• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Working for the rights of children "because grown-ups forget to do it"

News Stories, 22 December 2005

© Mexico City's Council for the Rights of Children
At a human rights workshop in Mexico City recently, two Colombian refugee children were elected to be members of Mexico City's Council for the Rights of Children.

MEXICO CITY, December 22 (UNHCR) The New Year is going to be an exciting time for 12-year-old Alejandra and her 10-year-old brother Eduardo. The two Colombian children have been appointed members of the Council for the Rights of Children in Mexico City the only two refugee children to be part of this new initiative. Over the next twelve months, the brother and sister, along with ten other children, will design a plan of action to promote the rights of all children living in Mexico City.

In November, the municipal authorities in Mexico City organized a two-day workshop for children from the 16 municipalities of the capital. More than 120 children between the ages of 10 to 17 attended the workshops, designed to give children a say in the way Mexico City reaches decisions that shape their lives.

"The objective of this Council is to include children in the elaboration of policies and activities linked to childhood issues," explains Eva Irene Hernández, Assistant-Director of the Council. "Above all, we want to listen and take into account what they have to say. Our focus is on education, environment, health and nutrition, prevention of mistreatment and violence against children and on child labour," she added.

Alejandra and Eduardo enrolled for the human rights workshop in their neighbourhood. Little did they imagine that they would be chosen and elected by Mexican children to be their representatives on the Council. It is a big challenge, but in many ways their experience as refugees has prepared them for the task ahead.

Alejandra was four years old and Eduardo only two when their parents fled Colombia to escape the violent conflict between irregular armed groups in their home town. Their memories of that time are blurred and their accent is more Mexican than Colombian. But they have not lost their sense of belonging and identity. "I don't know what Colombia is like," Eduardo says. "I don't remember. But I know I will always be Colombian, because I was born there."

For the past five years, the family has lived in Mexico City, the only home the children can really remember. And, they are delighted to be able to contribute something to their adoptive town.

"We want to help other children who are suffering," Alejandra says. "We learned at these workshops about child labour, about children who live on the streets, about immigrant children. We are worried about them and we want to do what we can to help them."

Already, the two have been active in the field of child rights, taking part in several activities coordinated by UNHCR's Education for Peace Programme, run by Amnesty International at the Refugee Park in Mexico City. It is a joint scheme with training sessions for students and youngsters promoting tolerance and respect towards refugees.

Alejandra is very clear why it is so important for her to get involved in defending the rights of children. "The grown-ups forget to do it," the 12-year-old states clearly. "They say that they know what children need and that they will work it out, but they never say how or when they will do it."

As for Eduardo, he has many plans for the future. He wants to go on working for the welfare of children but he also wants to be a paediatrician, a policeman, a singer and president of Mexico.

"If I have to be Mexican to be elected President of this country, then I will become Mexican. But I also want to continue being a Colombian," he says.

By Mariana Echandi in Mexico City, Mexico




UNHCR country pages

The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol

The most frequently asked questions about the treaty and its protocol.

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Prominent Refugees

An A-Z of refugee achievers around the world.

To Be a Refugee

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 9-11 in Human Rights and Refugees: To Be a Refugee


Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

Iraq: Children traumatised by the terror of flightPlay video

Iraq: Children traumatised by the terror of flight

When militants attacked Sinjar and other towns in northern Iraq in early August, tens of thousands of people fled into the mountains. They included many traumatised children, whose lives were brutally disrupted by violence and their sudden displacement.
The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women AlonePlay video

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women Alone

Lina has not heard from her husband since he was detained in Syria two years ago. Now a refugee in Lebanon, she lives in a tented settlement with her seven children.
Joint Appeal: Help Sought as Food Shortages Threaten Refugees in AfricaPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Sought as Food Shortages Threaten Refugees in Africa

The World Food Programme and the United Nations refugee agency seek urgent funding to help 800,000 refugees in Africa affected by food shortages. Cuts in food rations threaten to worsen already unacceptable levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia, particularly in children.