By Emma Grindulis, Policy and Communications Officer, Together
As part of my trip to Cambodia over Christmas 2015, I wanted to learn more about the state of children’s rights in a context vastly different from Scotland, and where the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified in 1992; only a year after the UK. I was keen to offer the children’s rights expertise I have developed whilst working for Together, to help support the realisation of the rights of children in a country which has had the same head of Government for 25 years; faces numerous challenges including widespread poverty and lack of political freedoms, alongside a fast-growing economy.
Together regularly offers workshops and presentations in Scotland on taking a children’s rights-based approach and a key element of our Strategic Plan is to raise awareness and understanding of the UNCRC in Scotland. I took the opportunity to extend Together’s profile overseas and gained valuable understanding of how the Scottish context compares and contrasts within the wider international children’s rights landscape.
I visited a number of organisations in Phnom Penh to learn more about the work being done to support child victims of trafficking. I then spent an extended period of time at Epic Arts (Every Person Counts) in Kampot, which promotes inclusion of disabled children through creativity and the arts as a form of expression, transformation and empowerment.
I introduced the General Principles of the UNCRC and facilitated discussions on how Epic Arts could further protect and promote the rights of children they work with and across Cambodia, using the human rights PANEL approach. There was a Khmer translator to my left and sign language translator to my right. Concluding the training, it was clear that Epic Arts were already taking forward a rights-based approach in many areas and were excited to see how this could be strengthened and more explicit. For example, in their child protection policy and monitoring and evaluation.
There was a great deal of learning and exchange and the Epic Arts staff were keen to find out about how we support the rights of disabled children and young people here in Scotland. The situation in Cambodia is still extremely challenging: Education fees, the absence of inclusive support for disabled children, the lack of any government welfare support and very little understanding of the needs of and respect for children with additional support needs means that vulnerable children grow up with the vast majority of their rights unfulfilled.
With a new basic understanding of the UN, UN human rights mechanisms and specifically the UNCRC and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a focus on self-reflective practice and being clear about taking a child rights-based approach, I was proud of the progress the staff at Epic Arts made in a short space of time and look forward to hearing how the training I offered is implemented in practice. The experience further strengthened my commitment to ensure that in a country like Scotland where we have the freedom to express our views and speak openly about the situation of children’s rights, we all work collectively and ever more energetically to guarantee that every single child enjoys a happy and healthy childhood, free from any barriers which lead to discrimination.