Children are innocent, trusting and full of love. Their childhood should be happy and they should grow up in a healthy environment. But for many children, the reality is very different. Many children around the world live in very bad circumstances. Through history, children are abused and exploited. They become victims of bullying and violence and they are misused as cheap laborers. They are killed in wars and fights. Many of them don’t have the opportunity to go to schools and they live in very bad conditions. They suffer from hunger, homelessness and deficient health care.
Children mustn’t live such a life. They must be protected from exploitation, abuse and neglect. They have the right to survive by getting good health and nutrition. They have the right to be educated and to develop their potential. They have a right to get appropriate health care, leisure and recreation. They also have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives, to express themselves and to be heard.
All holistic religions have great messages about human beings’ rights, and child rights have been always the focus. From Islamic point of view, children are given a special care even before birth. There are a lot of Prophet Mohammed’s (Peace Be Upon Him) Sayings which advocate that. The prophet said that men and women should be careful when they choose each other and it is better to avoid marriage with relatives, in order to reduce the chances of babies inheriting diseases. He (PBUH) also taught us that it is very important to take care of our children by educating and teaching them some useful skills: “Teach your kids hunting, swimming and horse riding.” Verses from the Holy Quran say that mothers should breast feed their babies for two complete years to ensure good health for them. Also the prophet focuses on the right of children to play and enjoy their time and the right to be given nice names.
United Nations’ reports about the tragic situation of many children in different parts of the world made it necessary to adopt a child rights convention in 1998, which was then signed by most countries. The convention consists of 42 articles and concerns promoting the rights of children under the age of 18. Putting the Convention items in practice is essential to securing a good life for children, and raise a better generation.
Article 12, “the right to be heard,” was the theme adopted by the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM)  and UNICEF  for this year’s JOTA-JOTI . That is because many children are neglected and their voice cannot be heard. Effective dialogue between parents and children is often weak. UNICEF and other organizations which advocate child rights aim to educate children as well as adults about children's right to speak out, express their ideas and talk freely about their fears and dreams. They also emphasize empowering children and giving them the chance to participate in making decisions that impact their lives.
The scouts and guides movement is an educational voluntary movement open to all children regardless gender, race or nationality. Since its beginning in 1907, it has been emphasizing the importance of developing children’s potentials and talents. It also focuses on empowering young boys and girls to be responsible and effective citizens in their communities. Many positive norms are taught to children when they join scouting and guiding, and as they grow up, they absorb such values.
Through the various activities and programs scouts and guides are given the chance to create and reflect amongst themselves. For example, scouts and guides usually work in small groups when meeting or practicing activities. Their meetings are like mini-parliaments where boys and girls can plan, reflect, exchange ideas and experience, consult with each other and make decisions. They also practice taking roles of leadership and fellowship and enhance loyalty of being part of a group.
Scouts and guides and their leaders play a very important role in advocating child rights. Leaders should teach boys and girls about their rights and support them in getting and implementing them.
Reposted from the UNICEF Voices of Youth blog  as a part of regular exchange between Youthink! and Voices of Youth.
Photo: Saadia Iqbal