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

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

Two Colombian refugee children have been appointed members of the Council for the Rights of Children in Mexico City. Their experiences as refugees help them fight for the rights of children in one of the world's largest cities. "The grown-ups forget to do it," says 12-year-old refugee Alejandra.
22 December 2005
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