International Day of the Girl – October 11 2018 Girls take centre stage for child rights Children have a right to be listened to and to shape their own lives. This is why SOS Children’s Villages works to empower girls and boys to have a voice and become active participants in decision-making processes, at local, national and international levels. To mark the International Day of the Girl Child, which aims to promote empowerment of girls and their rights, we are profiling two inspiring girls. They recently spoke up for child rights at the United Nations Day of General Discussion, held on 28 September in Geneva, Switzerland. Agnes, 12, from SOS Children’s Villages Benin, and Haneen, 15, from SOS Children’s Villages Palestine, are both young human rights defenders who have taken action for child rights in their country and community. Agnes in the SOS Children's Village. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Benin. Standing up for children whose rights are denied Agnes was elected by the other children in her SOS Children’s Village to represent them at a programme level, ensuring their perspectives are included in village planning and discussions. Since then, she has advocated for child rights nationally by speaking to government representatives for the region Atakora, Benin, on issues such as child abuse, child marriage and sexual harassment in schools. She describes how she is motivated by seeing how other children’s rights are neglected. “I feel bad. I have all my rights but other children are not in the same situation. While I am well-treated and welcome in a good family, others are suffering. This gave me motivation to aspire that all children receive the same treatment. We all should be able to defend ourselves,” said Agnes in her presentation at the Day of General Discussion. This has encouraged her to speak up on standards for quality alternative care. For Agnes, promoting child participation is about more than just benefitting an individual child – it benefits the whole community. “Participation is a shortcut for sustainable development. Let us participate in our own development and the development of our community.” Haneen speaking at the recent Day of General Discussion in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Leonora Barclay. Promoting child rights and education Haneen is passionate about raising awareness on child rights and protection. A member of the SOS Child Protection Team as well as the Palestinian Children’s Council, she advocates for children in her local community and on a national level. A member of the Palestinian Children’s Council, she has campaigned for children without official documentation, including producing a brochure for schoolchildren to raise awareness of child rights and protection. “We distributed a brochure into schools in which we raised their awareness on the importance of having official identification and the effects of not having access to ID on the psychosocial health of children,” she says. Most recently, the Palestinian Children’s Council in which Haneen participates has been invited by the Ministry of Education to advise on the educational environment in schools. Haneen came to SOS Children’s Villages at the age of two and a half. Her SOS mother, Ensharah, and youth house supervisor, Islam, both encouraged her in her development. Haneen started being interested in human rights in October 2017, after seeing how the rights of children are violated. Islam is the child rights focal point for SOS Children’s Villages Palestine and she encouraged Haneen by recommending books and resources so she could learn more about the topic. With her determination and drive, Haneen has a strong message for policy-makers. “Children’s rights should not be mixed in with political issues,” she explains. “For example, in the budget, governments choose to spend money on things other than children and our education. The basic needs of children are not fulfilled.” Both Agnes and Haneen have shown perseverance and dedication to promoting the rights of children at both a local and national level. SOS Children’s Villages works to empower and engage with children so they can actively contribute to shaping their own lives and participate in the development of their communities. Main image: Haneen in the SOS Children's Village. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Palestine.