Summary: A few days ago, CRIN discussed Freedom of Association with Christelle, Cedric, Gael and Diana, the representatives of Youth Clubs in Lebanon
Christelle, Cedric, Gael and Diana are children from different regions in Lebanon representing seven Youth Clubs from all over the country. A few days ago, they gave us a little of their time to discuss their right to participation and to freedom of association in Lebanon.
The Lebanese law on association prohibits children from participating in, creating, or being members of, associations or organisations. This contradicts Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which grants freedom of association to all children and which Lebanon ratified in 1991.
SDC, one of War Child Holland’s local partners in Lebanon*, started their work in Lebanon in 2002. Given the growing political polarisation and violence among the various external and internal political factions as of 2005, SDC realised the importance of involving children in their work as active actors in conflict resolution and prevention.
In 2008, they started the Citizenship and Peace project to create youth clubs, changing the organisation's mission. Together with the youth, and in consultation with legal experts, SDC managed to amend its by-laws in order to accommodate children in the association's decision making process.
'A Dialogue between Generations'
The Youth Clubs are starting to be independent from the organisation and have even started their own initiatives. They organised what they called 'A Dialogue between Generations' ('Hiwar El Ajyeil') with their parents and other community members in different areas in Lebanon, to discuss the adults' experience in the the different armed conflicts that Lebanon went through since 1840 and comparing it with how the younger generation sees it.
'We asked about their opinion on what happened, trying to retrace history and looking of ways to bring us closer together. Sadly, we sometimes felt that it was setting us further apart!'
'It showed us how the divisions still exist and how some adults don't regret the war. But as youth we should grow out of this way of thinking and help others to do the same.'
'The older generation should stop raising their children on the memories of the war. We feel that we were able to touch some of those adults while others didn't take us seriously'
'We should know the truth to go past it!'
'We will not wait for the law to be changed!'
'The first thing we are interested in is the work of the NGOs because they work for children and we want them to include children's opinion in their work not only at the end but during the whole process'
In February, the Youth Clubs presented their module of child participation (Participative Associative Model - PAM) to a group of NGOs working on child rights in Lebanon. They developed it with SDC and a team of legal experts. The presentation included details about their right to participation and their freedom of association.
'We proved that we could take part in the decision making of an organisation. We help develop grants proposals in SDC.'
'We felt that the organisations were very receptive and some decided to adopt the project by changing their by-laws to have children participating in the decision making of the organisations'.
'We decided to build an alliance with those interested to advocate for the change of the by-laws of child rights organisations. We would like to send our by-laws, with the support of this alliance, to the Ministry of Interior so that other organisations get inspired and do the same.'
The youth representatives explained that the module has four main pillars:
1- Consultative: Children must be consulted on any initiative related to their rights;
2- Representative: Children must represent themselves on various levels;
3- Executive: Children must autonomously execute a major part of the initiatives and projects to be designed in close cooperation between the organisation and the children themselves.
4- Observational: Children must be given the right to observe the work of the board of directors and other child rights based civil society and governmental agencies working for more transparency and accountability.
'If we manage to get support from our parents, community and even the government to have the right to freedom of association we would create an association to encourage other children to participate in public life. We would also make sure that children are aware of their rights, specially the right to participate. Many children don't know what child participation is. So this is where we should start.'
'But we will not wait for the law to be changed and that's why we developed the PAM module. Changing the law takes ages and we would like to participate now, and not when we are adults!'
After more then two years since the creation of the Youth Clubs, 'we now feel that more people accept our ideas and as we now developed the PAM module we feel more involved in the public life.'
'But some people still feel threatened by our opinions because they don't accept the idea of child participation.
Our most important rights
They feel that their most important rights are: the right to education, the right to protection from abuse, the right to participation and expression of opinions.
'But the most important of all is freedom because it will allow children to speak more openly about all of these rights.'
'Educated children who have the right to participate become more responsible; they become active in achieving their rights instead of being passive receivers of rights!'
'If we could give a piece of advice to the people working in children’s rights organisations it will be that they should work with children, not for children.'
'If they take children's opinion into account they will achieve better results. Organisations should give us the space to work on the issues we think are important. We should be partners not only beneficiaries. Child participation is very important because it makes children aware of the importance of giving their opinion.'
'It should all start at home. We can give you a simple example: my parents never asked my opinion when they wanted to change something in the house but now I feel that my opinion counts because I explained that I also live in this house and participating in the decision will make me feel like I belong here.'
- Solidarity Association for Social and Cultural Development, working on Child Led Researches and Campaigns with out of school children and children at risk of drop out. Children lead their own research and develop campaigns to advocate for topics they choose.
- Naba'a, focusing on the creation of child-to-child committees in Palestinian refugee camps. Children are forming youth groups to organise creative activities for other children inside the schools.
The Youth Clubs – Amicales
Nayla Abi Nasr
Sustainable Democracy Centre (SDC)
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +961 1 219486
Manal Eid - Programme Development AdvisorWar Child Holland
Email: [email protected]