We all have a part to play in raising awareness of children’s rights: my experience at the 2021 UN Day of General Discussion

24 November 2021

Topic: International, Voices of young people
Author: Tiegan Boyens

Day of general discussionTiegan Boyens uses her experiences, views and knowledge to help improve the lives of children and young people, tackle social justice issues, and raise awareness of human rights. In this blog post, Tiegan, who is adopted and lives in England, discusses her experience at the 2021 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Day of General Discussion on Children’s Rights and Alternative Care, held in September, and reflects on how we can all do more to help children and young people realise their rights.

My interest in human rights and advocacy work started when I was very young. After I was born, I was cared for by my birth mum, and then lived with my dad and grandparents while I still young. From the age of two, I was cared for by foster carers before being adopted by my two mums at the age of four. I also have three sisters from my birth family, two of whom are currently in care and one who has experience of care.

Having a family and background that isn’t what society would call ‘typical’ has always made me more aware of differences in the world and the challenges that people face. When I started secondary school, I joined a local group that worked with Oxfam and took part in activities to do with poverty and justice issues, which really developed my interest in this area. As I continued to go to the group, my passion for these issues broadened out to an interest in human rights more generally. The more I heard and learned, the more I started to question: why aren’t children, young people and adults taught more about their rights?

Now, at the age of 19, my own experiences of care, seeing things from the perspective of my sisters, and working with local groups, has been really insightful and motivated me to want to help others and raise awareness of human rights.

My role in the Day of General Discussion

In early 2021 I was invited to join a group of young people from across the UK to discuss human rights related to the care ‘system’ or child protection services. We had a meeting together to discuss what we hoped would come from the DGD based on our own experiences of what could change and be better for children growing up now. We also prepared and took part in a meeting with Benoit Van Keirsbilck, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, to share our experiences. On the days of the DGD, we were involved in various ways, including speaking in sessions and workshops.

One of the most interesting parts of the preparations was getting to hear the different perspectives of the young people involved who had experienced different types of care. Although our stories were all different, we had so many similarities as well and are still in touch today.

Whilst attending the DGD, we also had a chance to hear about care ‘systems’ across a range a different countries and how they are structured differently to what I have experienced in England. For example, I was really interested to hear how some countries are much more focused on trying to help and support birth parents, rather than on the severance of those relationships and adoption. It was such an engaging experience and we gained so much from each other.

Sharing our views to help make positive changes

Having an opportunity to interact with the UN felt like a massive opportunity to get not only my voice across, but also the voices of people I’ve met on my journey. Sometimes the UN can feel quite big and far away, but the fact that we were so heavily involved in a way that didn’t feel tokenistic, not only on the day but also in the preparations leading up to the DGD, was crucial. It meant that we got to share a lot of our knowledge with people from the Committee and go into subject matters in more depth. On the day, because the DGD was held online, we had a chance to speak to thousands of people from around the world.

Having this opportunity to interact on a global level, both in the preparations and during the day, will hopefully mean that people can take what they learned from us sharing our experiences and use this to improve care for children and young people in their home countries. It should also serve as a stark reminder to countries that aren’t performing as well as they could be when they get to hear from young people about what they want and need. Sometimes it’s so easy for countries to keep to themselves but we need to remember that we’re a global society, and we should be learning from each other.

How we can all help to raise awareness of rights: my hopes for the future

My experience at the DGD really reinforced to me how many rights children actually have, but also made me question whether children know what they are entitled to, and whether they would even be listened to if they wanted to speak up.

One thing that I hope the UN and the countries involved in this take away is that adults as well as children need to be taught about rights. Children learn from adults, and if everyone can be taught about the rights they have from an early age, they can embedded into our lives in a really powerful way. This could be done in all sorts of ways: in antenatal classes, nurseries, schools, extracurricular clubs, workplace training, and in the media, for example.

As we move forward from the 2021 DGD, and await a report on the outcomes and recommendations, I hope that rights are a central feature, and that there’s a real focus on change and the voices of all the children and young people who contributed their views. Although the report needs to appeal to world leaders and decision makers, it also needs to be written with children and young people in mind. In my view, one of the key things should be the recognition and inclusion of all the many subject matters, and the different types of care and experiences we discussed, not just the big or most visible ones. The reality is that, more often than not, everything interacts with each other, and if you miss out one thing from that ‘tower’, the tower isn’t stable.

The DGD has been a great example of bringing children and young people in to be part of discussions, but this doesn’t mean that the story’s over – either for the UN or at a national level. Being part of the care ‘system’ can affect so many aspects of a child’s life, and having recommendations on how to improve it is crucial – but we also need to focus on ‘the doing’ and on how to put them in place.

Read more about the Day of General Discussion

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