Sharjah children's parliament offers a lesson in democracy (Al-Shorfa)

Members of the 13th Sharjah Children Shura Councilpose for a photograph at the conclusion of their two-year term in2014. The council’s 14th session is now under way after the electoral processconcluded in February. [Photo courtesy of the Children Centers in Sharjah]

The 14th session of the Sharjah Children Shura Council is under way after participants in the two-year programme completed the electoral process.
The electoral process, which commenced January 22nd, resulted in 70 deputies winning seats, equally divided between boys and girls. A council chairman and two deputies were selected from among the winners on February 21st.
The participants will serve a two-year term on the council, from 2015 to 2016, during which time they will gain a deep knowledge of the democratic process.
The programme operates under the auspices of the Children Centres Department of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Sharjah.
Children Centres Department director Reem Karam said the council’s primary goal is to build a generation that understands the democratic process and knows how to exercise its rights, as guaranteed by the Emirati constitution.
According to Article 15 of the constitution: “The family is the cornerstone of the community. The fundamental principles on which the family is based are religion, ethics and patriotism. The law safeguards the family’s existence and maintains and protects it from corruption.”
Article 16 guarantees the care and rights of children: “The community shall care for children and mothers, and protect minors and others who are unable to look after themselves.”
“We seek through this unique experiment to entrench the exercise of freedom of expression in a sophisticated manner among children on issues that relate to their lives, as well as get them accustomed to talking to officials and holding discussions with them in an appropriate manner,” Karam told Al-Shorfa.
This endeavor will spark interest in children’s issues among civil institutions concerned with childhood, particularly in relation to children’s upbringing, health, security and environment, she said.
It also seeks to instill a sense of responsibility in the children and reinforce principles of behaviour based on respect for the opinions and freedom of others and recognition of their unique personalities, giving priority to public interest.
The UAE has begun to reap positive benefits from the council’s previous sessions, said Amal al-Qubaisi, a former member of the Federal National Council.
This is a result of raising a knowledgeable and educated generation that is mindful of its reality and issues, she said, and is capable of examining and discussing them and contributing to solving them.
“Shura” (consultation) is an Islamic principle and the foundation of the modern civil state that respects the opinions of others and upholds the collective interest even if it conflicts with individual interests, she said.
‘The road to co-existence’
“That is exactly what we want our children who participate in this council to learn, namely the love of country, loyalty and a sense of belonging, while expanding their intellectual capacities [to understand] that no one person alone can monopolise the whole truth or knowledge, for civilisations are built with consultation, dialogue and collaborative efforts among all,” al-Qubaisi said.
“These children will for the foreseeable future constitute a solid base for splendid parliamentary practices that contribute to the development of the country with the capabilities and competencies of its people,” she said.
They also will help to create “a generation that is mindful of debate and dialogue and acceptance of others regardless of their opinions, orientations, or even their ideological or political backgrounds”, she added.
In short, it is the “road to co-existence,” she said.
If children are given the opportunity to express themselves, they do so superbly and put forth ideas that may not occur to adults, said sociologist Rashid al-Badi.
This is particularly the case in relation to childhood issues, problems that stand in their way, and the way they approach technology and peers with special needs, he said.
“This is what we observed in following the discussions and dialogue that take place during the sessions of this mini-parliament, which show the genius of the Emirati child and his mastery of the tools of his era,” he told Al-Shorfa.
Sharjah Children Shura Council participants are selected based on specific criteria, he said, mainly academic standing, communication skills and confidence that enables them to engage in dialogue with officials.
The “children’s parliament” is elected for a two-year term via free elections. The candidates campaign for election, and meet with their peers at children centres. The children then elect their representatives, and ultimately elect a chairman, a first and a second deputy chairman and a secretary.
The previous session of the Sharjah Children Shura Council, dubbed “Country, Loyalty, Belonging”, spanned two years and concluded at the end of last year.