We want to grow up in a safe and healthy environment. Road safety and environment must be priorities for the government.
In addition, we call for safety to be improved in playgrounds and on playing fields.
(both points are dealt with in Part 3: II.)
Disabled children (Article 23)2
As disabled children, we often have a hard time in Belgium. We are discriminated against, we find it hard to integrate because the infrastructure is not adapted to our needs, etc. We should be given many more opportunities in society and society should be more aware of our problems.
If we want, we should be able to go to an "ordinary school". More resources should be made available to provide extra support and infrastructure to integrate disabled children into school. (For example, sign-language interpreters for deaf children).
We are entitled to support. For example, we call for more sign-language interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing, suitable infrastructure for wheelchair-users and public faxes and deaf and phones for the deaf and hard of hearing.
We must have more opportunities to integrate into society. A number of changes need to be made:
people need to be receptive towards people who are different;
inaccessible buildings must be included in the list of building regulation infringements, and fined;
in teacher training and refresher courses for doctors, more attention must be paid to the detection of problems of people with disabilities;
more financial support for initiatives aimed at people with disabilities;
As disabled children, we are given too few opportunities for creative expression. Therefore, we call for a sheltered workshop for music and the visual arts to be set up, where we can express our creativity.
The media should take greater account of the problems facing us.
In the media, more information must be given about the problems of disabled people.
Specific solutions must be sought so that we have access to all information (for example, a small box inset into the TV picture with simultaneous sign-language interpretation for the deaf and hard of hearing).
Health and medical services (Article 24)3
We want safe and high-quality food. Therefore, controls on food must be made tighter.
We call for medical care (both physical and psychological) for all children who need it, for an affordable price.
We call for appropriate treatment and information for sick children. If we are sick, we want to feel a little bit at home even in hospital. And we don't want doctors only to talk to Mum and Dad, but to tell us how our health is doing.
We call for cheaper prescription medicines. Over-the-counter medicines must become more expensive (to counter addiction and habituation).
We want to be protected from harmful influences (mobile phone masts, smoke)
more no-smoking areas in public places;
no mobile phone masts near playgrounds.
AIDS is one of the deadliest diseases in the world today, and costs the lives of millions of children every year. The problem must be made easier to discuss in Belgium, and young people should be better informed about the dangers of this deadly disease. Installing more condom vending machines could be a first step, but above all, we think that more information is necessary to tackle the problem.
At school, there is still far too little sex education. More and better (modern) sex education should be one of the priorities in health care. Sex education at school should be given by experienced instructors (for example the school doctor). And we think it is important that every subject that comes up is discussed in an open manner, so that sex education not only remains limited to biology, but that there is also discussion about sexual contact, relationships, etc.
There should be more work on the principle of peer education. We want to receive information and education from our peers.
Social security and child-care services and facilities (Article 26,
Article 18 para. 3)4 We would like to give our opinion about the quality of child care facilities outside school. At present, it is often only our parents who are consulted about whether we feel happy with after-school facilities. We think that is a pity.
We like day nurseries because of the toys we can play with there, and the friends that we have there. But it is not nice when our friends have gone home, and we are left behind. We want the care not to be too strict and that we should not be given any extra tasks or assignments. We also want to be able to choose which games we play.
We feel it is important that the staff should listen to us, talk to us, use humour and care for us. A bit like at home.
We also want to give our opinion on how child allowances are used. We feel, for example, that our parents should not use child allowances to buy alcohol, so that we don't get a decent meal to eat, and there is no money left over.
Standard of living (Article 27)5
In Belgium, we don't all have the same chances of survival and development. Too many children live in poverty. Something must be done about it.
Poor children must receive as much attention as rich ones.
We can organise collections of clothes, food and toys.
Sports centres can lend equipment free of charge so that all children can play sports.
We call for more equal pay, lower taxes, more child allowances and social equality.
We, but also our parents often do not know what welfare facilities exist, and where we should go. Better information is needed. The barriers for asking help should be lowered as much as possible.
Fighting poverty not only involves material welfare, but also the quality of life.
We conceal our poverty because otherwise we would be bullied and teased. So we cannot reveal our true selves. And that is a pity.
It is not always easy for our parents to look after us, if they don't have enough money. Everything costs so much. Our parents must try to meet our basic needs (food, clothing), but they should not be expected to find money for everything that we want.
PART SEVEN: EDUCATION, LEISURE AND CULTURAL ACTIVITIES
Education, including vocational training and careers guidance
(Article 28)6 We spend a lot of time behind our school desks, which means that the theme of education is close to our hearts, and it is very important to us that education should meet our needs. In general, we call for a better quality of education, a greater say at school, and ask that schools should disseminate more information about all kinds of (input) activities that already exist. We feel that there is a lack of information, and in our opinion, school is the right place to inform young people. Because that is the way to reach everyone.
All of us must go to school. Additional attention must be paid to children in Belgium who opt out. We are thinking of the following groups: children of immigrants, children with disabilities, illegal refugees and the Fourth World. Sometimes they cannot go to school, or they do not receive the same quality of education as many other children.
We must receive a comprehensive and high-quality education. More attention needs to be paid to disadvantaged groups, more financial resources and better trained teachers.
There needs to be a solution to dropping-out of school. Perhaps one should consider that we should be able to leave school before 18 years of age. But we must ensure that when we leave school earlier we do not subsequently regret not finishing our schooling. There are also intermediate solutions such as part-time education to partially solve the problem. If school is made more attractive for us, and if we have more of a say, we would be less keen to leave school.
