08 March 2015

Celebrating 25 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the Cook Islands

Girls and boys during their water break with
UNICEF Pacific’s Deputy Representative, Isabelle Austin.
©UNICEF Pacificy/2012/Olul
Twenty-five years ago the world made a promise to children; promising that we would do everything in our power to protect and promote their rights to survive and thrive, to learn and grow, to make their voices heard and to reach their full potential. This promise was called the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in 2014 we spent the year celebrating its 25th birthday by working with children and communities to highlight the rights that it promised for children, and supporting children to enjoy them. These are just some of the ways that we celebrated the anniversary in the Pacific: 
A right to play: 

“Sometimes the boys argue with us and say we cannot play soccer but girls can play too!” says Emma, a feisty 9-year old girl from St. Joseph School in Rarotonga when asked about her experience with the ‘Just Play’ Programme. “My mother saw it in the newspaper last year and asked me if I wanted to join. I have been coming since”. 

The young soccer enthusiast and her cousins were participating in a sports afternoon as part of global celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The right to play is a fundamental children’s right recognised in the Convention – and the ‘Just Play’ Program uses organised sports and play as a way to strengthen and support the development of communities affected by poverty. The afternoon sports session was organised by ‘Just Play’ in the Cook Islands (a Pacific country with a population of nearly 15,000 people) with the support of UNICEF Pacific, bringing to a close a year of similar events throughout Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Vanuatu. 

Almost 100 girls and boys aged 7-11 years from two schools in Rarotonga, Cook Islands took part, showcasing the value of sports as a tool for development. Over a period of 9 – 12 months children engage with ‘Just Play’ teachers and volunteers to learn about making healthy choices, respecting and understanding difference, keeping themselves and others safe, and treating everyone as equals. 

The children enjoyed the day in spite of the hot sun. They had water breaks in between and healthy fruit snacks. Ten year old, Sara said, “I love this program because it’s awesome and there are fun games to play. Sometimes the boys think only they can play but we girls can play also.” A 10-year old boy agreed, saying, “Just Play is fun and it’s cool!”

‘Just Play’ Coordinator for the Cook Islands, Michelle Paiti, adds, “This is such an important programme for the Cook Islands. Through this programme we are seeing changes in the lives of children and communities. Of the children taking part, 49% are girls aged 5 – 13 while 78% of our coaches are women which challenges some of the stereotypes about soccer and coaches.”

In her talk with the children, the UNICEF Deputy Representative, Isabelle Austin, emphasised the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She said “This is an important partnership for UNICEF as it provides unique avenues for communication. UNICEF is committed to changes in the lives of children.”

A right to learn and participate: 

If you had been in Rarotonga in the second week of February you would have heard about the 5th Development Partners’ Meeting taking place in the National Auditorium. But perhaps what would have drawn your eye was the 615 girls and boys from eight schools across the Cook Islands, seated next door in the Mitiaro Movie Hall to watch a series of short films and documentaries to end the Pacific-wide celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF supported the Government of the Cook Islands to screen the children’s film festival, including many written or directed by Cook Islanders, over three days. Videos touched on a range of social issues linked to the Development Partners’ meeting next door, giving the children a taste of how climate change affects youth in Kiribati, promoting respect through an anti-bullying campaign in Vanuatu and highlighting other issues and events important in their lives and future as Cook Islanders.

“Oohs” and “Ahhs” could be heard throughout the hall as the girls and boys watched images of the sea, marine life, waves and even the Cook Islands’ own pearl-making industry. When asked what her favourite film was, an 8-year old girl said the one on respect. A 9-year old boy said he had learnt to “respect one another in the classroom and everyone around you.” 

During the partners meeting itself the issue of violence against women and children also came up in the discussions. It was talked about as the “silent issue” – with delegates noting that the world-renowned smiles on Pacific women’s faces too-often hide the pain of abuse. Nearly one in three ever-partnered women (32.2%) has experienced physical and / or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives; the paradox of paradise. 

Girls waiting outside the movie hall for their turn to watch the films.
 ©UNICEF Pacificy/2012/Olul
The children attending the film festival also learnt more about this issue. They also saw young people talking about how climate change affects their lives, something that resonated with children from the small island nation. And as they watched, their adult neighbours discussed the same issue in the panel discussions next door, seeking solutions that will secure the future of the young film festival audience, and generations to follow.

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