Children demand vote in education elections: Seoul

SEOUL - A total of 72 school students from across the country gathered for a forum in Seoul last week and demanded the government grant students aged 13 and older voting rights in the election of educational superintendents.

They also requested that relevant ministries standardize educational programs for elementary school students to learn about elections and voting rights.

The demands came at the Korea Child Conference held Wednesday through Friday in Seoul, where children held fierce, logical and reasonable discussions.

"We have every right to be respected. We are not an object of ignorance or indifference. We are not to be subject to force, violence or verbal abuse," said Cho Ye-rin, a 12-year-old participant from Ansan in Gyeonggi Province, as she read the resolution adopted at the annual meeting.

She said the resolution, which contains six other requests by young people reflects the results of a serious and passionate discussion of their hope for positive communication with the world. The resolution also calls for the government to expand child policy departments, establish youth helper sections and launch a program where elite school students and non-elite school students can get together and share friendship.

Their demands were delivered to ministers of health and welfare, education and science as well as gender equality and family affairs. Participants will audit the outcome of their requests at next year's congregation.

During the three-day session, the attendants listened carefully to what panelists said and had heated debates. Sometimes, they raised their voices and their debates were stalled when they failed to find a compromise, but most of time, patience and tolerance as well as encouragement dominated their discussion.

It wasn't all about debates. The event was also an opportunity for children to make friends from other parts of the country. They exchanged contacts and promised to come back for next year's session.

"It is nice to meet other students who had passed local auditions to participate in the conference and talk about our future and rights," Cho said.

"I was thrilled at our opinions being reflected in the actual policies," Kim Gook-pyoung, a 15-year-old middle school student from Seoul, said in the opening speech.

"It is amazing that children are just small sized humans. They are thoughtful and just as politically open-minded as any adult," said Lee Hye-jin, a staff worker of the Korea Council of Children's Organizations, the main host of the conference.

"With a little help from grownups, children could express opinions on their reality and improve their lives within the society," she added.

Byun Ju-seon, head of the organization, complained that children's rights have not been respected as they should have. The conference sponsored by the Ministry of Health and Welfare was founded when the government signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 only after activists made a strong demand.

"Children's rights have been ignored by policy makers for a long time because children do not have voting rights. Their parents are reluctant to stand up for their children's rights unless the children live below the poverty line or suffer from disabilities," she said.

"It is time we think about them. Respecting their rights is respecting our future," she said.