Learning from our ‘poorer’ neighbours

The last sessions for the Child Friendly Cities Conference Asia-Pacific – Solo City Indonesia are underway.

The focus of the conference was children’s participation in decision-making about their lives. Australia and New Zealand were represented, as well as Indonesia, Malysia, Philippines,Japan, India, Pakistan, Nepal… as well as Malawi and Sudan. This was not an academic conference, although academics were here. It was a practice based conference with government and non-government workers, activists, and so forth.

Here is a short list of my observations in no particular order:

1) At times I have shared other’s views or concerns that the notion of creating Child Friendly Cities (CFC) is useless, a crock or some management fad. After listening to the activities occuring in other countries, I realise how important this framework is, and the importance of supporting and funding CFC.

In poorer countries CFC is about: access to health, books and education; access to clean water, food, and sanitation; non-exploitative (sexual trade, child marriage, forced adoption, non-registered births, paper orphans) and non-violent environments; access to childcare for younger children so older children and parents can work for their survival; children’s participation in governance structures, planning and community development…

The people involved in the CFC movement are dedicated professionals/activists who work within existing systems to forward a simple and unfortunately radical agenda: ensure that children enjoy basic human rights.

In Australia, development of CFC’s will depend on how we engage with the information and tools available, and whether we are willing to learn from our neighbouring countries. Essentially, it will depend on whether we act for fundamental change or use the CFC as window dressing, branding or city-boosterism.

2) Dr Karen Malone of The University of Western Sydney, Aus, is Chair, Child Friendly Asia Pacific and UNESCO Asia Pacific Director Child Friendly City Asia-Pacific. She is highly respected and inspiring to professionals and academics in the Asia-Pacific region. However, no representatives from UNICEF Australia are here to support her work and the region – although UNICEF representatives from poorer countries have been significant contributors.

3) The CFC movement in Australia has a lot to learn from the poorer countries – especially Indonesia and the Philippines which have made phenomenal gains in governance, programs, and advocacy. Unfortunately, there were only 5 of us here – and we’re all academics.

4) I decided not to present at this conference, and I am glad I did not. However, I had the honour of chairing the special session on Children Risk and Natural Disasters. The task of listening, summarising the speaker’s talks and discussions, and pin-pointing the essential elements of the session was far more valuable.

Our speakers represented Indonesia,Japan, Pakistan, India/Nepal (same person). Each country had different approaches to the natural disasters that affected their regions. Of particular significance for me were the different risk management systems, governance structures, knowledge, skills, funding, response times… It made me realise that we need to better understand how risk is conceived and enacted within different cultures.

It also made me realised that we have the potential to prevent children from grieving, healing, rebuilding if we protect them from the realities of their experiences. We cannot neglect, trivialise or dismiss difficult, painful, scary, etc events/situations, and their scars. Equally, we cannot neglect, trivialise or dismiss children’s contribution to the re-organisation and rebuilding of their lives, their environments and their communities. If we simplistically see events as traumatic and children as victims to traumas, we undermine children’s capacity to heal, grow, and transform their experiences.

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About Julie Rudner

With great excitement for the adventure we were about to go on, my mother would shout out, "We're off to see the Wizard"! It didn't matter if we were going to the shops for milk, the museum or a holiday. My mum focused on the joy of the everyday, knowing that if we engaged with life, we would always find something new and positive. With great animation my dad would explain the workings of things and how to pull things apart, put them back together, and if the situation called for it, make something new. My sister and I were taught to evaluate situations, make our decisions, and reap the consequences (both good and bad). We were encouraged to push our boundaries and not let fear prevent us from pursuing our dreams. Importantly, we learned to pick ourselves up, learn from our 'failures', and use our valuable lessons to build our confidence, independence and strength in ourselves.
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