Students in Moldova monitor human rights in their schools as a way to learn more about their rights and help their schools become human rights friendly
Children all over Moldova are learning about human rights and how they affect their daily lives thanks to the National Tournament in Human Rights, a creative initiative that lets them explore their rights and then share their ideas of how duty bearers can do better.
The tournament, organised by Amnesty International Moldova and the Child Rights Information Centre, aims to involve children in human rights, teaching them both about their rights and how to monitor how they’re respected in their schools and wider communities. It’s part of a Human Rights Friendly School approach, teaching members of the school community how to claim their rights.
Every year during the summer, Amnesty Moldova offers training courses for kids to learn about child rights and how to take part in human rights monitoring and reporting. Student groups of around ten students each then choose a specific right to study and monitor during the school year. The following months, the students learn more about human rights both in their Civic Education lessons and at Human Rights Education optional courses. They also monitor the implementation of their selected right via right based indicators they’ve developed, collecting data from different appropriate sources, compiling all their information and, finally, presenting a report to the relevant duty bearers. Finally, in May, children from all over the country gather in Chisinau for the tournament, informally known as the Olympics in Civic Education and Human Rights Education.
The tournament has two stages, regional and national. There’s no group limit for the regional level, any group from any school can attend. The respective regional education departments choose the best reports, which proceed to the national stage. The groups are divided into two levels: Gimnasyum (12-15 years old) and Lyceum (16-18). Up to 20 teams of each level reach nationals.
A jury made up of members of civil society, representatives of the Ministry of Education and representatives of the Academia then decide the winners based on diverse criteria: the development of the indicators to monitor the rights, the target group affected by the right, the proper identification of national and international law protecting the specific right and the relevant duty bearers involved, and the wording of the recommendations to those duty bearers.
The National Tournament in Human Rights, which ran for the first time in 2013, has helped students around the country solve various problems and improve their school lives. The winner in 2017, an Amnesty group from Sircova, monitored traffic security in front of their schools. They notified the duty bearer, the regional police department, that there was neither a zebra crossing, a traffic light or a sign indicating there was a school nearby. The police, upon receiving the report, proceeded to install the necessary traffic signs.
The winner this year, from the city of Bălți, monitored their right to health and sanitation. The students focused on the quality of food provided in school for the children and also focused on seeing if students were well-informed on healthy eating. Their report showed that 44% of children consumed junk food and didn’t know the risks. They recommended the schools administration to provide the students with more information about a healthy diet, and also to ensure the food offered in the canteen was healthy. In response, the school administration hired a medical assistant to monitor the offered food. Posters on how to eat healthily and the risks of junk food were placed around the school.
Diana Galanton, HRE teacher in Bălți, says that thanks to human rights education, children won’t be “passive learners” but rather “active citizens, who defend their rights and the rights of others”. She adds that the tournament “means participation, which means active students and, ultimately, future human rights defenders”.
Other teachers and students agree on the role the tournament has in their school lives. Student Nicoleta Oloinic considers the tournament “our instrument to make changes, in both our communities and ourselves”. She points out that thanks to this initiative they “manage to change the attitudes of duty bearers towards us”. She also feels changed, “I have acquired communication and research skills, as well as self-confidence”. This is a feeling shared by fellow student Svetlana Busuoic who says she feels “safer in actions because I know what is right and what is not”. Busuoic praises the tournament because thanks to it “we made school administration hear our voices about problems that can be solved”.
Maria Piciriga, also a student, thinks studying human rights helps “shape ourselves and become more confident”. Piciriga describes how learning about human rights helped her take action and come forward to defend a fellow student with mental disabilities when they were being harassed: “I could not ignore it. I organised an information session with students, including the one making jokes, and explained to them about equality in rights”. She says that after the tournament, she “noticed certain changes in our school environment”. Now, she says, “it’s safer for everyone and students are more confident when voicing their thoughts”.
Natalia Cebotari, Human Rights Education teacher, says the tournament “is a possibility for children to get involved in social activities” and adds it allows them to “feel human rights, develop positive, interpersonal relations with different actors like peers from other communities or duty bearers”. Especially, she remarks, the students “learn that in order to produce change, one needs to get involved and take action”.