By Monica Awad
BETHLEHEM, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 4 April 2007 – Hundreds of children will mark Palestinian Child's Day on Thursday by gathering in Gaza and Ramallah and speaking out against violence. The young activists have also arranged to speak to a panel of high-level officials to request they take the lead in protecting children from the ongoing violence.
Thursday's events are the culmination of months of children-led campaigns across the West Bank and Gaza demanding an end to the violence that children must endure on a daily basis and teaching children how to protect themselves from violence and abuse.
"I am here to defend children's rights and to prevent all those who are violating our rights from doing so. My message is that problems are not solved through violence," said Ayham Ammareen, 13, from Azza Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, during a campaign march during the lead up to the day.
The violence can be partially blamed on the ongoing conflict, the related fragmentation of communities and economic decline. But also it is due to cultural beliefs and practices and the acceptance of violence as a fact of life. Children and women are particularly vulnerable to it.
"Palestinian children are really surrounded by increased violence and UNICEF is trying to help them speak about the violence they are experiencing to enable them to create a change in their society," said Asmahan Wadi Nasser, UNICEF Child Protection Officer.
Spreading the word on child rights
Through the campaign children have been trained on their rights and how to protect themselves from violence and abuse. Workshops covered issues on communication, negotiation as well as leadership skills, advocacy and awareness-raising techniques.
Participants then developed awareness-raising campaigns to spread the word on child rights and child protection in fifteen locations in the West Bank and Gaza. The campaigns involved scout rallies, puppet shows, story writing, solidarity tents, songs, mural painting and theatrical sketches.
Children chose their own themes to work on. All were related to violence; the most common theme was school-based violence.
"We chose physical violence in schools as the theme for our campaign," said Mohamed Ammareen, 14, "because this is what is really happening in school and most of the children suffer from it, in addition to the violence they are going through at home."
Layers of protection
UNICEF, with its partner agencies PANORAMA and Canaan Institute, developed this project in order to build protective layers around children and funding was provided by the European Commission's European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights.
At the policy level, this project will keep child rights on the agendas of policy makers who have the power to effect change for children. At the community level, it will enable children and adolescents to better protect themselves and to act as their own agents of change by designing and implementing child rights and child protection campaigns in their communities.
"Before participating in this campaign I felt there were many people suffering from these problems without any solutions," said Hanin Abu-Swai, 14, speaking after taking part in the workshops, "but now I realize how I can solve all of my problems without making a big deal out of it."
Rachel Bonham Carter contributed to this story from New York.