The National Children’s Day in Thailand, January 12, 2013, proved to be eventful dosed with the usual celebration of the government’s commitment towards enabling the child mold their characteristics and skills. Adults exhibit their desire to see a generation of disciplined and responsible young people. According to the news, there is a general agreement among stake holders that children need to work towards becoming good citizens for society’s future. Thailand expects no less.
However there has been a lack of priority placed in Bangkok, the establishment of consensus that children are equal partners to policies and activities that affect their lives. It is a worrying trend in South East Asia, with over 600 million people, that there has been a decline of general acknowledgement that marginalized children and young people are a party to building that responsible society which adults expect of them.
Poverty has its roots firmly placed in many parts of ASEAN member nations, and Thailand is no exception. Child poverty, whether urban or rural, have caused a displacement of strategies and misguided interventions. The festering societal problems have left its mark on the hearts and minds of children.
Thailand is not without its cycle of child concerns, be it abuse and neglect, violence, child labor, HIV/AIDS, refugee, poverty and homelessness, among the many concerns highlighted by not only the government of the day but also Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), political parties and community leaders. Yet truly society, comprising of both Thai and foreigner communities, have barely scratched the surface. The broad consensus that children are to be protected and nurtured seems lost in translation, while adults are usually offering lip-service in tandem with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
It seems, because of what is perceived to be the child’s lack of maturity that adults actively avoid facilitating opportunities for children to participate in decision-making process, whether centered on national policies for children or an NGO’s yearly activities. This is quite obvious based on the mentality and approach on marginalized children, those made vulnerable due to poverty, out-of-school, using drugs and what is considered as anti-social behaviors. Recognition for marginalized children and their struggles barely make the local news, unless it is sensationalized or a child is brutally raped and murdered.
Marginalized children are usually without the social connection to be visible in the eyes of society. Despite the rights of children stipulated in laws and policies, discrimination based on the lower stratum of society does happen. The prejudices of ostracizing those who are poor are common and rarely discussed. Social ills are frequently blamed upon children who display rebellious behaviors, those using drugs and substances or demonstration no interest to be involved in the formal education system.
Yet this dimension of participation is crucial in not only understanding their issues and needs but also in embracing empathy, and conducting prevention and intervention work. The expertise of children’s apprehensions is with them. Prescribing solutions and often regulations without the active involvement of marginalized children and young people habitually lead to the upsurge of prejudgment against them.
Marginalized children live in a daily struggle of adversity in Bangkok. Some are working; many are misjudged and left on their own because of their unmanageable or misunderstood nature. Their lives, intermingled with urban poverty and the corporate rat race, subject them to vulnerabilities. In all fairness, they tussle to make live bearable and in the hope that there is a silver lining somewhere in the horizon.
It is the responsibility of a government to set about the leadership on advocacy for marginalized children. Such role must have the determination and commitment of NGOs, businesses in their corporate social investments (CSI) and funding agencies. A partnership between these entities and ostracized children/young people, along with parents, guardians and community leaders, will stimulate a measure of trust and confidence for all parties. Start with recognizing and respecting that marginalized children are subjects of rights rather than merely recipients of adult protection. These children are entitled to be heard and seen, not made invisible or redundant due to their non-conformity to societal norms.
The failure to listen to children has led to a flip-flop of strategies and mindset, especially from parents. The children’s absence from the negotiating table between NGOs and funding agencies has generated the misconception of their lack of maturity and resistance to change. Being marginalized, children depend heavily on their peers for support and guidance, and would naturally resist the onslaught of adult-led national campaigns for human rights. Society expects positive behavioral changes among rebellious children, but yet adults display poor and conflicting judgment which is often bias based on age and gender.
By providing life skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and conflict resolution, society would give equal opportunities for decision making process. This act as a stepping stone for marginalized children to be part of the solution rather than be the problem, more so a leap forward in democratic progression.
Marginalized children deserve that democratic opportunity to be the leader of the present rather than what we adults are fond of saying the “leaders of tomorrow.”