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Child Rights Training Bangkok 2009 by FMSI, Franciscans International, Edmund Rice International

01/10/2009: Thailand

For two weeks in July Marist International Solidarity Foundation (FMSI), Franciscans International (FI) and Edmund Rice International (ERI), ran an intensive conference and training on the Rights of the Child at the FI’s offices in Bangkok, Thailand. The participants (as many as 10 from each group were eligible) are supposed to work in Asia/Pacific as child rights defenders. The Marists were well represented with Mr. David L’Estrange (Marist Asia Pacific Solidarity, Sydney Province), Mrs. Cate Sydes (CEO, Marist Youth Care, Sydney), Br Jim Jolley (UN Geneva), Br Ken McDonald (PNG/SI District Leader), Br Michael McManus (Divine Word Uni Madang – Communications), Br Antonio Sanchez (Ad gentes, Asia), Br Crispin Betita (Children in Conflict with the Law, Philippines) and Br Paul Murphy (Street Children, Asia). Members came from a wide field of experiences stretching from Lebanon to the Pacific. The training was facilitated by two Irish Christian Brothers, a lawyer based in the FI’s office Geneva, the President of FMSI and several presenters from UN Bangkok. There was a good balance between input and group work. This was important as the participants had a profound depth and rich experience of walking with and being present to a variety of children at risk and exploited.

The first sessions were spent exploring the history and world of the child in the context of Human Rights. Time was taken to better come to grips with their mind-set. Several sessions followed relating to the principles and duties of protection as understood in the context of the most widely signed convention of the UN, namely the “Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).” Participants were continually reminded and called to always act “in the best interests” of the child - this catch-cry, though sometimes elusive, was nevertheless the focus as we delved deeper into the meaning of and call to be present to, advocate for and understand the needs of children at risk. Such exhortations as “when you see something say something” and “the danger of good people remaining silent” in many ways haunted us all.

One morning was spent with the rather “maverick” Redemptorist priest Fr. Joe Meier who runs the Mercy Center in Bangkok – a comprehensive caring center for lost children and adults and for those confounded by and confronted with HIV/AIDS. A further fulfilling day was spent at the UN offices in Bangkok itself. The presenters had us all spellbound with their obvious hands-on understanding and compassion for the problems of the children in Asia. Further input was provided by very skilful presentations by experts in the areas of sexual exploitation, violence, the sale and trafficking of children for sex and body parts. Few of us will forget the very comprehensive overview of all these child issues presented by the Special UN Rapporteur Mr. Vitit Muntrabhorn.

The final toss of the training coin was flipped to us the participants to try to make sense of it all - to bring meaning, cohesion and purpose to the two weeks. The fruit of this task is yet to be realized but you can expect soon a sharper focus at both the local and international (UN) level for renewed support for children at risk. Our Marist team worked very well together and created plans for future advocacy that in time will be a blessing for such children found in Marist Australia, Oceania and Asia.

Looking at the preliminary documents of our coming Marist Chapter such advocacy issues are likely to have the prominent place they have long deserved. This preliminary training should prove to be a good first step to deal with the issues and especially the children we all love so dearly – to make their faint cry for help peal like thunder so we sit up, listen to them, take notice and advocate strenuously at the highest levels on their behalf. “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child.”

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Paul Murphy fms

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