04 May 2011

How would you like life to be for children in 2027?

Children participate in the "Vision" exercise which gather options of some 60,000 people across the country on what they want the future to hold for children in Thailand in 2027. © UNICEF Thailand/2011/Napat Phisanbut
 Story by Heamakarn Sricharatchanya

(The story was published in the Bangkok Post on May 15, 2011)

BANGKOK - How would you like life to be for children in 2027? When this question was posed to a group of young people at a forum 6 months ago, some  initially appeared perplexed. Sixteen years is a long time.
For some 15 year olds, it meant being asked what they want life to be like for the children they will eventually raise.  But the young people were up to the task, and after brainstorming together they were able to provide their own Vision for children. For example, the Vision for children 0-5 years old states that “Children should have nationality since birth” and that “Babies should receive breastmilk until 2 years old.” And in true Facebook fashion, some people wrote “Like” on or below those statements.

This question and others concerning what the future may hold for children and young people were asked as part of the effort to develop Thailand’s “The National Vision for Children 2027”, a process that is being supported by UNICEF.  This national mobilization exercise has solicited the views of some 60,000 people across the country on what they want the future to hold for children in Thailand.

Children and youth from every province participated in the process by joining provincial forums or through filling out questionnaires. Their input was fed into five regional forums at which 100 young people and adults worked together to review the input from the provinces and prioritize visions that were common across region.

Adults from key sectors also participated in the exercise, including business and religious leaders, media, academics and government staff, representatives of civil society groups, community leaders and parents. The opinions of all will be used by the project’s Steering Committee to formulate the National Vision for Children, which will be presented to the Prime Minister in August 2011, and used to guide the development of future policy for children. The Vision will also be presented to National Economic and Social Development Board to ensure that the perspective of children is included in the 11th NESDB plan.

Looking forward to 2027, we can foresee how Thailand will have changed. Due to the declining birth rate, children and young people will make up a smaller proportion of the population, and Thailand will have become an “aging society”. More people will be living in Bangkok and other urban areas, and continued climate change will probably lead to more frequent flooding and other destructive natural disasters. Current challenges facing the country, such as social and economic disparities and the lack of access to adequate social services for the poor and other vulnerable groups, are likely to remain. In less than five  years, ASEAN will become a single market, with Thailand and its neighbours opening their  border to allow the free flow of labour, goods and services.

But the Vision exercise was not designed to dwell on challenges, but rather to look forward and capture what the people of Thailand hope the future will be for children.

I attended several of the provincial, regional, and sectoral forums. There were common themes in all of the forums: improved educational opportunities, media literacy and  maintaining Thai culture, as well as ensuring children are fluent in a second or even a third language. Peerapong Sudsanguan, 20, from Singhburi, said at the Central Regional Forum that he would like to see “equal opportunity for education among all children in Thailand. Right now children in central region and Bangkok spend too much time studying, while in remote areas there is no support for education at all.”

The Vision from each region reflects their unique characteristics and challenges. The Northeast’s focus was more on jobs and income generation to offset poverty. The South would like to see children able to go to school in safety  and the end of discrimination among its people. “Now the rights of women in the three Southern-most provinces are very limited,” said Bastee Saree, 19, from Pattani, at the Southern Regional Forum.

“For example there is no acceptance of women becoming leaders. In 2027, I would like to see women and girls performing in equal roles with men and boys.”

I was most impressed with the enthusiasm of the participants and seeing children and adults from all walks of life working together. One young person read aloud the written responses for his group, who were from a school for the blind. Muslim girls and convent students worked together to come up with a vision for the religious sector. Opinions from a respected academic were combined with the vision from a young person from a poor family.

Many of the people involved in the forums said the process of the developing the Vision is as important as the end product itself, if not more so.  Having people from all walks of life thinking about and discussing children’s issue helps to create commitment and form networks for children at the provincial level. The Governors of Ayutthaya and Samutprakarn are keen to build on the Vision process and to integrate it into provincial plans. Business leaders said the private sector needed do much more for children. This shows that the realization of the vision does not depend on the government alone, and that all of us can help make the Vision a reality for children  before 2027

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