IIMA Side Event: Right to Education of Children Living and/or Working in the Street- March 4 2011, Geneva

On the occasion of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, held from 28 February to 26 March 2011, the Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice  (IIMA) organized a side event on the “Right to Education of Children Living and/or Working in the Street”.

The side event, held on March 4th at room XXIV at Palais des Nations, was realized in cooperation with VIDES International, Marist International Solidarity Foundation (FMSI), and Edmund Rice International (ERI), and under the  sponsorship of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), the Embassy of Uruguay, the Permanent Mission of Holy See and the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE).
The event was moderated by Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, former Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The panel of the meeting was composed of the Ambassador of Uruguay,  Laura Dupuy Lasserre; the Ambassador of Philippines, Evan P. Garcia; the Holy See Representative, Mons. Silvano Tomasi; and the representative from the Office of the  High Commissioner of Human Rights and responsible officer on the follow up of the Study on Violence Against Children, Imma Guerras Delgrado.
Representatives from IIMA, VIDES, FMSI and ERI shared their experiences with children at risk in their respective countries: Philippines, Ireland, India, Thailand and Brazil. They discussed their particular practices on welcoming, assisting, rehabilitating, and reintegrating street children into the society, with education as an instrument to prevention.
The strategy has been again “positive denunciation”, i.e., presentation of best practices which might steer governments to prioritizing children’s issues and to ensuring the enjoyment of one or more of their rights.

The side event was opened by IIMA representative, Daniel Charrin, who stressed that sharing of best practices shall assist the States to demonstrate progress in their basic obligations: to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education for all.

The second speaker was Laura Dupuy Lasserre, Ambassador of Uruguay, a country strongly committed to protecting the rights of children in the Human Rights Council.  She recalled that children who live and/or work in the street are in a risky situation. The eradication of this problem has been a big challenge that requires socialization of and economic support to families, and provision of free primary education.  She also pointed out the necessity of guaranteeing  equality not only in the access to the education but also in the quality of the education.

The first to give a testimony on children’s situation was a volunteer from VIDES Philippines, Anna Theresa Cruz. She discussed VIDES mobile library project, emphasizing its goal of making education available to all children, even to those who live and/or work in the street.

Called “Busina Mo, Dunong Ko” (Your Horn, My Knowledge), the mobile library serves more or less 2,000 children living in the poor communities of Manila, the capital of the country.  In the Philippine context, street children are categorized as follows:  children who live and work in the street because they do not have homes; children that work in the street but have a family or a house to come back to; and completely abandoned children. 
The mobile library provides basic literacy skills, conducts reading and story telling sessions and assists out-of-school youths to return to school. Recently, it has accomplished various programs raising children’s awareness concerning their rights.

As immediately reflected in the words of the Ambassador of the Philippines, Evan P. Garcia, the best practice presented by VIDES Philippines recognized the effectiveness of reaching out to children thru education. The Ambassador related that the phenomenon of children living or working in the street cannot be separated from the problem of development, saying that the international community should assist countries in protecting their most vulnerable communities. The Ambassador then presented the responses of the Philippine government on the issue, targeting the most disadvantaged families. The government is ensuring that education for all children is provided. The government also provides financial support in the form of scholarships. The success of these initiatives has been due to the government’s ability to monitor the allocation of aid. The Ambassador concluded his speech by stressing the necessity to share the best practices to eradicate, in a more effective way, the phenomenon of children that are living in a street situation.

The next speaker, Kevin Masceranhas, Director of Support and Integration Unit for New Communities,  described the experience of ERI with the children of refugees, asylum seekers, and in general with the children of migrants that are living in a temporary centre in Ireland.  ERI provides legal advice and psychological support to families, young people and children. To facilitate the integration of newly arrived refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the country, ERI teaches them the English language.

ERI also works with youth between 18-21 years old classified as “aged out minors” who leaves their country of origin and are not accompanied by their parents or any family members. The English language enables them to pass examinations at school and prevents further social exclusion and marginalization.

Steve Rocha, Coordinator of the Social Justice of ERI, presented the program implemented by his organization in India. The project’s objective is to promote the right to education, health and the right of children to take part in decisions regarding issues of poverty and social exclusion. To achieve these objectives, ERI has created a platform where children can make their voice heard by the governments. A collaboration of NGOs has organized a number of national events, special gatherings, and campaigns on behalf of Dalit or “Out Castes” children who belong to the most vulnerable groups. Thanks to the project, the Minister of Finance  increased by 17% programs aimed at reducing poverty,  the children were invited to have a dialogue with the government, and acquired the ability to communicate their ideas and needs, taking an active and leading role in the decision of the political agenda.

The participants then heard the intervention of Mons. Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See representative. He pointed out the importance of persevering efforts in favour of more than 100 million children worldwide who are still living in street situation. During his intervention, Mons. Tomasi suggested three steps to combat the phenomenon: first, redesign  the approach to a less formal and structured model of education  according to actual needs of children in street situations; second, implement at national level a new legislation specifically designed for children and young people at risk (juvenile legislation); and finally, to promote a cooperative network among civil society organizations to look after the rehabilitation of street children and their reintegration into families.

Imma Guerras Delgado, representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in her intervention, made a point on terminology used to refer to these children. She said that even experts, including UN experts, continue to speak of “street children” even after the UN has adopted the recent term “children in street situations” to suggest the temporary nature of their conditions. She further exemplified the need to increase and systematize data collection to fill the serious statistical gaps on the number of children who still live in street situation in different countries.

Finally, Ms. Delgado drew attention of the governments on the necessity to establish structured partnerships with NGOs that carry out educational activities on the national territory in order to facilitate rapid dissemination of good practices effected by these NGOs.

The intervention of Yuphadee Charuwipak, representative of IIMA, captivated the audience with her experience in the small village of Phonsung, Thailand. In Phonsung, IIMA manages a big school which houses about 700 children at risk, belonging to very poor families or whose parents are separated or forced to migrate for work. For these children, the school has not only been a place to learn  but also a home for guidance and support, as it allows them to live in a safe environment, away from drugs, from drug dealing, from other criminal activities, and generally from the street. Now, with a newly built school, IIMA is able to provide training to a higher number of children. The intervention of Ms. Charuwipak was concluded with the recommendation to the Thai government to pay more attention to the right to education in the most isolated villages, like Phonsung, where hildren in the absence of opportunities can become easy victims of trafficking and exploitation.

Finally, Vincente Falqueto, representative of FMSI, illustrated the education program launched in a small town near Brasilia to help the children in the street. The project called “youth circuit”, established a centre that serves children and adolescents between 7 and 20 years of age, without families or who belong to very poor families  practically making  the street their home. The project also includes activities for the families. Through the support of 12 people, including psychologists, educators, doctors, and technicians working in the centre, FMSI is able to provide continuous formation to the children.  The centre holds cultural, musical, tutorial, psychological guidance and human rights education programs for personal, family and skills development of the children.

The project, undertaken in collaboration with government institutions and other NGOS, has facilitated the reintegration into society of many children by improving their academic performance and allowing them to have access to university. Ultimately, their children have become more sensitive to the issue of human rights and have taken part in several discussion forums on this issue.

The side event, attended by representatives of States and members of civil society, was followed by some interesting interventions from the audience. Civil society representatives took the floor to express their appreciation of the experiences presented by the five human rights defenders working in the field. A young Tuareg of Mali shared his personal experience as a street child who was born and had lived in the desert. The young man stressed that education is a development tool, essential to increase awareness of one’s rights. 

At the end of the event, the organizers noted with satisfaction the achievement of an important objective: to recognize education as a fundamental tool for the enjoyment of all human rights.