Youth participation – October 11 2017 Ecuador youth participation, making every voice count Meet Sandra: keeping the family unit together Sandra lives with an SOS family in Ecuador. She is helping to put pressure on her government to reform the national care system by speaking out at national youth councils and, at the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. Sixteen year-old Sandra Ayllon is from the city of Cuenca in Azuay Province in Southern Ecuador. She was taken into care at the age of four and stayed in various state-run institutions until two years ago when she went to live with an SOS family. Her mother has a physical disability, and was classed as unfit to keep custody of Sandra and her younger brother, who was adopted by a family in another country. Sandra’s story is not a one-off. Her experience has given her the drive to stop others like her from being separated from their biological families and to prevent the need for alternative care. “I would have liked the government to consult me and to ask me if I wanted to be separated from my family or, most importantly, if I wanted to be reunited with them,” said Sandra. “I wanted something to be done to stop me from being separated from my mother, because it is not her fault that she has a disability which means that she can’t take care of me,” she added. Giving every child a voice Sandra is part of a group of children called the ‘Network of Child Communicators’ who contributed to draft a note on alternative care and a strategy to put pressure on the state to pursue policies that provide support for families in meeting their responsibilities towards the child. This includes the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents. The network was set up by SOS Children’s Villages as a forum for youth to share their stories and to utilise them to safeguard children by strengthening families and building-up the capacities of child care professionals. Sandra represents others facing similar situations through her efforts to make Ecuador’s government prevent unnecessary family separation. She shared her story and her recommendations for the government of Ecuador at an event organised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Geneva in February 2017. The Committee aims to promote human rights for all and to speak out objectively in the face of human rights violations worldwide. “For us, this was a big opportunity to ensure child participation and to give young people a voice to advocate and speak out in the best interests of children. With this experience and these recommendations we can start to engage the whole society in favour of the rights of children who have lost family care. We can improve public policy and child protection systems,” said Veronica Legarda, National Advocacy Coordinator for SOS Children’s Villages, Ecuador. Realising children’s rights in Ecuador Sandra’s inputs were discussed at the CRC’s latest session which concluded on 29 September. In response to her proposals to safeguard children’s rights, committee members called on the government of Ecuador to adopt strategies to promote the family-based care of children. They also urged the state to take action to provide sufficient budget allocations to foster parents across the country and to implement a strategy for the deinstitutionalization of children. “Children and young people bring vital, unique and insightful perspectives to assist us in making the necessary recommendations to states and we value their contributions greatly,” said Benyam Mezmur, Member of the CRC from Ethiopia. SOS Children’s Villages aspires to learn from experiences like Sandra’s in order to widen its partnerships with governments, encourage states to reduce institutional practices and to improve alternative care.