The Chancellor of Justice as Ombudsman for Children in Estonia has called on candidates in the local government elections to pay more attention to the needs, requests and opinions of children and young people. Discussions held with schoolchildren by advisers to the Chancellor of Justice as Ombudsman for Children indicated that the children are eager to have a say in the organisation of local life.
Local government council elections will be held in Estonia in October. People aged 18 and over are permitted to vote in the elections, while younger people don’t have the right to. Head of the Children’s Rights Department of the Office of the Chancellor of Justice Andres Aru said that every candidate should think about how children and young people – who comprise almost a fifth of the Estonian population – could participate and have a say in the organisation of local life as members of the community and society. “Children and young people with different opportunities and needs live in every community, and they’re ready to share their thoughts about how to improve the organisation of local life,” Aru explained. He said that adults should involve children more in issues that concern local life, because children have a lot of enthusiasm and initiative and, after all, are the best experts when it comes to the needs of children and young people. Aru also pointed out that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Estonia has joined, states that the opinion of children and young people must be heard.
The duty of the Ombudsman for Children as the advocate for the rights of children and the supervisor of the performance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is to help children initiate discussion of subjects in society that are important to them. The Head of the Children’s Rights Department of the Office of the Chancellor of Justice also said that the advisers to the Ombudsman for Children met with schoolchildren nationwide to map their thoughts and expectations on issues concerning the organisation of local life. These topics were also discussed with members of the Advisory Committee to the Ombudsman for Children, who represent various children’s and youth organisations, and members of the Estonian Scout Association also contributed to the organisation of discussions.
Aru said that the discussions with schoolchildren revealed a range of opinions and requests which representatives of local government should consider where possible. “For example, children would like there to be a place for every child at the kindergarten or school that is nearest to their home, that they all have the necessary school supplies and that every child gets a free hot meal at school,” he said. He added that the schoolchildren also pointed out that local governments as the managers of schools should make sure that the school environment is safe for children, that nobody gets bullied and that school premises are safe, warm and child-friendly. He also added that many children would appreciate a broader choice of hobby clubs and recreational opportunities, and they also highlighted several problems related to public transport (e.g. timetables do not consider school hours or the times of hobby clubs or cultural events held in the evening). “The most important things for children, however, are their family and home, and it’s therefore important that the local community supports struggling parents, because by supporting them the local government also directly supports children,” Aru explained.