roma children's right to education, and joined the march in London today. Here are five tweets that people posted for International Roma Rights Day, which concern Roma children, or were written by young people themselves:

1. AidNews@Aid News: International Roma Day: The situation seen by our delegates in Eastern Europe: dlvr.it/1Q38sb

2. Pip Borev@pipogypopotamus: April 8th is International Roma Day: celebrations or tribulations? http://t.co/EW7GaDf8 #shamelessplugging

3. Damian Mac Con Uladh@damomac: April 8 was International #Roma Day: about 200-300k Roma live in Greece, or 3% of population. Here are two of them. pic.twitter.com/DhHAEWCb 

4. Roma-Service@dROMaBlog: #Amnesty Report: #Roma shown to be Europe's poorest and most reviled people. http://t.co/6C6SKXcP

5. UN Human Rights - @UNrightswire: "Let's not accept another lost generation of Roma," urge 7 UN #HumanRights experts ahead of Intl Roma Day 8/4: bit.ly/HQeQmv 

Taking a quote from the article tweeted by AidNews, here is a final thought for International Roma Day 2012:

"The International Roma Day is an occasion to remember that social inclusion of the present and future generations of Roma children, primarily through early childhood development and primary schools, is one of the most important things to do in Europe in the XXIst century."

07 April 2012

Roma Children's Right to Education

Children of a Roma family in Romania

I watched as the girl squinted at her book, looking closely and trying to pronounce the letters. I encouraged her to continue. She finished reading the sentence and looked up triumphantly with a big grin. The girl was learning to read for the first time, aged fourteen. She and her sister had joined a programme for those who had not been to school, and were getting extra help at an education centre run by an organisation in Sacele, Romania. The education centre helps underprivileged children in the area, the majority of whom are Roma. Tomorrow, 8 April, is International Roma Day.

The UN Special Rapporteur on education, Kishore Singh, has said:

"Education can break the cycle of Roma exclusion, yet Roma children are frequently in segregated and poor quality schools, and failing in education compared to others."

There have been various cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights regarding the state of Roma children's education in different countries. One of the better known cases is D.H. and Others v Czech Republic  (2007), which was the first of the cases to challenge discrimination against the Roma in state education systems. A disproportionately high number of Roma children were placed in "special schools." These are schools intended for children with learning difficulties. The applicants were from the city of Ostrava. Evidence given in the Written Observations included research which stated more than half of all students in special schools in the municipality were Roma, even though Roma children represented less than five percent of primary school-age students. A Roma child was 27 times more likely to be assigned to a special school than a non-Roma child. It was submitted that this degree of racial over-representation was unprecedented. 

This meant that the Roma children were receiving a sub-standard education within a system that was resulting in segregation. Having an inferior education has a life-long impact, as it affects prospects for further study and employment opportunities. The segregation of pupils whilst at school, and the further inequality in later life, resulting from receiving a low quality education, can only further frustrate tensions between Roma and non-Roma members of society. Inclusive schools would hopefully result in acceptance between pupils of different backgrounds, which would carry on into adulthood. I have previously posted about how higher rates of crime and violence exist in more unequal societies, whilst looking at Cape Town in South Africa. Here too, if Roma children were given equal opportunities in education and beyond, it would benefit them and the rest of society as well. This is not just an aspiration - it is the children's right.

The court found in D.H. and Others v Czech Republic that there had been a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. There was a violation of Article 14, the prohibition of discrimination, in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1, the right to education. Assigning a disproportionate amount of Roma children to special schools, without an objective and reasonable justification, amounted to unlawful discrimination. The Court noted that such discrimination was also a problem in other states, not just the Czech Republic. An article in the Michigan Law Review, by Dr O'Connell looks at this decision and at other cases concerning Roma children. The author notes that while some progress has been made, a disproportionate number of Roma children are still being sent to non-mainstream schools. This shows the problems arising with implementing the Court's decision. It is also pointed out that such decisions do nothing to help the large number of Roma children who will receive no formal education at all. 

Roma children face discrimination in so many areas, from education to healthcare. For example, the sister of the fourteen year old girl I mentioned above, was also enrolled on the programme for those who had not been to school. At the education centre run by the NGO, the staff noticed she was making slow progress with reading and then realised it was because she could not see very well. They then arranged for her to get glasses, and she is now making good progress. 

A group of UN experts made a statement in advance of International Roma Day, saying:

"The time for action is now. We should not accept yet another lost generation of Roma girls and boys whose only expectations are lives of poverty, discrimination and exclusion and whose futures are dictated by negative stereotypes which commonly go unchallenged."

It is unacceptable that such racial discrimination is taking place in the twenty first century. Two of the organisations that my foundation, CHW, supports in Romania are concerned with the plight of Roma children and families. They run a range of initiatives from educational projects to building better homes in the Roma community. You can visit their websites here and here. If you are interested in supporting or volunteering with them, please get in touch with me. Now is the time for action!

04 April 2012

Join the Conversation about Rio+20 with the UN CSD Major Group for Children and Youth!

