Child Forum: A platform where children feel courageously empowered

By Shabira Sultana Nupur, World Vision Bangladesh

I want to share the story of Rimjhim, a 15-year old girl, Bangladesh’s National Child Forum’s president, as we mark Universal Children’s Day today. In just one year, since she decided to join the child forum in her rural village, many amazing things have happened in her life. Due to her exceptional public speaking skills and work, she gained the support of her co-members, rising from a regular forum member to be the president of the National Child Forum where she now represents about 2,300 child forums across the country.

She told me that before joining her local child forum, she had never travelled outside her village and her parents did not want for her to continue her education because they could not afford three meals a day for the family, much less school fees. She did not have a mobile, did not know how to use Facebook or other social media, and did not realise that she could inspire others. However, despite these limitations, the space and opportunities provided by the local child forum helped her become aware of her strengths and grew her confidence. 

Child forums are a platform that give children and young people encouragement, motivation, unity, and strengthen their voices as they learn how to work hand-in-hand with their communities. 

Members of children’s forum regularly report that they feel fearless, courageous and empowered because they know they are not alone and have thousands of supporters behind them. That is an amazing feeling for a young person. 

Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) recognises ‘the right of child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly’. We, at World Vision Bangladesh, are committed to supporting children in their right to association by forming child forums to make it a reality. WV Bangladesh supports children in the process and builds their capacity as young leaders while empowering them to promote and defend their rights. The forums are also a platform where children and young people can express and share their opinions freely with other children. 

As a children’s rights advocate, I am confident that structures such as child forums help children develop unique leadership skills, which not only prepare them for their roles within the forums but also builds transferable skills that will benefit them in their future careers. These include networking, critical thinking, creative writing and practising children’s rights values. Child forums are a platform which also provide a unique space where both girls and boys can work together equally and promote initiatives to ensure gender equality. 

As part of World Vision’s It Takes A World campaign, child forums have engaged in actions to stop child marriage, which has positively affected a massive number of girls in Bangladesh. Up to today, the child forums, in close collaboration with local government authorities and officers, have prevented approximately 2,000 child marriages across the country. 

These efforts by and initiatives of child forum members’ have been recognised and appreciated by both communities and families. Policymakers and a national daily newspaper even publicly acknowledged their work. They have also received international recognition and three child forum leaders from Bangladesh, Samia, Tuli and Alif, were nominated by the 2018 International Children’s Peace Prize for their advocacy work for their work towards ending child marriage in Bangladesh. 

You may be impressed by these actions, but there are more things to celebrate. The child forums have also negotiated with and influenced 58 local government institutions to allocate resources totalling around US$180,000 towards projects working to end violence against children. However, their work did not stop there, child forum members are now working with those same institutions to develop action plans and ensure that the budgets are spent accordingly. They are our knights in shining armour. They continue to work to create a safe country for all children by demanding an end to violence against children and help implement the Sustainable Development Goals in Bangladesh. 

I could write thousands of stories about these child leaders, but I must end here. I would just like to say that these young leaders are showing us a new light. They are solving the problems that affect their lives while supporting other children and expanding their networks. No one can stop them from achieving their dreams. They’ll touch the sky. This is, for me, a clear testimony of the values and principles of the UNCRC. 

Let’s celebrate together their achievements. 

About the author

Shabira Sultana Nupur is the Deputy Director of Advocacy and Justice for Children for World Vision Bangladesh. She is a passionate child rights advocate and strongly promotes child participation as one of the key paths to achieve the well-being of all children.