This morning, Wednesday 3 July 2019, Zhicheng’s Global Seminar on Child Protection opened with a speaker-led discussion by Wenjuan Zhang. Mrs Zhang’s experience is as diverse as it is multinational, previously working as a Senior Research Fellow at Beijing’s Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center, and is currently an Associate Professor at Jindal Global Law School and Executive Director at the Center for India-China Studies, O.P. Jindal Global University. Her discussion began with the need to cultivate multinational thinking and collaboration, particularly between developing nations rather than adopting Western models of law and policy. This is important for creating innovative approaches that accomodate country-specific social justice issues. Her predominate focus, though, centred on the idea of comprehensive partnerships for greater social impact and improving current institutions. These are absolutely necessary for achieving NGO aims: whereas factionalisation in and amongst institutions is counterproductive, collaboration between institutions at different levels and inclusion of the government in this process lends to outcome satisfaction. Essentially, her message was clear: multi-stakeholder partnership is imperative for overcoming challenges faced by NGOs worldwide and will lead to increased accountability, resource allocation, knowledge accumulation and social impact overall.
In the second half of the morning session, Mr Vu Ngoc Binh from Vietnam led a discussion on solutions to common problems experienced by NGOs globally, using Vietnam to illuminate these common struggles. His experience with the Institute for Population, Family and Children Studies (IPFCS) complimented Mrs Zhang’s message vis-à-vis the necessity to foster relationships with multiple state and non-state stakeholders, regardless of internal government model and political structures. For example, in the Vietnamese context the lack of separation of powers in government is not a hindrance to modernising the economy while at the same time respecting children’s rights. In fact, Vietnam has joined the World Trade Organisation whilst the government simulataneously respected the Covenant on the Rights of the Child throughout this process, particularly regarding child labour laws. Another example is the inclusion of children in governmental legislative processes: annual celebrations for children, Children’s rights forums where children are given a platform to voice their concerns directly to government ministers.
The seminar participants then contributed their own country-specific experiences. There was a general concern regarding the rise of anti-NGO sentiments propelled by social media and misinformation campaigns. Particularly of note was Ms Maria Brestnichka of Bulgaria’s comments relating to the rise of well-organised parent’s rights movements against children’s rights in the European context, which have risen in the wake of right-wing populism. These groups are essentially fearful of what happens to children when an NGO become involved in their child’s affairs and own parenting. Misinformation about dishonest NGO objectives spreads and in turn deters governments away from legislating further on children’s rights. The imperative, then, is for NGOs to strike a balance between appeasing parental concerns and advocating for children’s rights so that the government will not backtrack on commitments in this area. Burundi’s Nshimirimana Jacques supported this sentiment, identifying the trend of parents rising up to disseminate anti-NGO messages who are disgruntled by the fact that children are realising their rights and challenging their parents’ authority in the home space. Essentially NGOs face a new challenge: organised voices rising up against NGO agendas, requiring that NGOs engage with one another under one banner and include parents in the process of their missions.
The afternoon session commenced with Mr Tong facilitating introductions between the participants and the visiting Director of the Ford Foundation Elizabeth Knupp and Duan Jun from the National People’s Organisation. The Ford Foundation’s work centres on equitable and sustainable community development in China and internationally. Their projects have focussed on domestic social and economic development in China since the 1980s, but recently have shifted focus to tracking china’s engagement internationally and the impact of its rise as an economic and political power. The National People’s Organisation promotes cooperation amongst organisations from various countries and is an active proponent of several UN programs, notably the UN’s ‘Every Woman and Every Child’ which has inspired a domestic Chinese program of the same nature.
The overall topic of the afternoon session was the importance of fostering a multinational network comprised of developing countries. Mr Tong opened with the importance of sharing experiences from the Global South with the ultimate goal of empowering small NGOs to “grow up” alongside the current strength of international NGOs. Mrs Knupp further articulated this point of bolstering the strength of the Global South in owning its own development rather than solely relying on perspectives imposed by the Global North. Similarly Duan Jun underscored the need to combine resources and experiences of all developing countries via an international collaborative platform to combat similar challenges and issues, particularly in the area of women’s and children’s rights.