Children and young people can play a significant role as agents of transformation with the capability to engage in decision-making processes, in accordance with their evolving capacities and gradually increasing autonomy.
This was said by Founder and Executive Director of Project Women Brunei Dr Nur Judy binti Abdullah in a speech at the National Dialogue on Voices of Girl-Children on Ending Sexual Violence at Co.Lab, Kiulap yesterday.
“We need to consider child and youth’s meaningful, safe and appropriate participation a key strategic priority for ensuring sustained child well-being and creating inclusive societies with informed and engaged citizens, particularly in the case of girl children,” she said, adding that “when children and young people learn to communicate opinions, take responsibility and make decision, they develop a sense of belonging, justice, responsibility and solidarity”.
Dr Nur Judy said girl-children belonging to the minority groups in Brunei Darussalam were engaged by Project Women and Girls Development (Project Women Brunei) in a roundtable discussion on sexual violence against girl-children recently.
The participants came up with recommendations on what they could do and what other key stakeholders could do to help end sexual violence against children as well as compiled the outputs of various engagements with indigenous communities of Belait, Tutong and Temburong districts with focus on the prevention of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Also collected was a set of recommendations from thematic issues on sexual violence against children at home, in school and on the Internet, which was presented at yesterday’s event.
She said a copy of the recommendations will be formally presented to key stakeholders and policymakers for consideration.
The founder of Project Women Brunei also quoted UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children Marta Santos Pais as saying that “the perspectives of children are unique, and when they can influence discussions about their lives, then the decisions that impact that are better informed and can be more effective in positively promoting their full potential”.
She believes that the set of recommendations symbolises the voices of girl-children, especially those from minority groups, wanting to be heard. Putting a spotlight on them is part of Project Women Brunei’s advocacy for the inclusivity of women and girls, and a firm belief in leaving no one behind. “Child participation is one of the core principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which assets that children and young people have the right to freely express their views and that there is an obligation to listen to children’s views and to facilitate their participation in all matters affecting them within their families, schools, local communities, public services, institutions, government policies and judicial procedures,” Dr Nur Judy said.
Meanwhile, Commission for Women’s Rights at the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) Hajah Normah Suria Hayati binti Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri expressed her support for the girl-children agenda to be given top priority.
“The strength of a nation depends on the people who run it,” she said yesterday’s event. “And the people who run it begin with girl-children.”
She also posed the questions: “If the beginning of the girl-child’s life is already traumatised, disturbed and troubled, what kind of nation will they lead? Or are they in the position to lead? And how can they contribution to the nation?”
Hajah Normah Suria Hayati believes if girl-children remain a national issue, then the community is to blame. “We have lost the essence of living in a community. We hardly know our neighbours, let alone talk with them; we’d rather chat with those halfway across the globe via WhatsApp,” she said. “We often blame the technology and the economy, rarely ourselves.”
However, she added, technology is the hardware and the community is the software. Striking a balance between the two that allows the return to the “good old days would help to reduce the issues surrounding girl-children, and perhaps prevent them from resurfacing”.
She also called on communities to make the effort to know their neighbours, so as to address it when a problem emerges.
“We should not refer to such an effort as nosey. We should provide our neighbours a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and a place to run to,” she said.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s dialogue saw the participation of Legislative Council (LegCo) member Yang Berhomat Khairunnisa binti Haji Ash’ari, members of the Diplomatic Corps, representatives from government agencies, community leaders and representatives from the women leaders and civil society.