Arab Civil Society Forum for Children 2005


Arab Civil Society Forum for Children

27 - 29 November 2005

Intercontinental City Stars, Cairo, Egypt


Introduction:

The Arab Civil Society Forum for Children is a gathering that focuses on childhood issues, based on a rights and development approach in the Arab world, while also emphasizing nondiscrimination and respect for differences. The Forum aims to mobilize governmental and non-governmental (civil) efforts to realistically respond to the various needs of Arab children, and to set work priorities, measures, and programs to be adopted in implementation of the requirements of the "World Fit For Children" Declaration, and the Arab Decade Plan for Children.

Partners:

The Arab Council for Childhood & Development (ACCD) held the Arab Civil Society Forum for Children in Cairo from 27-29 November 2005, in partnership with the following bodies:

-         Arab Gulf Programme for Development (AGFUND)

-         UNICEF's MENA Regional Office in Amman, Jordan

-         The League of Arab States

Forum Objectives:

  1. Evaluating civil society contributions to childhood issues, identifying the needs of civil society for assisting in the development of Arab children, and discovering the obstacles hindering civil society's proper fulfillment of its role.

  2. Identifying the role played by civil society organizations in developing resources, making and implementing policies.

  3. Extracting the lessons learned in light of the achievements of civil society where related to issues of childhood.

  4. Setting civil society organizations' future work priorities for childhood.

  5. Developing visions and ideas on how to provide childcare, protect children's rights, and develop services provided to children.

  6. Institutionalizing the Forum's Secretariat.

Forum Main Topics:

  • Survival: Experiences in the field of poverty eradication and health care.

  • Development: Experiences in the field of early childhood care and quality of education.

  • Protection: Experiences in the field of securing environment for children that is safe from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

  • Participation: Securing children's right to opinion and expression.

The Arab Forum Background:

Within the framework of preparing for the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Childhood, held in New York in May 2002, ACCD exerted intensive efforts, starting the year 2001, with the aim of coordinating among civil society organizations in the Arab countries to unify visions and Arab positions during the above mentioned Special Session, in order to produce an instrument that is in-line with the aspirations and ambitions of the Arab countries with regard to children, while taking into account the Arab reality, conditions, and surrounding circumstances.

The First Regional Forum for Civil Society Organizations was held from 15 - 19 February 2001 in Rabat, Morocco. It was organized by the ACCD, the Arab Institute for Human Rights, the Moroccan National Observatory for Child Rights, and the Regional Office of UNICEF for the MENA region.

Following on this, the Consultation Meeting for Children Forum was held in Amman, Jordan from 15-19 February 2003, supported by the UNICEF regional office. The meeting recommended the necessity for organizing the second forum and considering it a means, not an end in itself.

Then it was followed by the First Preparatory Meeting for the Second Arab Forum for the Civil Society Organizations on Childhood which was held in ACCD in Cairo from 26-27 August 2003. In this meeting, participants agreed to entrust the ACCD with the responsibilities of the Forum Secretariat, considering the Council as the coordinating framework for these activities in the future.

Participants:

Approximately 200 participants attended the Forum, representing 17 Arab countries, in addition to the heads of five Arab High Councils of Childhood, as well as representatives of a number of regional and international organizations, research centers, experts, and media outlets.

Parallel Activities:

In parallel with the Forum's proceedings, a number of activities were held including:

  • An exhibition of the publications of Arab civil society organizations.

  •  Announcing the establishment of an Arab network for the rights of disabled children.

  • Releasing a statement at the occasion of International AIDS Day.

  • Signing a Memo of Understanding of the Arab Project for Protecting Street Children between ACCD and National Council for Childhood in Sudan.

