Listen and take us seriously, say children

Children are being trained to become the voice of the city through workshops organised by Petaling Jaya City Council. - Art Chen/The Star.

TEENAGERS like 16-year-old Allison Low want the public transportation to arrive on time because they do not want to be late for school or for extra-curricular activities.

They also want bus shelters to be built to provide shade for waiting passengers.

These are among the points raised by children aged between seven and 17 who are in the running to be selected as child councillors by Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ).

They are being trained to articulate and share their views with the local council.

Kirtti Kesavan (right), who says adults should make a point to listen to children, presenting his views on smoking during a workshop.Kirtti Kesavan (right), who says adults should make a point to listen to children, presenting his views on smoking during a workshop.

MBPJ has organised a series of workshops for children to learn about child rights, express their views and learn the functions of the local council.

The council’s aim is to create a child-friendly city with the help of the children.

Fifty of them are now being trained but only 24 will be appointed as child councillors during the Petaling Jaya Child-Friendly City Conference 2019 to be held by the end of the month.

“If the bus is late, I will miss my classes. I want to focus on matters related to public transportation if I am chosen as a councillor, ” said Allison when expressing her ideas for the city of Petaling Jaya.

Another councillor candidate, Qamal Mirza, 16, wants to focus on ensuring that children have more safe public recreational spaces such as basketball courts.

“Adults must listen to us because we are the biggest users of these facilities.

Wong (standing, fourth from left) says adults can better plan for the country with children’s ideas.Wong (standing, fourth from left) says adults can better plan for the country with children’s ideas.

“In places like Kota Damansara 9, the boys play football at the basketball court because there is no field for us to play in our neighbourhood.

“I have seen youths come to these places to vape and drink alcohol. They are bored so they engage in such activities, ” he said.

His view is echoed by Kirtti Kesavan Thayalan, 16.

“Children have different opinions and adults should make a point to listen to us, ” said Kirtti Kesavan.

Potential child councillors engaged in a team activity during one of the workshops.Potential child councillors engaged in a team activity during one of the workshops.

He said he posted on social media about a high-rise development in his neighbourhood, to have his voice heard.

“Imagine how this tall building will soon change the traffic flow in my neighbourhood. We will not have the same quality of life as before, ” he added.

Going green and safeguarding the environment matters to 16-year-old Gitanjali Muhendaran.

She wants to advocate composting as well as the sale of more vegetarian and vegan food in school canteens.

Council and experts

In 2009, MBPJ organised a forum for the children to draft an action plan to build a more child-friendly city.

In 2011, the local council appointed several child councillors.

They worked with MBPJ and Unicef Malaysia on improving

matters related to children, such as the condition and availability of playgrounds.

This year, MBPJ aims to become a child-friendly city and wants to incorporate children’s views in its city planning, said a spokesman from the council’s City Planning Development Department.

“MBPJ will sign a memorandum of understanding with Unicef Malaysia to be a child-friendly city.

“This is a worldwide recognition. For the first time, we will have a child council recognised by the government, ” added the spokesman.

Childline Malaysia project director Datin PH Wong said children’s opinions mattered and when their ideas were taken into account, they could become vital advocates of social causes.

“Children are 40% of the Malaysia’s population. A lot of our policies and laws will affect them.

“We can better plan for the country with their ideas.

“When you look at things from a child’s perspective you can assess if the facility is good.

“Some of the children who attended the MBPJ workshop questioned how they could feel safe when getting from one place to another, ” said Wong.

She said sometimes adults did not realise that children would like to go cycling but they felt the pathways were not safe.

“We want local councils, teachers at school and parents at home to always ask if their decision would impact a child, ” she added.

Wong reminded that children too had rights.

“When we talk to children, they often say all decisions are adult-centred. Hence it is no surprise why children do not listen to adults.

“Children also feel they are seen and not heard, ” said Wong, who was among the facilitators at some of MBPJ workshops for child councillors.

She noted that countries such as India, Mongolia and UK were giving importance to the rights of children.

“We do not have vocal children who are able to stand up for a cause on their own such as Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Greta Thunberg from Sweden.

“Even countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia have child leaders, ” she said.

Child councillors’ say

Dr Au Yong Wai Leem, 26, was a child councillor for MBPJ in 2009.

“In the past, we had limited avenues to be heard. Today we have platforms such as The Star’s R.AGE, which allow youth’s voices to be heard.

“Children’s voices will now also be conveyed through child councillors, ” he said, adding that when he was a child councillor, he worked on the issue of playground safety.

“My advice to future child councillors is for them to surround themselves with like-minded people to enable them to push for positive changes in the cause they are championing, ” said Dr Au Yong.

Alayna Rani Sreenivas, 26, works in the telecommunications sector and hopes children’s needs would be fulfilled.

“Children want to feel safe, especially in a public space such as a park.

“They also want a space to express their ideas. A graffiti wall would be nice for that purpose, or any venue for them to express their thoughts and talents.

“These ideas must be factored into a city, ” added Alayna, a former child councillor.

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