‘Children have a say in human rights too’

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Many children in Mongolia face violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation and in this context, children rights defenders have been key to ensuring better conditions for children and youth, according to UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst.

The UN specialist wrapped up his two-week review of situations of human rights defenders in Mongolia on May 13, concluding that Mongolia is a relatively safe country for human rights defenders. However, he warned about recent legislative amendments that are instilling fear among these defenders and hindering their work as well as other issues such intimidation, discrimination, harassment and stigmatization of human rights defenders, including LGBTI rights defenders and children rights defenders.

It was reported that many people in Mongolia look down on children who are voicing out for human rights.

“Several interlocutors I met reported that the majority of young people were not familiarized with the concept of human rights defenders and did not identify as such, especially in rural areas,” Forst said in a statement.

“On May 1, 2019, I met with a large group of children and young human rights defenders. They provided several examples where their attempts to address matters that affect their rights such as the quality of their education, their situation at home or issues related to climate change, were dismissed or trivialized by adults and authorities. They reported being questioned and penalized by teachers because of their age, when exposing issues that may damage the reputation of their school. For instance, children reported that their attempt to organize a ‘Friday for Future’ demonstration last March to campaign for human rights and against climate change failed as the governor of Ulaanbaatar did not provide them with a date, time and location to do so.”

In consideration of testimonies given by young human rights defenders, the UN special rapporteur recommended Mongolia to ensure children and youth are provided with an enabling environment to effectively and meaningfully participate in policies affecting them, including through the effective realization of their right to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly.

What do children know?

The UB Post spoke with 17-year-old Sumiyabazar who has been part of Young Voices Group of Save the Children in Mongolia for a year.

When did you become interested in human rights and decide to become a human rights defender?

I’ve wanted to become a human rights defender since I was a kid. My parents are very supportive of works aimed to promote democracy and support children. I started officially working as a child human rights defender three years ago and it’s been a year since I joined the Young Voice Group.

What exactly do you do as a child defender?

We conduct studies on what the key challenges children face and why their rights are being violated. Once the study is complete, we introduce it to the public and provide necessary recommendations to associated organizations and agencies.

Is the study ongoing?

We have finished two very big studies titled “Young Voices 1” and “Young Voices 2”. Our seniors have also submitted a report about children’s rights in Mongolia to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What is the biggest challenge for children, especially in terms of their rights?

Our biggest challenge is the public attitude. For example, in families and at schools, when children stand up to protect their rights, they’re told off not to butt into in adult matters, try to speak for others or that they’re doing something wrong. Children are scolded for talking about human rights instead of focusing on their studies, and seen as trying to act like an adult and being big-headed. Like so, the public attitude toward children and young human rights defenders is really hard for us.

What do you plan to do next? Is there anything you’d like to say to other people?

Nobody has ordered us to fight for children’s rights. I hope that parents understand that this is an important work and that they too need to improve their knowledge about child rights and support this cause. I urge the public to have a more positive attitude toward young human rights defenders and their work.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan