Interview with Amrit Rijal, Young Child Rights Advocate

The Press Office had the opportunity to interview the young child rights advocate Amrit Rijal from Nepal engaged in the field since 2015. He is a medical student at Kathmandu University, a research enthusiast, and also an actively advocating medical education campaigner. Amrit is a Peer Mentor at the #CovidUnder19 Initiative, where he works on child rights-based research and advocacy. He is the founder of ‘Lakshyadeep’, which aims to empower youth and promote social entrepreneurship. He also moderates and facilitates workshops on Child-Friendly Local Governance and other child rights-based projects. His remarkable leadership in child rights, youth empowerment, and human rights defense has made him notable since 2016. Amrit's vision centers on diversity and creating a safe and inclusive world for children.

As a young child rights advocate from Nepal, what are your priorities and main aspirations for your work as a human rights defender?

As a young child rights advocate from Nepal, my priorities and aspirations for my work as a human rights defender are shaped by my experience, education, and involvement in various initiatives. I have been working as an activist since 2015 and my journey has been incredibly fulfilling. My deeply rooted passion for change and a continuously evolving journey have shaped my key priorities and aspirations.

One of my primary priorities is to continue advocating for the rights of children globally. It includes ensuring that every child gets the opportunity to thrive and develop to their fullest. Every child has the right to take part in discussions affecting their future, and they should be meaningfully involved in policy planning and decision-making processes. I want to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, has an equal opportunity to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment. I believe that empowering children with knowledge and giving them a platform to express their views is essential to creating a promising future.

During my work, I have seen the dreadful economic and health-related vulnerabilities that most Nepali citizens face on a daily basis, and therefore interested in projects and partnerships aimed at improving health care, education accessibility, and affordability. Given my background as a medical student and advocate for medical education, one of the priorities is likely to be ensuring that the medical sector is child-friendly and accessible, ultimately leading to improved healthcare services. This includes developing evidence-based interventions and policies that prioritise children's health and advocate for their implementation at the national level.

Empowering young people is essential for driving innovative change. As the founder of ‘Lakshyadeep’, I seek to empower young people and promote social entrepreneurship. This involves fostering the leadership skills and potential of young people to drive innovation for positive change in communities. Young people have the potential to drive positive change in society, and I want to provide them with the tools and resources to do so. I believe that when youth are empowered, the nation becomes empowered. Research plays a crucial role in understanding the challenges and in crafting evidence-based solutions. I am actively involved in child rights-based research and advocacy, particularly in response to global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis. This research helps in formulating effective policies and interventions (1 Engaging with children about the climate crisis and violence against children: A rights and resilience-based approach, 2 Channeling “the changemaking power of children” to drive environmental, peace, security and digital policies for the future: An intergenerational research paper, 3 Justice for Children Policy Brief: Building New Partnerships, 4 Our Right to a Safe and Healthy World Free From Violence).

By combining my medical education with the knowledge gained from #CovidUnder19, I aim to conduct research that not only explores medical and clinical aspects but also correlates with socio-political factors that affect the rights of the child. My work as a moderator and facilitator for workshops on Child-Friendly Local Governance and other child rights-based projects is another aspect of my advocacy. I am engaged with local communities, government bodies, and organisations to create child-friendly policies and practices at the grassroots level. Local governance plays a crucial role in implementing child rights, and I am determined to make a difference in this regard. In summary, my main priorities and aspirations as a young child rights advocate revolve around creating a safe, inclusive, and empowering environment for children and young people. My work aims not only to address immediate challenges but also to create a more inclusive and child-friendly society for the future.

You are a medical student at Kathmandu University and also a very active medical education campaigner. What is the role and importance of human rights education to articulate and implement children’s right to health?

Children possess certain fundamental human rights, and safeguarding their physical, mental, and emotional health is an integral aspect of ensuring their human rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) explicitly recognises the rights of children to the highest attainable standard of health. It is our duty as medical advocates to champion these rights and work towards creating a society that prioritises and protects the mental health of our youngest members.

My role as an activist has allowed me to voice my concerns and be part of a community that understood the challenges we faced as children and young people. Medical education is a profound fact-based study, the philosophical and sociological aspect has less ground here but I believe it is immensely helpful if a rights-based intervention is provided. In my case as a medical student and campaigner, human rights education can help me advocate for the right to health from a professional perspective. It can inform my medical practice and advocacy work, making it more effective.

Human rights education will provide a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and impacts of multiple facets on children's health globally. This knowledge will allow us to contextualise and identify similar patterns and unique issues specific to children locally. It will help health professionals to recognise the multifaceted aspects of health that need to be addressed in different research. Also, it is important to not only explore the impact on children's health but also propose effective interventions and policies to support their well-being.

Human rights education helps people, including children, become aware of their rights, including the right to health. When children are educated about their rights, they can advocate for themselves and make informed decisions about their health. Children who are educated about their right to health can engage in international advocacy efforts to address global health challenges. It equips individuals with the knowledge and tools to advocate for the realisation of children's right to health. By understanding their rights, they can hold governments and institutions accountable for ensuring access to healthcare services.

In your video for our Global Campus MOOC on "Children's Mental Health: Rights and Perspectives" you talked about the importance of participating in the #CovidUnder19 Initiative. What are the main takeaways you brought home with you from that experience?

