“Boys and girls have the capacity to drive policies for their children”
Rosa Gloria Suárez López de Vergara, from UnicefCanarias, believes that one of the positive surprises of the Canary Sustainable Development Program is the inclusion of the so-called intergenerational dialogues in its design, “because of what it meant to connect two different groups of society, listening to different perceptions of reality and how it needs to be modified to become sustainable”.
In this dialogue, he adds, “the maturity with which the participating boys and girls presented their arguments and discussed the aspects that most concerned them was surprising.” In all inhabited islands, civic spaces are now being formed to give voice to children, youth and the elderly, something that Suárez López de Vergara considers absolutely necessary. “In Unicef Spain, we promote Child-Friendly Cities to promote the participation of children and adolescents, because we believe that they have a lot to say, that they have the right to express them freely and, moreover, their proposals must be taken into account.”
“Many times we talk about the fact that rights carry implicit responsibilities, but if we do not include children and adolescents, they will not be able to understand their share of joint responsibility in the decisions that are made and affect them, and about which they and they have to be an active part”, explains the same source. “You participate because it implies the exercise of a right and a shared responsibility; to make it possible, we need to adapt the conditions to all groups so that they exercise this participation, because to participate, you learn by participating,” he maintains.
In line with the protection of children inherent in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Unicef Canarias proposed a very specific measure to the Autonomous Chamber: to discuss the public spending that the Canary Islands allocates to children. Suárez López de Vergara explains: “At the end of 2020, we entered into an agreement with the Parliament to carry out an investigation and evaluation of the budgets. It was an analysis that made the budget of the Canary Islands government for children visible”.
From now on and in the coming years, the analysis of the impact of public policies will continue to be carried out. For example, the minimum living income and the contribution for a dependent child”, he adds.
Discussing such costs also means measuring the effectiveness of public resources in improving children’s lives. A diagnosis that, according to Suárez López de Vergara, is essential to change the current situation. “The idea is that the policies that are developed have a positive impact on children. Budget control serves to invest in a rational way, to see if there are deficits and to achieve impacts on the issues of health, poverty, education, violence… We always work with the ideology of the Convention on the Rights of the Child”, he emphasizes.
Despite the commitment of the Government and Parliament of the Canary Islands, in many cases the most difficult thing is to implement the concrete measures to solve the problems with the urgency they require. Suárez López de Vergara talks about “priorities” in the political sphere and the SDGs. “What are the specific policies? What are the priorities? The most difficult thing is to answer these questions and how to get to the life of the individual, of the citizen”, he explains. “What does the individual end up getting? Take what the local authorities give. That’s why Unicef focuses on political advocacy work at a higher level and on grassroots politics,” he adds.
Child-friendly cities are part of these concrete actions. “Policy proposals for children are appreciated and driven by boys and girls who are naturally actively involved. This is not an easy task, but it is a valuable one. Boys and girls are starting to enter the world of politics and learn to be democrats, in addition to realizing the difficulties inherent in politics,” he explains.
This program was born in Spain just over 20 years ago as a result of an alliance between UNICEF and ministries and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP).
Suárez López de Vergara emphasizes the active participation of children with a certain “healthy envy”. “I was told to shut up when I was a kid,” she recalls laughing. “This program is great because it teaches boys and girls to work for their municipality; they are the ones who have the ability to direct their own policies for children”.
much more than money
The problems of poverty and the environment have been growing since the SDGs were developed in 2015. According to Suárez López de Vergara, we must work hard without stopping to make new proposals so that initiatives like the Canary Islands 2030 Agenda do not remain in a dead end. “Climate change, wars and emergencies stand in the way. But here we are, the international organizations working to enable others to act where needed. We love the utopia of a wonderful and better world, but difficulties always arise. This big cake we got with the humanitarian emergency in Ukraine is the latest example, but what we did was to give the most immediate response possible.” Despite the difficulties, Suárez López de Vergara is optimistic and believes in the enormous potential of collective work. “Before, poverty was even worse. Opportunities aren’t just about money. There are also intellectual, educational and cultural ones. Childhood is the engine of society; I do not say that this is the future, but rather that it is the present, because today they are already changing the way adults think, as demonstrated by the council for children’s participation in the design of the Canarian Agenda 2030, where a type of learning was generated that goes beyond the institutionalized education. I am an optimist because I believe in children and know that they are better prepared to deal with adverse situations”, he concludes.