Sunday 21 April 2024

Youngsters empowered to influence decisions with creation of children’s regional councils

The Malta Foundation for Wellbeing of Society project among top 10 to secure EU funds after tough showdown

Children’s Regional Councils, which will give youngsters a say in their community’s decision-making process, will come to life in the coming year after the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society successfully secured €200,000 in direct EU funds.

The Foundation’s ambitious project — Regional Interactive Guiding Hub & Training Society (RIGHTS) — was one of just 10 successfully shortlisted by the EU from 154 projects submitted from all member states within the European Union.

It has paved the way for a collaboration with the Education Ministry, the Local Government Ministry, and the Local Councils Association to provide the funding and framework to get these children’s councils up and running.

MFWS chair Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said today marks the culmination of nearly 10 years of work going back to when the Children’s Council was first set up during her presidency to lend a voice to children and ensure they had a say in policies that impacted their lives.

“Today we are reaping the fruit of a vision we planted 10 years ago — for child participation to have a nationwide structure. This was the missing link to empower children in active citizenship and critical thinking for the future of our country,” she said.

The Children’s Regional Councils were launched by Prime Minister Robert Abela today during an event held at the Foundation’s Floriana offices where he met the children who form part of the MFWS council and listened to their views on a number of issues.

In the coming months, the MFWS will be coordinating a series of meetings in schools where children aged six to 16 will be invited to come forward to form part of the six new councils, that will run in parallel with Malta’s six regional councils.

Malta’s six regional councils are composed of between 10 to 12 mayors from each locality in the region and offer a professional service to the communities they serve. Now, there will be six Children’s Regional Councils, and presidents of every adult regional council will, at a certain point, be obliged to consult the children councils on any issues at hand and seek their feedback.

Ms Coleiro Preca said: “The existing regional councils will now be compelled to listen, to take children seriously and evaluate what they have to say.”

Sharon Cilia, 19, a former member of the Children’s Council within the MFWS, said the RIGHTS projects was a crucial step for the voices of young Maltese citizens to be heard.

“This is not a privilege but a fundamental right which will lead to a society where children’s voices, dreams and ideas can really flourish,” Ms Cilia said.

Today’s launch, which follows an agreement signed in March 2022, is motivated by the core principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which asserts that children have the right to express their views freely and that adults are obliged to listen and facilitate their participation in all matters affecting them within the family, school, local communities, public services, institutions, government policy and judicial proceedings.

Children have unique needs and regional councils will facilitate their participation, make them more visible, and empower them to speak up to influence policies that affect children.

It will also provide the training ground for youngsters to be more knowledgeable when it comes to casting their vote when they turn 16 and cement an understanding of current affairs should they choose to run for mayor or deputy mayor in local council elections. Earlier this year, Malta became the first EU country to initiate a legislative process to allow those aged 16 and over to take on the highest positions within local councils.