Youngsters 'have right to rally'

Youngsters 'have right to rally'

better state protection needed, workshop told

Child rights advocates have urged the state to recognise young people's right to peaceful protests and ensure better protection for them when they take part in activities to express their opinions.

The call was made at an Oct 25 workshop, co-host by Unicef, Department of Children and Youth, Child In Protest Network, Thailand Journalists Association, attended by media members.

Laura Lundy, an international expert on children's rights and child and youth participation, said Thailand is obliged under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to defend young people's rights to express their opinions and protect them against risks or threats.

She said the government, police, schools and parents should create a safe environment for young activists.

They must also be protected from being penalised for carrying out activities and their activities should not be branded as anti-government, she said.

Restrictions on the right to campaign for human rights should be reasonable and only imposed when necessary. The use of force must be avoided if young activists take part in protests. The workshop participants have come up with a seven-point proposal for the government.

The proposal calls for the setting up of a special body to protect young people's rights and their rights to campaign and express their opinions and urges authorities to refrain from taking legal actions against them for exercising the rights. The government also must ensure that young activists are protected from threats of intimidation by state authorities, especially in the deep South where special security laws are in force.

Education institutes must be made safe for children to hold activities to express their views as well as school rules that directly affect them. Schools also must protect students' privacy.

The issue came into public attention following youth-led street protests. Out of 1,458 detained protesters, 247 were youngsters and, in September alone, 97 young protesters were arrested and at least 24 of them were below 15.

Speaking after the workshop, Khaireeya Ramanya, a 17-year-old member of a local environment protection group in Songkhla's Chana district, said she has campaigned since she was 13 and her aim was to protect the environment and people's livelihoods.

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