The #CovidUnder19 Initiative is a global coalition led by Terre des hommes (TDH) that brings together children, young people, organisations, academics, and child/youth-led organisations to advocate for the inclusion of children in decision-making processes and policies that impact their future. The initiative recognises that children and young people have unique perspectives and needs that must be taken into account when crafting policies and strategies. Other existing forms of child & youth advisory groups in governance are a good start, but the #CovidUnder19 initiative is different in the sense that it has room for innovation and bold new approaches that share power more meaningfully with children. These approaches have empowered us to explore such methodology in our corresponding nation to empower children as leaders of the future. The Initiative has created a platform for children to share their fears, anxieties, and hopes. It provided a blueprint for addressing challenges, such as response to the pandemic, eco-anxiety, and violence by recognising the importance of listening to children’s perspectives and tailoring actions accordingly. This is really helping me to conduct child-friendly projects nationally and influence government decision-making.

My involvement in the Initiative has greatly influenced my approach. Through my participation in various activities, such as the Life Under Coronavirus Survey, the Rainbow Healers Toolkit, the Intergenerational Research Paper on Driving Policies, and the Open Letter to the United Nations Secretary-General, I have gained valuable insights and learnings that have been shaping my National Advocacy. The initiative has taught me the power of resilience, adaptability, and the importance of seeking support when needed. Being involved in discussions about my future empowered me to advocate for myself and others, and it gave me a sense of agency in shaping the world around me. For example: The Life Under Coronavirus Survey findings offered a global perspective on the pandemic's impact on children's lives. Overall, the results of #CovidUnder19 presented a powerful appeal to governments to take children’s views and perspectives more seriously. We have been using the results of the global survey, and national data where available, to continue to advocate for children's rights in a world affected by the pandemic.

The #CovidUnder19 Initiative also united children, young individuals, and adults on a global scale to galvanise momentum and resources around public budgeting for the realisation of children’s rights in general, and focusing on certain priority areas in particular. I have adapted this momentum and resources for national advocacy, to influence government recovery and response plans at the national level. One key takeaway is the importance of inclusivity in decision-making. The initiative's commitment to including diverse voices, regardless of age, background, or nationality, underscores the principle that everyone's perspective matters. I have witnessed how the initiative places a strong emphasis on empowering vulnerable and marginalised groups of children, acknowledging that their unique experiences and challenges need special attention. The initiative has also highlighted the power of youth-led advocacy and how young individuals can be effective agents of change when given the opportunity. It shows that when youth take the lead, their voices carry significant weight. In conclusion, my participation in the #CovidUnder19 Initiative has been truly transformative. It not only provided a platform for amplifying children's voices but also taught invaluable life skills such as resilience, adaptability, and the importance of community support. The initiative has reinforced the belief that children and young people can be powerful advocates for their own rights and futures. I am committed to using these lessons to continue advocating for children's rights, and well-being, both nationally and globally.

How could we create more spaces for the participation of children and young people in decision-making processes to improve their mental health situations and rights?

It is crucial to create spaces for the participation of children and young people in decision-making processes to improve their mental health situations and rights. This will ensure that children become proactive drivers of their own futures, dispelling the misconception that their voices lack credibility. Children and young people’s engagement in decision-making about their health is best achieved through investing time in building strong relationships and ensuring children and young people are appropriately rewarded for their time and contribution. If we want children and young people to play a big role in improving their health and shaping their future, decision-making should respect their ability to make choices and take action. We should incorporate education on children’s rights, mental health, and civic engagement into school curricula. Promote discussions and teachings where students can voice their concerns. This includes establishing a child and youth advisory board at local, regional, and national levels. These boards should have a direct line to policy-makers and the ability to influence decision-making and related policies.

Listening to children and young people and getting their feedback on existing plans and policies is essential. This will develop a feeling of the government being more responsible to children and young people addressing their utmost needs and concerns.

Increasing access to mental health services for children, young people, and families will be vital. Recognising the critical importance of mental well-being, we all should strive to create spaces for children and young people to express themselves, find support, and develop resilience during harsh times. One thing that supports mental health is reaching out, socialising, and leaning on a support system so, the government and stakeholders should be aware of this and work accordingly. It is vital to establish an intricate approach. This includes educational initiatives to raise awareness of their rights, the development of child and youth-friendly mental health services, and the involvement of children and young people in discussions that affect them. Organise workshops and community events where children and youth can openly discuss their rights. These gatherings should include stakeholders like parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals.

Championing intergenerational partnerships is also essential to promote children and young people’s meaningful participation. We should start by doing good research. This research will help us understand how involved they are now and what problems they face. With this information, we can make new plans and rules to include them more. We want to make sure their opinions are not just heard but really considered when we make decisions about their mental health and rights.

In conclusion, by implementing these strategies and approaches, we can create an environment where children and young people are actively involved in shaping decisions that impact their mental health and rights. This not only empowers them to take control of their future but also ensures that their voices are valued and integrated into the decision-making processes.

Could you please leave a message to the students, professors, alumni, staff, and partners of the Global Campus of Human Rights?

I want to express my huge appreciation for all your dedication to human rights and your commitment to creating a more just and inclusive world. Thank you so much for the opportunity. The discussions and initiatives we've explored today are really essential steps toward realising a brighter future for all. Now is the peak time when world leaders should act immediately for the realisation of human rights. Rights are being violated everywhere, and children and young people are bearing the heaviest loss for which they are not the cause. Our main priority should be that the government must be aware of their actions.

Let us remember that this journey to promote human rights is not taken alone, but as a global community working together. I encourage each of you to continue championing the cause of human rights, whether through education, advocacy, research, or direct action.

Thank you for your dedication to human rights, and may your work continue to inspire and drive positive change in the world.

For more information contact our Press Office

Elisa Aquino – Giulia Ballarin – Andrea Cammarata

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