Adequate help should be provided after school hours when doing homework (if our parents have no time). There are already many initiatives, but unfortunately, these are not familiar to all of us. The school must therefore disseminate more information about the initiatives that already exist, such as the "homework line", Teleblok and web sites for help with homework.
School must be made more attractive for us. This is closely related to the next point. If you give a greater say to pupils, school will become more attractive for us.
It is very important that we should be able to participate in school. We must be able to give our opinion at school, and contribute to decisions about things that concern us. Every school should have a student council and it must be ensured that it actually has a say in what happens at school. More information should be disseminated about what the purpose of the student council is, and the pupils and teachers involved must be able to obtain appropriate training, so that the student council really works properly. The pupils should also be represented in the participation council. (This point was already dealt with comprehensively in Part Three, point IV).
We call for adequate financial resources for education: for better classrooms, for more playgrounds, for computers, for toys, for proper showers and toilets and to train good teachers.
School must be free for all of us. Activities like swimming, skating, nature field classes must be free so that all children can take part. If the school does not have the funds to pay for everything itself, then other solutions should be sought. Such as:
making the existence of social funds more widely known (so that parents can call the school management to ask whether a subsidy can be paid for travel expenses. Of course, discretion is very important!)
study trip bursaries;
parents who only pay a token contribution;
school books should also be cheaper. The idea is to introduce a national lending system for books at school, for which a modest amount must be paid.
We want less homework. So that there is time to relax and play. We also want appropriate homework, so that we can really learn to work independently and we really learn something more. So it would be good to reduce homework but in our opinion, it would make no sense to eliminate it completely in some school years, because that would only increase the gap in the following year when we do have homework.
We call for better teachers. Teachers must keep up with the times: teachers who know how to deal with young people, who know the world that young people live in, not tyrannical teachers, and not racist teachers. The schools inspectorate should not only be paying attention to the content of lessons and teaching methods, but should also pay attention to the relationship between teachers and pupils. This would enable them to check whether teachers are really up to the mark. Our teachers must pass on more information about all sorts of initiatives that already exist. The teacher must ensure that we know where to go for more information. Teachers must have an opportunity to vent their psychological frustrations about problems at school or at home, so that they do not take it out on us. Why shouldn't a psychologist visit the school every month to be available to any teacher who wants to "let off steam"?
We call for greater collaboration between schools. School cooperatives should be set up (for example to cooperate on setting up a computer room for all). Together, many more activities can be organised.
We want more sport at school.
We call for greater equality at school. No discrimination against pupils for whatever reason. Teachers and pupils must have the same rights. There must be equality between the various types of education. Awareness campaigns pointing out the equivalence between General Secondary Education, Technical Secondary Education and Vocational Secondary Education (at present, people look down on pupils who study TSE and VSE). We also want equivalence of diplomas, and the right to a diploma in teaching the deaf.
Less bullying at school! Teachers must pay more attention to children who are being bullied. There are many initiatives to combat bullying, but they are often not very well known. An example is the children and young people's telephone, green teachers, games and campaigns at school to counter bullying, godfathers and godmothers (pupils from the sixth year who mentor someone from the first year). We can also contact the Centres for Pupil Counselling, but the step to a CPC (for all sorts of problems) is often still too much. These people usually do not know the pupils, and trust is often not that great.
School must also provide information about what one can do after secondary school: what if we go to work, where can we continue to study? Periods of work experience can be a way of preparing for work, but it is important that there should be more controls over work experience, and that trainees really are learning something and not being exploited.
Finally, we want to point out that for us, contact with our peers at school is crucial. The reason why we like going to school is first and foremost related to the friends that we have there.
Aims of education (Article 29)7
We feel that too little time at school is devoted to discussions on current affairs and practical lessons. The content of lessons must be adapted. Political education must be organised. We want to learn what democracy is, and peace education should be included in the curriculum. Therefore, we call for:
more current affairs at school;
more practice-oriented lessons;
attention to new media (adapt teaching package, pupils often know more about new media than their teachers);
leave more scope for creativity;
teach more social skills.
More attention also needs to be paid to environmental awareness and road safety. In that regard, it is important that not only the content of the lessons should be appropriate, but also the way in which the lessons are taught.
Leisure, recreation and cultural activities (Article 31)8
We would like more leisure time and more opportunities to have fun, develop, and just do things during that leisure time.
We call for space to play: more space to play in, to meet each other, to play sports. We call for more playgrounds, more public open space, more forests (in which we can play), and more youth centres. We call for a play street during the summer (with a ban on cars). Why not leave the school playground open during holidays? In every local authority area, there should be an informal meeting and recreation room for us (e.g. a youth centre, youth cafe, children's cafe). We also want more benches in the city, on which we can sit and chat and have fun.
We call for more security when playing. There should be controls on the safety of playgrounds. The streets must also be safer (so that we can play in the street): traffic is a problem, but so are assaults, vandalism, harassment and drugs.
We call for cheaper leisure facilities:
one day per month when the cinema, theatre and museums are free;
more subsidies for youth centres;
for parents experiencing financial hardship, a token amount should be charged.
We call for greater choice: more sport for girls, more activities during the holidays, more activities close to home, more new sports. The municipal administration must stimulate new trends in sport among organisers, or organise them itself.
We call for more information about the existing offering. It is up to the local authority and schools to disseminate that information.
We want cleaner playgrounds. It would be better to clean up the existing playgrounds first, before the new ones are added. We must be involved in designing the playgrounds.
We ask for more time to play and relax. For that reason, we want less homework, so that there is more time left to play.
We also have the right to "do nothing", "hang around", and "fool around".