First European Symposium of Child and Youth Councils assembles in Spain
April 02, 2018 by Reetta Mikkola
Avilés, Spain – There is excitement and laughter in the air, as 53 adolescents from UNICEF Child Friendly Cities from Spain, Germany, Slovenia, Belarus and Czech Republic, gather at the multi-use center of Avilés, Spain. These young people have traveled to Avilés to participate in the First European Symposium of Child and Youth Councils from 1 to 5 March 2018.
The aim of the symposium, organized by the Spanish National Committee for UNICEF, the region of Asturias and the city of Avilés, is to exchange good practices in child participation in the development of cities and communities.
Child participation transforms cities and communities
Avilés is a suitable host for such an encounter. Here, the democratic engagement of children has become a political reality. After joining the Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI) in 2004, the city established its first Child and Youth Council that was tasked with developing a city-wide strategy for children. After consultations with more than 700 children and adolescents, the Council drafted proposals for the local government, ranging from cheaper public transportation to better places for play. They were unanimously approved and turned into action by the Municipal Council.
“In Avilés, we are very clear on the fact that democracy is not limited to the right to vote that our Constitution gives to those over 18”, says the mayor of Avilés Mariví Monteserín at the opening ceremony of the Symposium.
Children and youth from Avilés were also behind the idea of an international encounter, says Lucía Losoviz, Head of Local Childhood Policy and Participation Unit at the Spanish National Committee.
The example of Avilés is one of many good practices in child participation developed over the past 20 years within the CFCI. Today, the initiative promotes child and youth participation in more than 3,000 cities and communities in 38 countries.
Children’s vision for 2030
Participation can be a transformative experience. “I have gained more confidence”, says Sabrina Grigarcikova, 15, from the city of Opava in Czech Republic. Engagement has given her courage to express her opinions and proposals.
One such proposal is presented at the end of the symposium, when the child and youth groups share their Manifesto for Sustainable Development with an audience of local government representatives, civil society organizations and decision makers.
Their verdict of the 2030 Agenda is grim: if current dynamics are maintained, the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved by 2030. To change the course, children and youth want their local governments to act. For example, public transportation should be free and the area of green spaces per inhabitant protected by law. Children with disabilities should be integrated in standard schools.
Despite challenges, the children are confident in their ability to change the world. “Small people in small places doing small things, but connected, united and working together, is the way to make sure that the changes we need are achieved”, they say. Bringing local actors together to create change for children is what the CFCI will continue to do.