Children in Bolivia have proved that child participation can bring about significant change. Two years ago, child workers staged a demonstration in the streets of La Paz to make their voices heard and successfully pressured the government to accept their demands and to include them when drafting what became the country's new Children's Code.
At Save the Children in Bolivia, we are keen to harness this kind of energy and increase the level of meaningful child participation in everything we do. Earlier this year, we established the first Children's Consultative Council to advise and guide our programming. The children also participated in our annual self-evaluation which was very eye-opening and motivating for our staff and partners.
The campaign planning process
When we started the planning process for Every Last Child in Bolivia, we decided that it would be best to include children in this process. We all asked ourselves: Who knows the reality that children face best? Of course, it's the children themselves!
We had four children contribute to our planning meeting. One was young mother who courageously shared her story of living on the streets for the last 12 years.
Campaigning for girls
It quickly became clear that no matter which vulnerable groups we identified in Bolivia, girls were always the ones most exposed to risks and exclusion. 230 new teenage pregnancies occur every day in Bolivia. Alfredo, one of the child representatives of the working children organization, clearly stated, "For the girls, life is always more challenging."
The story of Mauge, now 25-years-old and the mother of two boys, had a powerful impact on all of us. She told us about how she had left her abusive home at the age of nine, worked as a shoe shiner and candy seller on the street and got involved with drugs. She explained how the other children living on the street became her family.
"My two little boys are my motor to keep going, but it's not always easy," she said. "And sometimes I miss my family – the other children from the street – a lot," she added.
She escaped the streets when she realized that she was pregnant with her first son. Unlike many girls in similar situations, she was able to have her babies in the hospital. She considers herself lucky to have gotten off the streets and been able to become a professional hairdresser with the support of our local partner, the Hormigon Armado foundation.
“Many teenage girls are not as lucky as I was," she says. "These girls have their babies wherever it hits them – that can be outside on the street! Hospitals won't attend them because they are considered to be dirty and lack the financial resources to pay for the delivery or the required documentation. "This statement was probably the most powerful one of the entire workshop. These girls are behind left behind.
In a democratic vote, we decided to campaign for adolescent girls in situations of vulnerability, such as pregnancy, early motherhood and homelessness, and their babies.
The power, will, knowledge and strength of children in Bolivia motivates and reminds us that we should focus more and more on working with children rather than just for them.