Written by Anders Ang and Ray Seo, youth who represented Singapore to attend the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Dialogue.
On 10 July 2023, AICHR organised the first ever “Dialogue of AICHR and Children from ASEAN Region”. The event took place in Jakarta as Indonesia is the current Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Chair for 2023.
AICHR is an official body of ASEAN and is responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights in the region.
Learning about ASEAN at the preparatory workshop
This event was historically significant as policy makers in ASEAN wanted to directly engage with children and youth. It also showed AICHR’s recognition of children’s right to meaningfully participate in issues that concern them, as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The dialogue focused on two main themes – the right to a safe, clean and sustainable environment for all children and youth in ASEAN and how children and youth could be better engaged in AICHR’s various programmes and activities.
We were over the moon on being given the opportunity to represent Singapore for this historic event. We also felt that this opportunity and platform gave youth a sense of empowerment and hope in the face of global challenges happening around us.
Prior to the actual dialogue, we participated in a two-day workshop to prepare for the big day. The adults played the supporting cast, and their main role was to facilitate and bring out our voices. They made sure our concepts and terminology were easy to grasp and encouraged us to share and present our thoughts in different ways, including drawing and storytelling. It was hard work, but we managed to organise our thoughts, give feedback to each other, finalise our talking points and even had several rounds of rehearsals.
There was also a briefing by the AICHR Chair Ms. Yuyun Wahyuningrum, who shared the meeting format, what to expect and reminded us that the overall spirit of the dialogue was to hear from children and youth. This helped to calm our nerves.
From L-R: Ms Amihan Abueva (Executive Director of Child Rights Coalition Asia), Anders Ang, Ms Yuyun Wahyuningrum (Chairperson of AICHR), and Ray Seo
We shared our concerns about the rising temperatures in Singapore, which recently peaked at their highest since 1998. Beyond the heat stress-related problems, we also raised other pertinent issues, such as conserving our biodiversity and over-reliance on fossil fuels. We also gave suggestions on adopting renewable energy. Our friends from the region shared the various problems they experienced in their home countries due to the climate crisis, such as pollution, plastic waste and floods. Their insights really opened our eyes.
The AICHR representatives listened attentively and shared their responses. They took the time to absorb and process our messages, gave constructive feedback and proposed ideas to collaborate.
However, one adult representative said that youth today were just interested and vocal about social issues because they were trendy on social media. It was quite unexpected to hear such a sentiment in that setting but was a sobering reminder that adults can sometimes still dismiss us because of our age and perceived immaturity. Much more work remains to be done in changing mindsets.
Fun and friends
It was the warm, welcoming people from the ASEAN region that made the journey truly unforgettable. Their smiles, generosity and inclusivity fostered a sense of belonging that made us feel like cherished friends. We also hung out during pockets of free time and explored the streets and sights. But as with all good things, time passed too fast and we found ourselves saying goodbye.
With our friends Mitra (Malaysia) and Ami (Indonesia)
We asked Ami, our friend from Indonesia, to share a few thoughts for this article.
“Even though it was only two days, it was an amazing time for me personally. My favorite moment was when we had a meeting with AICHR, and even though I was nervous at that time, I was also happy ’cause all my friends were very supportive, calm and cool! My next favourite moment was when we walked around Blok-M shopping district, and even though we got lost, that made our walk memorable. Really want to meet all my ASEAN friends again”.
Overall, this experience was very enriching and really expanded our horizons. It was a new and refreshing experience to see adults and youth work together on important issues and policy matters.
We are hopeful that AICHR and ASEAN will take our suggestions on board and continue to engage more youth. This is important as we can contribute perspectives and suggestions on matters that affect us directly.
Ray and the youth delegates from Lao PDR and Vietnam all smiles after the dialogue
Check out the video highlights of the event here.
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