Children's Council Empowers Afghan Youth to Talk to Politicians
At the beginning of March, a group of 25 street-working children from Skateistan attended the National Children's Shura, or "Shura-e-Atfal" in Kabul, and had the rare opportunity to not only discuss the challenges facing the country's youth (as their own representatives!) but also have the issues addressed by members of government.
In Afghanistan, a "Shura" is a decision-making council which usually includes community leaders and elders. The Children's Shura is an annual, week-long event that gives a voice to the youth, and a direct link to parliament. It is organized each year by the Mobile Mini Circus for Children NGO and includes nearly 150 children from nine provinces, as well as NGOs working with children, and children living in IDP/refugee camps.
The Skateistan students attended a session that addressed problems facing children working on the streets. They first divided into groups of six people, as is the practice during a Shura, to discuss issues and decide which are the most pressing. The children then asked their questions to a representative from the Afghan Ministry of Interior, who took the time to give answers for each one.
Our skateboarding teacher and former street youth Noorzai Ibrahimi, age 18, acted as a facilitator at the event. He explains, "They were mainly talking about security and traffic, however for the children the biggest issues was the poor or non-existant furniture in public schools. They have to sit on the ground, even in winter." Noorzai adds that "the kids were all very happy because they could ask their questions and somebody had to answer it." He said he hopes that future events will have government personnel from other departments, such as the municipality, and that there will be more time dedicated to these discussions.
Some examples of the questions asked were:
Q: When the children are working on the street why is it that the police are sending them away or hitting them sometimes?
A: The police are doing this in order to keep the traffic going and the security tight.
Q: Why are some police using the police cars for themselves (personal use)?
A: Doing this is against our rules. If you see this happening you should call the police.
Skateistan's Executive Director Oliver Percovich also attended the event and said he was very impressed with the respect that was shown to the children by the main speaker who was answering questions. "What was nice about the guy from the Interior ministry was that he was really great with the kids," said Percovich. "He thanked them for their question each time and almost always said 'That's a very good question.' He made the kids feel comfortable and important, which emboldened them and others to speak up."
The event ended with a visit to Parliament, where children presented the key issues identified by them and their peers, including street youth and girls.
The children discuss their problems during a Shura hosted by the Mobile Mini Circus in Kabul
Male students from Skateistan discuss problems during the Shura
Afghan girls identify the problems facing street children in Afghanistan
A Skateistan student asks a question during the Shura
A representative from the Afghan Ministry of Interior supplied answers to the children's questions
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