By Fatima Al-Ajel
She was confident when asking the official representatives about the role of the government in improving the health situation of children in Yemen. She supported her questions with statistics to show the real situation of children in Yemen.
Sharuq Al-Anisi, a 14-year old from Saana, is a member of the Children’s Parliament for the period 2010- 2012 and represents the orphan children in the parliament.
She participates regularly in the meetings of the Children Parliament and most recently in the fourth periodic session held from 14th to 16th February 2011.
The session was about the health and nutrition situation of children in Yemen. All the parliament members were very interested and keen in raising this issue with all the relevant agencies.
“It is our role to make it a serious issue for the authorities to protect children from infectious diseases, as well as drugs and expired food,” Sharuq explained in the session.
Sharuq’s new experience with Children Parliament
Since she joined the Children’s Parliament in 2010, Sharuq decided to start raising awareness on different issues related to children from her school and community.
She has great talent as an actress and singer and uses her talent as a tool for advocacy.
“A Ban on Early Marriage is one of the main issues I will advocate for. Last year, I did orientation sessions for 70 girls in my school on the negative effects of early marriage and now I plan to do more. I will do sketches and songs with the help of my friends and then hold shows in schools and the community,” Sharuq elaborated.
Sharuq realizes how far her character has developed throughout the whole of last year, and the new skills and experiences she has learnt.
“Being a member of the Children’s Parliament is an amazing experience. I have become more confident, people show me respect when they know I am a member of the Children’s Parliament. I really feel empowered and have a role to play in creating change in the situation of children in Yemen.”
“During last year and now, I participated in trainings carried out by Democracy School (DS) and Save the Children (SC). Through these trainings I have developed my skills in advocating for the rights of the children in Yemen and learnt about Child Rights and Child Protection.
“I feel I am knowledgeable and more informed about problems encountered by the children in Yemen.” Sharuq elaborated.
Child Rights to Protection and Early Marriage:
In 2009, the focus of the children’s parliament was on child protection from sexual abuse specifically on the issue of early marriage.
Endemic cultural practices such as early marriage and attitudes towards girls faced with sexual abuse and exploitation undermines the protection of children.
The practice of early marriage is common amongst majority of the rural populations; affecting girls as young as 10-years old.
There is currently no legal minimum age of marriage in Yemen. The draft law only stipulates that girls should not marry unless they have reached sexual maturity.
Recent legislation in 2008 has taken out a minimum age for marriage and the Yemen Parliament has adopted a minimum age of 17 years for girls but this has been challenged by some hardliners.
It was difficult for Sharuq at the beginning as there were many people who tried to stop her discussion about this issue, but she believes that early marriage is the cause of many problems affecting children lives in Yemen.
“When a girl marries and gets a baby in early age, her child will most likely have poor health and will suffer from malnutrition and it will be difficult for the young mother to care and look after her child.
“So if the minimum age for marriage is legislated to 18, girls will be mature enough to look after and raise their children hence improving the general wellbeing of Yemeni children.
“I decided to continue lobbying for the minimum age for marriage to be 18 and I started within my school and community but I have to go out and make it every ones interest in all of Yemen with continued support from Democracy School and Save the Children.”
Children’s Parliament in Yemen
The Children’s Parliament has been in existence since the year 2000. This Parliament has been supported by the Democratic School (DS) since 2002.
The Parliament has had 5 elections held every two years and organized by the DS. Parliament members are elected through elections which follow democratic processes in accordance with Yemeni election laws.
Um Kalthum Al-Shami, the Children Parliament Coordinator expresses how the parliament functions as a platform for advocacy for all Yemeni children.
“Through the election of one member from each governorate including children with disabilities, marginalized groups and orphans, all children in Yemen are represented.”
The parliament meets regularly with the government departments and NGOs working in Yemen through the children’s parliamentary sessions when they call on government and NGOs to raise issues related to children rights.
SC has been supporting the Children’s Parliament over the years with funding from different donors mainly through capacity building activities, and by organizing parliamentarians’ visits to meet children in difficult circumstances, as well as helping them to run awareness raising campaigns across Yemen.
In 2008, the Parliament developed an alternative report on the situation of children in Yemen which was later presented to the public.
In 2010, the Parliament was supported in carrying out a national campaign on the dangers of early marriage to the life and health of girls. Similarly the parliamentarians had visited the camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Sa’ada, Amran, and Haradh to learn about the issues that IDP children are facing in the northern governorates of Yemen.
Abdullah Al-Khamisi, the CRC and Civil Society Specialist at Save the Children is working to promote child participation in Yemen while also technically supporting the Children Parliament which is relatively innovative in Yemen and the MENA region.”
Children’s Parliament is the national venue for children to voice up their views on issues faced by children in Yemen, as well as working for the promotion and protection of children’s rights.
It is one of the few opportunities for children’s voices to be heard and through this strengthen children’s participation to effectively advocate for their rights with a focus on Participation, which is one of the basic principles of United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Children (UNCRC).
Since 2010 Save the Children helped Children’s Parliament to increase its membership from 38 to 50 children. To make it a body that represents Yemeni children from all sections including (boys, girls, working children, orphans, children with disabilities, and children from minorities).
“All governorates are represented in the parliament; there are 48% girls and 52% boys, as well as the participation of 6 very creative children who have physical disabilities, which does not limit their right of expression and participation,” Al-Shami added.
Child Right issues in the Children’s Parliament
Every year, the children’s parliament has specific child right issues to advocate for related to the situation of children in Yemen and this is through awareness campaigns, meetings with the government and NGOs, mass media and field visits to different areas in Yemen where children are facing serious violation of their rights.
Health and Nutrition is the main issue for discussion in 2011. The first session on this was concluded on 16th February 2011with key recommendations to the government and related agencies to implement and follow up.
“The role of government is to develop a national plan on tackling Malnutrition and involve children in awareness raising activities especially via TV and Radio.”
The children’s parliament recommends that the Ministry of Health should put more emphasis and focus on children who live in dire circumstances, including the children affected by the armed conflicts, children in care centers.
There should be coordination with Ministry of Education to incorporate nutrition and health information in the curriculum, develop and strengthen the role of school health and nutrition programs and the importance of breastfeeding.
In addition, the recommendations call for the Ministry of Finance to allocate more funds for food and nutrition programs. “This is part of the ‘Every One’ Save the Children global Campaign which aims to reduce child mortality by two thirds by the year 2015 and save the lives of almost six million children each year.” Al-Khamisi explained.
During 2010, one of the main focus of the children’s parliament was on inclusive education through a specific session on this issue which was discussed with decisions makers and related stakeholders.
The session recommendations put forward by the Children Parliament on inclusive education has also been endorsed by the President of Yemen, who has issued directives to the Ministry of Education to take these into action to allow children from minorities and disadvantaged sections to attend government run schools.