Marginalized Children: The Right to have their Views taken Seriously
Marginalized children are capable of expressing a view. This is evident in my discussions with them, from the sleepy finishing village in Narathiwat, to the plantation in Surat Thani and in the depths of the slums in Bangkok.
Make no difference where they are, marginalized and neglected due to what is seen as their rebellious nature, they believe that society has neglected its responsibility in ensuring the rights of all children are protected. One of the main problem is the social/class pyramid, a dominant factor which determines that children from well-to-do families are given that right of expression while the poor are invisible and silent. Even disabled children in the rural areas of Thailand are able to convey their needs and concerns through art or singing, though many times they lack not only the tools to communicate but also the opportunity.
As a 43-year-old Thai "intellectual" told me last week, "Why don't you help good children in schools? Those (marginalized) kids are naughty. They smoke, drink, they steal, they don't want to go to school. Someone should lock them up." - Brilliant, this coming from a man who knows nothing about poverty and adopts to such hi-so (high society) mentality that the poor are useless. Unfortunately such prejudice against the poor are common and difficult to eradicate, despite the government's attempt to bridge the gap between the rich and poor through social-educational campaigns.
Thai society expects maturity of decisions, or in some aspects, the right choices which will determine how a citizen conforms to the norms. But the right for marginalized children to express their views freely seems a violation of cultural sensibility. Its not just the government's duty to create the opportunities for the ostracized groups, but also parents, NGOs and funding agencies. In fact, throw in the whole adult population who are obliged to provide this opportunity.
Its understandable, when the social environment is not conducive for marginalized children to speak out, particularly when they fear the authorities or the repercussion of society, such as children using drugs/substances, or when they exercise their right to not comment.
We know, that children's lives are interlinked with the family, local community and even national political level. Their right to be heard extends to all decisions and actions that affect their lives. Society's expectations of conformity to adult-led leadership are flawed as long as there is no recognition that marginalized children can play an important role in many areas of legislation and public policy. For example, does the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) facilitate opportunities for marginalized children to be involved in decision-making process in City Hall? The answer is No.
Many children living in poverty are experts on issues relating to housing, informal education, environment, child-care, public health and livelihood. Despite the hardship, they are street-smart, hardworking and eager to expend their knowledge beyond the horizon. While the public expects the government to do everything to serve them, Thai society does nothing for the empowerment of marginalized children towards their democratic right, which is the right of expression and the right to be heard.
Update: Violence Against Children, Minorities in Thailand