Today is Universal Children's Day and Thailand should celebrate significant strides forward to protect children's rights. We are a regional leader in this area, with strong education and healthcare policies that have vastly improved children's quality of life.
Thailand has made significant progress in improving children’s rights, but many challenges remain. SOMKID CHAIJITVANIT
Children across the country now have the right to 12 years of free education. Public health policies have reduced infant mortality from 34 out of 1,000 live births in 1990 to only 14 out of 1,000 in 2010. These, amongst other developments, are impressive markers of our progress as a nation. However, we are still on a journey to combat injustices against children, such as child pornography, sexual abuse and a juvenile justice system that does not yet fully meet international standards.
Nov 20 also marks the 23rd anniversary of the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is a foundational human rights treaty ratified as law by all but two countries in the world, committing governments and us as citizens to promoting the well-being of children. But the most recent milestone date for Thailand is Sept 26 2012, on which we became one of the first two countries in the world to ratify the new Optional Protocol to CRC.
The Optional Protocol gives children whose rights are violated the option to have their cases reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland. This process presents an opportunity for the Thai government to receive suggestions from the Committee of experts on how to improve our systems for ensuring every child enjoys his or her full rights. The Royal Thai Government should be applauded for committing itself to being held accountable for children's rights by ratifying the new Optional Protocol.
Despite this progress, if Thailand is to continue to be a regional leader on child rights, there are still a number of concerns that we must work together with the government to address.
Last year, a review of Thailand's performance with regard to the CRC and its earlier Optional Protocols by the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child raised a number of issues requiring attention. For example, Thailand still lacks a law that specifically defines and punishes child pornography, though children as young as 10 years old can still be held responsible for crimes. Moreover, adults who sexually abuse children can still be released on bail pending trial, giving them the opportunity to continue abusing children or even flee the country. At this stage, our children are not yet enjoying the full protection they deserve.
Importantly, even the aforementioned advances in health and education are not accessible to everyone. In most cases, children of migrants and those without Thai identity documents are excluded from low-cost healthcare. They often face difficulties accessing education due to financial pressures, lack of transportation and a shortage of programmes to help them overcome language and cultural barriers.
To illustrate, on a recent visit to hill tribe communities in Chiang Mai province I met Ohm, a 10 year-old boy who spends every evening selling flowers to passing cars to help his family earn money. He rarely has time to do his homework and, because his parents do not speak Thai, studies slower than most of his peers. His parents do not value education, preferring that their son make a living by selling flowers illegally. The family lacks Thai identity documents and therefore cannot access the 30-baht health scheme that could provide care for Ohm's ailing younger brother. The uncomfortable reality is that Ohm's story is not unique, but rather representative of the struggles of many of Thailand's most vulnerable children.
At the regional level, the need for legal harmony in child rights protection has never been greater, as we look to the dawn of the Asean Economic Community's integration in 2015. In three years, migration across borders is expected to increase significantly throughout Southeast Asia, exposing children to greater risk. A number of NGOs _ including World Vision Foundation of Thailand, Plan Thailand, Child Line and Life Skills Development Foundation, amongst others _ are working together to create change in partnership with government and communities. We recognise that alignment with the CRC and its Optional Protocols on these key issues before 2015 is a key part of spurring progress both at home and throughout the Asean region. This is a prime window of opportunity for the Thai government, in collaboration with civil society, to continue to be a human rights leader in Asean, serving as an example of good practice in protecting children's rights for our peers.
However, no matter how firm its commitment, a government can only protect children's rights through the support and engagement of all its citizens. Protecting the rights guaranteed by treaties and legislation is a responsibility we must all share. As parents, grandparents and citizens, we must shun indifference, accept responsibility and do our part.
What can you do? Here are some ways you can help protect children's rights:
- Talk with your children today about their rights. Teach them ways to protect themselves from risky situations.
- Contact your child's teacher and express your support for a human rights curriculum and for teaching children how to protect themselves.
- Contact concerning NGOs and volunteers to support activities that promote children's rights.
- Reach out to your MP or local government to express your views on child pornography law, juvenile justice, bail for sex offenders against children or access to education and healthcare. Your government represents you, and expressing your priorities can motivate them to action.
- Join your community committee for child protection, education and/or other related issues. You can find out more information from your local government office, the Ministry of Social Welfare or the Ministry of Education.
Jake Lucchi is the National Advocacy Coordinator at World Vision Foundation of Thailand.
About the author
Writer: Jake Lucchi