FUTURE LEADERS OF PALESTINE
On 5 April, in celebration of Palestinian Children’s Day, Save the Children oPt and the European Union (EU) organized a diplomatic round table, where young leaders across West Bank and East Jerusalem presented their concerns and recommendations about the most pressing issues facing Palestinian children today. The welcome address was presented by Jennifer Moorehead, Country Director of Save the Children, followed by Tomas Niklasson, Deputy Representative to the EU delegation, who also provided some introductory remarks before the start of the event. Representatives from the EU, UNOCHA, AIDA, ECHO, the Ministry of Education, and from the Norwegian, Swedish and Belgian consulate were among those in attendance.
The children articulated their concerns around safe schools, violence in schools, school access issues, and the inclusion of children with disabilities, lack of employment opportunities, child arrest and detention, child marriage. Members of the diplomatic community expressed how impressed they were with the children’s level of awareness about the problems that affect their daily lives.
16-year-old Deema* and 17-Year-old Salem* described their experiences living in a camp setting, and the challenges they faced living in dense and impoverished living conditions, with constant security threats and very little opportunities. They talked about the heavy traffic flows, checkpoints and the immense difficulty they faced trying to go from place to place. “Even getting to school is such an arduous journey, it can take hours,” said Deema*.
The young leaders group talked at length about the many threats they face in accessing their right to education; threats of violence and harassment from soldiers and settlers, crossing checkpoints and the threat of raids inside the school by the Israeli military. The children’s recommendations included safe play areas and no guns or soldiers in or around their school spaces.
In a discussion about forced child marriage, 16-year-old Niveen* outlined some of the problems her peers were facing. “Sometimes boys are encouraged to get married in order to obtain a permit to work in Israeli land,” she said, “Other times girls are encouraged to get married -sometimes without their consent.”
Representing the Minister of Education, Mohamed Hawash explained that the government had heard the concerns of children, and were moving towards changing legislation so that children could not marry before the age of 18. “We need to agree on terms. In the Ministry of Education, we never say early marriage, we say forced marriage, because it is not for a child to make that decision.” he said, “Laws are changing – there will be ramifications for parents who marry their children off early and stand in the way of education.”
Save the Children’s work in oPt aims to increase the participation of children in the decisions which affect their lives. For all present, it was clear that diplomats gained a great deal from the discussion, and saw the value in creating opportunities for decision-makers to listen to young voices and their concerns, and engage children more proactively.
“Every time I speak to young people in Palestine I am humbled – no child should have to go through what you go through. When you tell us these kinds of things, we, sitting here, have a responsibility to do something. It’s not always easy, but I’ve heard what you’ve said and I’ve learned a lot, said Michelle Cicic, head of ECHO in oPt, “Listening to you highlights to us further attention that’s needed in these areas.”
This project was funded be the European Union.
*Names changed to protect identity.