There’s a lesson to be learnt from child environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s story and this has become very apparent during the interaction between children from schools across Oman and the Minister of Health and the Minister of Information a day ahead of the November 20th celebration of the World Children’s Day and the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Just like Greta, the kids of today, even here in Oman, have become more socially aware and many of them are already facing real problems at the very early stages of their lives.
The children, who are between grades 4 and 12, got the opportunity to sit, in separate occasions, opposite Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Saeedi, Minister of Health, and Dr Abdulmunim bin Mansour al Hasani, Minister of Information, in a panel-style interview where the discussion was candid and with the leaders answering questions about issues that matter most to the kids.
“These sit-downs were about putting children and young people at the heart of the agenda and providing a platform for them to speak up about what matters most to them,” shared Lana Al Wreikat, Unicef Representative.
“Every day in my work, I see children who are fully capable of taking the lead in demanding urgent action. I see children who are excited to learn about and shape their country and the world around them. Many are already taking a stand, and we are listening, as they develop into the leaders of the future,” she said.
They didn’t just come to play
Azzam al Rahbi is just nine years old, but the small built of a child is packed with the mind of an adult who already thinks about childhood illnesses and mental health issues.
“Our lives now are different from our parents’ and grandparents’, so we must be able to raise issues that are unique to our generation,” she said.
“I really like this opportunity to have met with the Ministers. Our leaders need to listen to what we [the children] have to say because we are the ones who live with the problems. In most days, I don’t think about adult issues, but my classmates and I come to know about them, and we also worry about the future,” she said.
“I am glad to know that actions are being taken. The Minister of Health told us that advances are made into pre-birth testing and I was happy to learn of the different programmes they have in place to help address the issues on mental health,” she said.
Julanda al Busaidy at 14 sat with Reggy Vermeulen, Chief Executive Officer of Port of Duqm.
“I asked him how he is considering children’s rights in his decision making. He answered that he too was a father of two children and therefore took children’s rights seriously,” Julanda shared.
Julanda said that Vermeulen discussed private-sector responsibilities towards children and life skills needed to achieve senior positions in the workplace. The interview also discussed the rising importance of the logistics sector in Oman, and its potential to support capacity building among youth in the Sultanate.
“I was happy to know about this promising future. The CEO said that Duqm is a potential place where many young Omanis will have an opportunity to find a job,” he said.
“In my future, I want to become the minister of education. I want to teach, and I want to help, and I think I will be able to implement programmes that can help children like me,” Azzam shared.
“I always wanted to be a businessman. But right now, as a child, what adults should understand is that we come face to face with different issues and would like to exert our rights as children. Greta Thunberg, she’s a kid like us. We are aware of environmental issues, of health issues, and these are the kinds of topics we also discuss nowadays. It’s not just playing,” Julanda said.
Championing children’s rights
During the session with HE Dr Ahmed al Saeedi, Minister of Health, the children discussed nutrition, inclusive environments for children with disabilities and health care services.
The children also expressed their desire to receive more hands-on, practical development at school, through courses like first aid training, to better prepare them for their life in general and their career of choice. The most important issues raised by the children were concerning non-communicable diseases, and in particular nutrition and mental health awareness in Oman.
Mental health has become a priority focus for world leaders, including here in the Sultanate where, as HE the Minister explained, there is a cross-sectoral approach in place between the Ministries of Health, Social Development and Ministry of Education.
With recent research suggesting up to 20 per cent of adolescents are experiencing mental health disorders, the topic is of growing concern globally. In light of the pertinent issue, this month UNICEF launched their annual global conference, ‘Leading Minds for Children and Young People,’ to tackle issues related to the mental health of children and young people. The conference empowers young people to talk about issues surrounding their mental health with the opportunity to be heard by renowned international leaders and thinkers. HE the Minister also said that later this year, the Sultanate will host the World Health Organisation’s global meeting on non-communicable diseases and mental health. The meeting will address mental health services, national response to mental health and key risk factors.
As a part of the interview with Dr Abdulmunim al Hasani, Minister of Information, the children discussed ways in which the Ministry prioritises children in their policy-making decisions and upholds its own responsibilities to the CRC. HE the Minister explained how ministry efforts contribute to the development of reading and research skills in the Sultanate, through initiatives such as the Muscat International Book Fair. The children also raised the idea of a Ministry platform that included special portals for children to access relevant information. HE praised this suggestion and confirmed that the soon-to-launch Oman Media Portal will contain a section devoted to children. The Ministry also supports the development of children’s skills and talents through programmes that provide media training for children and encourage them to participate in media work.
Additionally, the children broached the subject of online bullying and safe use of the Internet, to which HE stressed the importance of parental supervision. HE also spoke of the ministry’s cross-sectoral approach with the Ministry of Education to educate children in the Sultanate about the appropriate use of the Internet and ways they can protect themselves online.
“I thank the children and young people of Oman for challenging and inspiring us. We must work with them to find the solutions to the challenges of today, to build better futures for tomorrow and to improve the world they and future children will inherit. We know that investing in children is investing in the future of our communities, and it is important that adults are listening to children and prioritising them in any decision making if we are to achieve real, long-lasting results,” Al Wreikat said.
“On the 30th anniversary of the CRC, we are calling on leaders around the world to recommit to their promise of delivering better outcomes for children and show that adults in positions of power will advocate for them, not just on World Children’s Day, but everyday.” As the Sultanate celebrates the National Day this month, all adults need to reflect on how they are making the future safe for the children. While the greatest gift parents can give to their children is life, it is also important to uphold their rights. (With reports from Unicef Oman)