Observatory set up to champion children’s rights
The foundations for an observatory championing children’s rights have been cemented today through an agreement signed between the University of Malta and the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.
The Children’s Rights Observatory Malta (CROM) will identify gaps and priority areas in implementing children’s rights, advocate for change, and bring together lived experiences, academic, interdisciplinary and cross-sector contributions, to advance the implementation of these rights.
During a press conference held today, MFWS chair Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca described this day as a historic moment for our children and for Malta.
“This observatory will serve as a watchdog for children’s rights and together with the university’s academics, we can drive change and influence policymakers through further research and data.
“Children’s right to be listened to and taken seriously is an entitlement, and not a privilege that can be denied. CROM is a collective effort to ensure children’s aspirations remain at the forefront of the agenda,” Ms Coleiro Preca, who is also Eurochild president, said.
University rector, Prof. Alfred Vella, added: “I’ve been advocating the importance of research in nearly all my interventions, but on this occasion, I’ll go a step further. Studying the human rights of children using an evidence-based approach is something we should prioritise, firstly because children need their voice to be better heard in society and, secondly, because from among today’s children will emerge tomorrow’s researchers, activists and policymakers.”
Prof. Vella said the University was honoured to collaborate with the MFWS on the Children’s Rights Observatory and pledged its support for as long as required.
The observatory stems from two, in-depth research projects the MFWS had embarked on focusing on child participation — the Child Participation Assessment Tool (CPAT) developed by the Council of Europe and carried out with the Family Ministry, and the DG Just study on child participation in political and democratic life.
Both studies exposed the numerous stumbling blocks children faced in every layer of society — from home, to school, to courts, and numerous institutions — to have their voice heard and their opinions and wishes listened to.
The qualitative research shed light on situations where children’s right to take decisions impacting their future — such as what language to study at school, or what sport to pursue, and musical instrument to play — were all decided by their parents.
The children discussed two opposing realities within families that impeded their voice from being heard: parents’ protectiveness and total control, which instilled fear in going against their wishes; and on the flip side, children living with uncaring parents in difficult households, who were less likely to be supported.
In one of the consultation sessions, children also voiced concerns about political tokenism, and youngsters’ exploitation in political campaigns to gain votes.
When asked how participation could be addressed in such cases, children suggested “politicians or people in power should ask the children what they would like”.
They spoke of the inexistent “healthy, non-partisan debates” and said the roots for this inability to discuss stemmed from a missing educational component on debating skills “so you grow up unprepared”.
Children, from different backgrounds, nationalities, and abilities, spoke of their frustration that “adults pretend to listen…” and the lack of consultation in decisions involving them.
Martina Oliva, from the Children’s Council within the MFWS, said: “CROM is what we need to move forward. As a Council we wholeheartedly welcome this wonderful initiative and invite all children living in Malta and Gozo to understand that they matter, no matter what.”
The vision of the observatory is that all children — regardless of background, age, gender, ethnicity, and religion — have a fundamental right to have their voices heard, and their views freely expressed and given due weight, as enshrined in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The observatory will be made up of five areas: a steering group; a core team, a high level advisory board that will include Unicef, among many others; platforms, and thematic focus groups; and partners that can include international and local NGOs, and civil society organisations.