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Monday, 10 January, 2000, 14:19 GMT
Youth parliament targets child labour

Child labour Child labour will be at the top of the agenda

By Geraldine Carroll in Bangkok

With one resounding blow to an ancient gong set up in the Thai parliament, 40 idealistic child politicians on Monday launched a new drive to wipe out child labour, underage prostitution and drug abuse.

Delivering the blow was Thailand's Princess Siriwanwaree Mahidol in a regal opening to the first Asian session of the Children's Parliament of the World (CPW).

We may be 40 children here, but we're representing 2.1 billion others
16-year-old Daniel Poslawski

Over the next two days, the delegates, aged between 12 and 16, will hammer out resolutions which they hope will pressure governments and the United Nations to end the misery of the worst off of the world's 2.1 billion children.

On the sidelines of their first debate amid the sombre surroundings of Thailand's parliament, CPW spokesperson Carin Eriksson of Finland explained that although the needs of children were often ignored, the Children's Parliament demanded a hearing.

"We have to make our voices heard. In this way, we can put pressure on the governments, we can send letters to them, we can declare our statements and they can see that our voice needs to be heard," Ms Eriksson said.

Delegates said the parliament, which was set up last year and unites children from 32 countries, was only the starting point for a worldwide crusade on behalf of children.

Children working in India Children working in India

"We may be 40 children here, but we're representing very many children, 2.1 billion of them. If every member of the parliament goes back home and tries to get our statements to the governments, then it's not only his or her thoughts, but the thoughts of the parliament of those billions of children," said 16-year-old Daniel Poslawski of Estonia.

Adults not welcome

The Children's Parliament of the World was established last year by Finnish entrepreneur, Jyrki Arolinna, who felt that allowing young people to publicly debate issues affecting their lives would provide opportunities for global peace.

"The soul of the Children's Parliament of the World is in its decision making process, free of adults' influence. The children's parliament is their own place to create a future for us all," said Mr Arolinna.

Based in Finland, the 46 permanent members, from a mix of developed and developing nations, are chosen by their embassies in Helsinki for a three-year term.

The parliament is funded mainly by corporate sponsors and meets four times a year, once in a host country and three times over the Internet.

'Education is the key'

Improving education is a crucial strategy at this session as it targets deprivation in the developing world.

"A good education is the key to a good job, money and the ability to live and have a good life. Education is something that each country should focus on," said Ms Eriksson.

South African delegate, Stephen Swart, called for free education and greater understanding for the plight of underprivileged students.

"In South Africa, the teachers send you to the headmaster and give you detention if you don't bring your pencils or your books. But this is stupid because some of the children in my class can't afford pencils or books to write in" he said.

'No future' without environmentalism

Also on the minds of the young delegates is the environment. They warned if pollution continues at its present rate, the earth could be choked by the end of their lifetime.

"Pollution is one definite threat because people just do not understand yet. It is moving, but still slowly. We must get this out or otherwise there will be no future for anybody," said Mr Poslawski.

The session will announce a set of resolutions on Tuesday to be sent to governments around the world, the United Nations and the international media.

The children will also visit the northern province of Chiang Mai to raise public awareness of child rights in local communities.

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