The CATS banners are coming down, most of the children have left, and the kitchen staff is having a well-deserved rest after catering for 500 people, including 170 children, over eight days. But while Children as Actors for Transforming Society (CATS) may be over, the positive changes and energy felt during the conference will last much longer. Physical reminders include the CATS bracelets most people are still wearing, while the fruits of the action plans developed over this conference will have an impact on our wider society as a more tangible reminder.
Falling on the same year as the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, the priority of this year’s CATS conference was ensuring that children were actively involved in promoting and enforcing children’s rights.
André-Jacques Dodin, Head of intergovernmental cooperation and youth policy Division of the Youth Department of the Council of Europe, and a committee of teenagers from all over Europe and from the Peruvian NGO Qosqo Maki, drafted a declaration regarding the moderation of online hate speech to preserve a child’s right to respect. As seventy-five per cent of Europeans have experienced hate speech, this is a pressing issue, Dodin will submit this declaration to the Council of Europe.
Active participation involves everyone. We heard from Michaela, 25, who has a mental disability, and has been enabled to take ownership of her life thanks to the support Lumos, founded by author J.K. Rowling, has offered her family. Lumos works to ensure that the rights of children who would traditionally be institutionalized and isolated from society, are being enforced. Thanks to their work Michaela has become more independent and an active member of society, even contributing to Lumos’s work in educating adults on dealing with people with disabilities.
In keeping with the theme of participation, this week’s plenary sessions were extremely interactive, and audience engagement was paramount. This was particularly true on the morning of ‘Justice and Governance’, when the dining room was turned into a Hyde Park-style Speaker’s Corner, where people were encouraged to stand on chairs and shout out injustices they felt should be addressed. This was followed by a court scene in the theatre, where four of these injustices were judged by a jury of teenagers, who passed sentences and offered solutions to these crimes.
While the plenary discussions were more aimed towards teenagers and adults, the younger children attended special sessions tailored to their needs. Here they were educated on the importance of child participation. Furthermore, the afternoon workshops, such as flower arranging, movie making and theatre, were designed to actively include children.
The overwhelming success of this year’s CATS was certainly down to the enthusiasm of the participants, and the variety of workshops on offer, and the CATS conference team is already buzzing with new ideas for next year’s conference.
For daily updates about CATS, check out the website of our partner Child to Child here.