By the children for the children [Archives:2008/1202/Last Page]

October 27 2008
Children’s Parliament member Ali Ahmad Al-Ashram addressed violence against children through art.
Alice Hackman
Active children, whether in the Children's Parliament, non governmental organizations or community associations, have made it a point to stand up for their rights, and convey the voices of disadvantaged children in Yemen through art, public sessions and advocacy events.

“In some Western countries touching a child is illegal; what about beating?” asked 11-year old Amatallah on Save the Children-Sweden's “World Action Day against Violence” at a Shawthab-Save the Children event last Monday, referring to fatal domestic violence against children.

Under a canvas tent decorated with drawings by members of the Yemeni Children's Parliament and before an audience of two dozen children and several representatives from local child protection organizations, the event's articulate young host called on the Yemeni government to put an end to the perpetual cycle of violence against children in her country.

Domestic abuse is but one facet of violence against children in Yemen. Early marriage, child smuggling, female genital mutilation and parent insensitivity to the danger of weapons are among the others violations of the right of Yemeni children to a good future, according to the Shawthab foundation for childhood protection.

“Violence against children hinders their proper development,” declared Amatallah who presented a documentary she had produced with her brother on the occasion.

Due to the scarcity of official studies on domestic violence against children in the country, it difficult to gage the number of Yemeni children who are abused at home by their parents or guardians, but experts say the phenomenon is serious.

“There is no national analysis on fatal domestic violence against children in Yemen,” said Lamia Al-Eryani, head of the Shawthab foundation, “but, this year, 28 children who suffered from violence at home voluntarily came to us for help.”

Yemeni youth exert pressure on the government

This year, it is Yemeni children who are exerting pressure on the government to revise Yemeni legislation and uphold their rights as stated in the United Nation's Charter on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The CRC, signed by Yemen in 1989, states in Article 19 that signatories should take “appropriate legislative [ measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

Today Yemeni children are taking matters into their own hands. According the Save the Children, 2,700 children gathered last Monday morning, Oct. 20, in different centers in Lahj, Aden and Sana'a to demand the government and relevant stakeholders in Yemen put an immediate halt to violence against them.

Correspondingly, the 46 young members of Yemen's Children's Parliament (CP) have been lobbying parliament for the last year to revise legislation on childhood protection in Yemen. In their last meetings with the adult parliament, they have pressured law-makers to raise the legal age for marriage, ban female genital mutilation and change the legal age where a criminal offender is an adult from 15 to 18 years old, according to adult coordinator for the CP Omkholtom Al-Shami who represented its members at Monday's event.

“We have [also] lobbied the parliament -especially the jurisprudence committee- to revise legislation on domestic violence,” she said, “We hope to see the end of fatal domestic violence in Yemen.”

“Members of the CP are currently appraising children's living conditions in hospitals, juvenile detention centers, care centers and orphanages in all governorates of Yemen [except for Sa'ada] in preparation for a shadow report on children's needs in Yemen to be presented to the United Nations in Geneva next year,” Al-Shami added.

Adel Dubwan, representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs, however highlighted the need to raise awareness of children's rights in Yemeni society while lobbying for new child-protecting legislation, explaining that new laws would be ineffective without familial support.

“We need to target those who are uneducated,” he said.

Raising awareness of children's rights among children

In order to raise awareness among children in particular, Shawthab has produced a series of short cartoons with UNICEF to empower Yemeni children. Their latest production, Ahmad and the Three Tales, has been distributed to 5,000 schools in all the governorates in Yemen and the cartoon should appear soon on national television, according to Al-Eryani.

Rushdi, 13 years old, an ex-child laborer smuggled to Saudi Arabia but now living at the rehabilitation center in Asr, Sana'a, said of Shawthab-UNICEF production Ahmed Returns on child-laborers who cross illegally from Yemen to Saudi Arabia: “I think the cartoon is good because it will stop children from going to Saudi Arabia like me.”

Rushdi and all the other children who attended the event were handed a colorful pamphlet containing a summary of their rights as outlined by the CRC before they left.

The need for an effective system for reporting violence

Although Yemeni children are now more aware of their rights, an effective support network has not yet been set up in the country.

In his speech, Save the Children country director Andrew Moore called for an “effective system to allow children to report violence against them.”

Yemeni non-governmental organization Sisters Arab Forum (SAF) is making serious efforts to launch a telephone hotline for abused women and children to seek help from professional councilors.

Jamila Al-Masna'i, SAF representative, said: “We are looking for individuals with relevant backgrounds, such as studies in psychology, to be trained abroad to become our telephone operators,” adding, “For the time being, there is no such training available in Yemen.”

The SAF announced a four-year project last September for the better protection of Yemeni women and children exposed to violence and sexual abuse, and plans to have 20 lawyers to handle cases of violence of against women and children in the near future.