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A Window on the Future

Youth Perspectives on Human Rights

The SGI Quarterly interviewed three representatives to the 2008 Junior 8 Summit about their views on human and child rights. The Junior 8 Summit is an initiative launched by UNICEF in 2005, where young people from around the world meet in parallel with the G8 Summit to share their concerns and recommendations on how to solve global issues with G8 leaders and representatives of the international community.

photo Junior 8 Summit representatives meet with the G8 leaders in Hokkaido  [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

How did you first learn about human rights?

Je-Meila Maloney: I first learned about human rights and child rights from my mother. When I questioned her, she made me aware of why she did certain things. She explained that everyone has rights and that it was her uppermost responsibility to ensure that my rights as a child were exercised.

Jasper Warner: I think especially for my generation it's an inherent part of our upbringing, and there is constant reference to it in the media.

Alexander Wegner: Even though I am only 17 years old, I have had the chance to travel to several countries all around the world and have lived in communities of various ethnic groups. The more I experienced, the more I wanted to know about the circumstances other people live in and the daily problems they face. What I then realized was that there are many people whose rights simply are ignored and violated, causing them to live in an unfortunate situation.

How would a world where human rights are treasured and protected --where there is a "culture" of human rights--be different from the world you experience today?

photo Jasper [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

Jasper: It would be a world free of discrimination where anyone has the potential to be what they want to be. This would be a world where needless suffering is unheard of. Essentially the principles that are most important to us all are embodied by the term "human rights," such as justice, fairness, kindness and brotherhood for all.

Je-Meila: The first thought that comes to my mind is peace. Peace would definitely be the difference. When you treasure and protect the rights of not only yourself but others, you are essentially at peace and by extension you are spreading that peace. Peace brings an end to violence, all forms of abuse, stigma and most importantly an end to the ignorance that comes with a lack of knowledge of human rights.

Alexander: Human rights are fundamental for a modern society, a society in which everyone's life is valuable and where tolerance and peace are no longer extraordinary. A world in which human rights are protected is one which uses diplomacy in cases of conflict and which sets equal standards for people regardless of their nationality, race, gender, age, religion and any other differences. Countries have the responsibility to educate their citizens about their rights.

Do you feel as a young person that your rights and dignity are respected?

Jasper: Whilst I feel that all my most basic rights are upheld in Britain, such as living in a peaceful environment where there is access to food, shelter and clean drinking water, too often youth are patronized and not included in the decisions that affect our lives. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that it is young people's right to be involved in decisions that affect their lives. But there is a de facto situation whereby only those who are members of the electorate are appealed to.

Je-Meila: There is the misconception that as a young person one does not have enough life experience to impart an opinion on significant matters such as global issues.

Alexander: Children and young people today are much more recognized and have the possibility to make their voices heard, but unfortunately the status of children and young people varies considerably from society to society. Only when highly developed nations fully implement the rights of the child and take young people's concerns seriously, will further progress be made. Major steps toward respecting young people, such as the Junior 8 Summit, have already been made, but more opportunities to speak out and influence decisions made by adults need to follow.

Can you give an example of when you have defended your own or someone else's human rights or child rights?

photo Alexander [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

Alexander: I was adopted at the age of two weeks; I am colored, and my parents as well as the rest of my family are white. Even though my family supported and loved me at all times, I often had to defend my rights within society in order to be respected. At an early age I learned not to treat people differently because of the differences between me and them. Often I had to stand up for my right to be accepted, and I have defended others who were not treated equally because of certain differences. Still today I speak out whenever I see that people are not treated equally and are not accepted and tolerated.

Je-Meila: I remember when many of my classmates did not want to speak or even play with another classmate. I remembered what my mum had told me about everyone being equal, and played with him. This of course caused some of my classmates to tell me that they would not play with me. I also remember arguing and telling them what my mother had told me. Being children, the issue was quickly resolved, but I found that afterwards my classmates were different in their approach as they respected each other more. As trivial as this may seem to some, this was very significant to me.

Jasper: By attending the J8 conference, which is a summit with the aim of ensuring that children participate in global politics, I was ensuring that children had a voice on a global stage. I was defending children's right to be involved.