Take part in the online conversation about Rio+20!  There are just eleven weeks left until the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, aka Rio+20. Today the focus is on the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY).

The Background
As the Youth 21 Initiative points out, it is twenty years since the first Earth Summit in Rio, where young people took a stand to demand that world leaders listened to them. See Severn Suzuki, aged 12, addressing the 1992 Summit in this video:

Severn Suzuki at the first Earth Summit

From the beginning of the first Earth Summit, people realised that sustainable development needed the active participation of everyone - not just governments alone. Agenda 21 was adopted at the Earth Summit in 1992. It is an action plan for sustainable development. One of the things Agenda 21 did was to formalise nine Major Groups through which citizens could participate in UN activities to achieve sustainable development. One of those Groups is the Major Group for Children and Youth. This group represents everyone below the age of thirty in this process.

What is happening today?

The official UN Rio+20 account has tweeted that it will be featuring a Major Group every Wednesday. Today is the day for the Major Group for Children and Youth!

You can follow and join the conversation using the hashtags  #MGCY and #RioPlus20. You can also interact with the Major Group for Children and Youth through their twitter account: @MGCY_UNCSD. 

You can join in on facebook, by sharing and commenting on the Group's facebook page and using their facebook cover photo.

Stay connected!

Whilst today is an important day to promote the Major Group for Children and Youth, there are further things you can do to stay involved! These include the following:
  • The MGCY is holding a free webinar series leading up to the Rio+20 Conference. Visit their page here for details of upcoming webinars and to watch previous ones.
  • The MGCY posted ten actions on the official Rio+20 website that people can do. See their post here.
  • Join the Rio+You Campaign, and see what you can do for their Global Action Day on April 22. Click here to go to their website.
  • Read the Rio+20s Participation Guide here and see their awesome video, below.

It is important for children and youth to learn about sustainability issues and understand how to take action, and how to get their voices heard. This is the world that children are growing up in and will be in charge of in the future, and it is essential for children and youth to have their say!

I am looking forward to connecting with you, as we join with others to promote the MGCY today!

01 April 2012

ILO Video Contest and Youth Unemployment: Present and Future

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has launched a video contest! Those of you affected by youth employment issues can enter. Although this is aimed at youth, not children, I still thought I would post it here because youth unemployment is a major issue and if solutions are not found, today's children will grow up to face bleak prospects.

Population Explosion!

The global population is growing at a record rate. Today, an article in the Sunday Times News Review gave these statistics on the global population:
  • It took 250,000 years to reach 1 billion people.
  • It then took another century to reach 2 billion people.
  • After that, it took 33 years to reach 3 billion people. 
  • The gap between the birth of the sixth and seventh billionth human was just over a decade. (This milestone was reached in October 2011.)
  • It is estimated that by 2050, the global population will be greater than 9 billion people.
The Sunday Times article was about a baby, Cai, born in London three days ago and looked at what his future might be like. It was suggested that, depending on his career, he may want to relocate East, as Asia looks set to have the strongest economic growth. Click below to visit the Population Reference Bureau's interactive map showing which countries and regions will have the highest rates of population growth by 2050, and other factors as well, including how infant mortality rates and poverty rates will change.

PRB World Population

I wonder what youth unemployment will look like in 2050. I hope that the situation will have improved greatly by then, but this depends on the action we take now.

More Youth and More Youth Unemployment

UNICEF's working paper released in February 2012, When the Global Crisis and Youth Bulge Collidelooks at the impact of the economic downturn alongside the youth bulge. Since the economic crisis, the number of unemployed people has drastically risen globally, although there was already a problem with youth unemployment before the downturn. The youth bulge means that a significantly large percentage of the global population consists of youth, which intensifies the problem. 

The report states that approximately every year, 121 million adolescents turn sixteen years old (89 % of which are in developing regions) and can enter the world's labour force. However, many of those who want to work, cannot find jobs. Nearly 1.1 billion new potential workers are expected between 2012 and 2020. 

Last month's issue of the Southern Innovator gives some more interesting, and in some cases worrying, figures. 100 million jobs will have to be created in the Middle East and North Africa by 2020 to meet demand. 130 million people between 15 and 24 cannot read or write. One in five African youth without a business would like to start one.

This situation is already greatly affecting the world's youth and will impact every child born today. 

A child looking after a baby in Cape Coast, Ghana. 
What will their future prospects be?

Speak Out!

I came across the ILO's video contest on Decent Work for Youth and it is a great idea. The contest is for people aged between eighteen and twenty-nine who are affected by the global job crisis - whether by struggling to find a job, or by working under poor conditions. Participants must submit their videos by 10 April 2012 and winners will be able to present their videos at the ILO Youth Employment Forum in Geneva on 23-25 May 2012. Here is their video introduction to the contest:

Click here for further details on the ILO website.

Hopefully the ILO Youth Employment Forum, and also the 101st International Labour Conference, which will include an agenda item on the youth employment crisis, will be fruitful in finding solutions for the problems of the youth of today and tomorrow.