Recommendations:

During the Forum, and throughout nine general sessions and six workshops, 37 Arab experiences were presented, along with five international ones. All the presentations focused on a number of Arab childhood issues related to children's survival, protection, development, and participation. Finally, the participants recommended the following:

  • The importance of standardizing the different concepts, definitions, and indicators of childhood according to international documents;

  • Establishing a database to include the information related to the issues and problems of children in Arab countries;

  • Bridging the information gap in all fields related to children's status, through conducting studies and scientific and field researches in collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs) and research centers;

  • Working on amending national legislation within Arab countries, and activating the existing ones, as well as setting procedural mechanisms for their implementation;

  • Setting strategies for protecting children against all violations they are exposed to, with an emphasis on overcoming the causes and roots of such problems, and not only their impact;

  • Urging legislative authorities in Arab countries to draft laws, systems, and regulations that would protect the CSOs and enhance their role;

  • Urging Arab governments to draft laws, systems and regulations that would increase the punishments against all forms of violence against children; including sexual abuse, family aggression, child trafficking and smuggling, as well as providing them with protection, prevention, and rehabilitation services;

  • Urging Arab nations to update their Civil Code as related to girls and women;

  • Applying the rules of good governance inside CSOs, and ensuring transparency, accountability, credibility, authority circulation, and the best use of resources;

  • The importance of working toward creating a partnership between civil society and Arab governments, through High Councils and National Committees for children;

  • The League of Arab States has to involve CSOs in drafting the League's reports on childhood in the Arab world;

  • Promoting the role of civil society through capacity building and providing required resources to enable it to perform its role;

  • Supporting field visits and exchange of experiences among Arab organizations working in the various fields of childhood on the regional level;

  • Developing children's capabilities for participation, and involving them in drafting the plans and polices related to their issues and problems;

  • Urging Arab governments, through High Councils and National Committees, to involve CSOs in drafting the national reports which are submitted to the International Committee on the Rights of the Child (ICRC);

  • Gathering remarks of the ICRC on Arab countries' reports, with the aim of urging NGOs to take those remarks into consideration when drafting their reports and programs for children's development and protection;

  • Holding training seminars for NGOs on the content of children's rights, in order to facilitate the implementation of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, based on urgent childhood issues within Arab countries;

  • Developing programs to combat poverty; poverty being a main reason for the violation of children's rights;

  • Spreading the culture of child rights in educational curriculums;

  • Working on developing the culture of dialogue among Arab children, as well as teaching them how to respect their own, and others', cultures and environments, in order to enhance mutual respect among children;

  • Respecting children's rights and their special needs in areas of armed conflicts;

  • Supporting Iraqi CSOs in order to provide a safe environment for children, and to fight negative approaches;

  • Working toward providing support, care, and full protection for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation;

  • Urging CSOs to assign special care to disabled children and sick children who reside in hospitals, along with protecting their rights to education and enjoying all other cultural and entertainment activities;

  • The Forum confirms the right to live for children infected with AIDS, demanding justice and equality in guaranteeing them their treatment and legal rights;

  • Applying methods and systems that would protect children from the dangers to which they might be exposed on the Internet, and urging Arab countries to benefit from the protective methods available worldwide, as well as inserting them in Arab information technologies;

  • The media must highlight the important role played by CSOs, as well as their real achievements in protecting marginalized children and developing the local environment;

  • Calling for the establishment of a media network that includes those interested in the issues related to civil society and children's rights in the different Arab countries.

  • Calling for the establishment of a forum to exchange dialogues and visions among media individuals and Arab CSOs working in the field of childhood;

  • Issuing a brief annual newsletter "Arab Forum for Childhood" on the achieved results of the Forum's activities;

  • Establishing a website for the Forum.

Forum Secretariat:

After presenting a paper on "Proposal on Establishing a Permanent Secretariat for the Forum," considered a platform for coordinating CSOs efforts in all fields related to childhood, the attendees took the following steps:

  • Establishing a Permanent Secretariat for the Forum, and the Arab Council for Childhood (ACCD) as its headquarters.

  • Selecting ACCD to play the role of coordinator for the activities of the Forum's Secretariat.

  • Forming an Advisory Committee that consists of five NGOs, in addition to two alternative ones.

  • The Forum's Secretariat to follow-up implementation of the Forum's recommendations.

The Advisory Committee was formed, including the following NGOs that were chosen by a general lot:

1.                 Abe-Zaren Al-Ghaffari Committee (Jordan)

2.                 Middle East Research Center (Saudi Arabia)

3.                 African Charity Association (Sudan)

4.                 Noktat Haleeb Association (Syria)

5.                 El-Marg Local Development Association (Egypt)

In addition, two alternative members were selected:

1.       The National Observatory for Child Rights (Morocco)

2.       Democratic School Association (Yemen)