How can you help build a culture of human rights and child rights among your family, friends and in your neighborhood?

photo Je-Meila  [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

Je-Meila: I am truly blessed to live in my country where human rights and child rights are respected. I am president of a local youth organization called the Emerging Global Leaders of Barbados which looks at the empowerment of young people as we seek to make them more aware of social issues and global concerns. I believe in living a life of example, simply because the reality is that I could talk to you about human rights and child rights, but if I do not respect you and respect your rights, then my talking is in vain.

Alexander: Through "Youth-4-Unity," an initiative I founded in 2007, I spread awareness on child and human rights as well as issues such as poverty, which are directly connected to those rights. The more people heard about this issue, the more people wanted to become active themselves. For this reason I believe that a culture of human rights can only be created when the majority of people know their rights. Therefore I started to talk to people in my community and family so that they know about human rights and child rights. From my experience I know that activism comes from knowledge, and that is why young people should be educated about child and human rights in schools.

Jasper: The principles of human rights revolve around respect for each other. By making sure first of all that everyone is aware of human rights--and often the lack of human rights around the world--people can be motivated to further this culture of human rights.

Visions

If you were Emperor of the Earth for one day, what would you do to try to make human rights and child rights a reality?

photo Junior 8 delegates get to grips with global issues  [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

Alexander: To make child rights a reality, all countries have to ratify the CRC and make the convention part of their national law. Article 42 of the convention says that governments should make the convention known to all parents and children. As the Emperor of the Earth, I would focus on spreading awareness, which starts within families and needs to continue in schools and the media. Furthermore I would establish committees that monitor the implementation of child and human rights by working closely together with families and governments. I truly believe human rights as well as child rights will no longer be violated when people are aware. Jasper: I would distribute wealth around the world so that those with the most give to those with the least. I would also make sure that all the countries under my rule were run by democratic governments. I would create free trade. I would send emissaries to let everyone know what their human rights were.

Je-Meila: I would have every nation ratify and continue to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the CRC. I would also endorse a substantial amount of money to the United Nations and endorse a separate substantial amount to UNICEF.

The reality is that I could pass laws, hold a conference or give a speech, but actions speak louder than words. So I would leave office and go and do hands-on work in as many countries as I could cover in that day, in the hope that my example would be followed by many.

As a young person, what is your most heartfelt request of today's leaders?

Jasper: Don't just make promises, keep them. On your decisions millions of people live or die.

Je-Meila: My most heartfelt request for today's leaders as a young person would be to humble themselves. When one is humble, you are aware of others. Sad to say, some of our leaders have lost that, and they fail to acknowledge their responsibilities as leaders by not following up on their words with positive action. Everyone talks of international cooperation as a solution, but this can truly be enhanced when you have humility dwelling within the minds, hearts and souls of all of our leaders.

photo The 39 participants in the 2008 Junior 8 Summit in Hokkaido, Japan, during a cultural evening  [Photo courtesy of UNICEF]

Alexander: I ask today's leaders to take young people and our concerns more seriously. We are young individuals who care about the world we live in. The decisions that are made by political leaders today directly affect the future of children and young people around the world. Our concerns, ideas and proposals must be taken more seriously, and our voices must be heard at all times, especially when politicians and young people come together as is the case at every face-to-face meeting of Junior 8 youth delegates and G8 heads of state. Confucius already discovered that a great leader has to be a role model for the people he governs. I ask today's leaders to be aware of their responsibility and to act not only in the interest of their citizens but in the interest of the global community. Whenever today's leaders make a decision, they should keep in mind what the philosopher Immanuel Kant once said: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Je-Meila Maloney, 17, is from Barbados; Jasper Warner, 16, is from the U.K.; and Alexander Wegner, 17, is from Germany. Go to www.j8summit.com to read the experiences of Junior 8 participants and the 13-point Chitose Declaration on tackling climate change, poverty and development, and global health and infectious diseases issued by the Junior 8 Summit during the G8 Summit held in Hokkaido, Japan, in July 2008.

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