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Minister reflects on Child in the City 2023 – ‘children’s rights are not self-evident’


‘We must continue to invest massively in education and youth care and fight harder than ever against child poverty’.

Those were the powerful words from Ans Persoons, Brussels State Secretary for Urbanism and Youth, as she delivered the closing statement for our our 2023 Child in the City World Conference. Her office reflects here on a successful three days:

From November 20 to 22, the World Conference Child in The City took place at the Museum of Fine Arts at the invitation of the Flemish Community Commission (FCC) and the Brussels Region. For three days, 300 policymakers, urban planning and children’s experts from 35 different countries shared their research and practical experiences to make cities more child-friendly.

‘The Child in The City foundation aims to empower children and young people in cities and develop child-friendly environments. The foundation also wants to promote children’s rights and integrate them into local urban planning. Every two years, Child in The City organises an international conference of the same name. Policymakers, academics, urban planners, youth workers and other professionals bridge the gap between research and practical experience on the position of children in the city. The FCC and the Brussels Region brought Child in The City to Brussels this year to promote the capital as a child- and youth-friendly city.

Keynotes, panel discussions and site visits

The conference programme consisted of keynotes, panel discussions and site visits with ‘Building the future’ as the central theme. These included a keynote by Fatima Zibouh (below), political scientist and co-coordinator of Brussels 2030.

She emphasised that participation of children and young people in policy can only be successful if the form of participation is well thought out and if the group of participants is sufficiently representative of society.

Bruno Vanobbergen (below), former children’s rights commissioner and current administrator-general of the Flemish agency Opgroeien, also gave a keynote.

“Child in The City is incredibly relevant and interesting because inspiring practices and conceptual frameworks about how cities can better respond to the needs of young people come together here. One such good practice from our own country are the OverKophuizen that are currently emerging in quite a few cities, in which city councils often take a directing role themselves.
“The OverKophuizen are places where young people can go for all kinds of leisure activities, but also for psychological care and support. Being able to share such a practice with international policymakers and child experts is very valuable,” Bruno Vanobbergen reflected with satisfaction.

Through site visits (below), the international guests were then able to literally discover the Brussels initiatives for children and young people in practice. William Febiri, project coordinator of Cultureghem asbl, organised a visit to the Abattoir. Cultureghem uses the 10,000-square-metre covered market hall as a cocreative space and sets up Brussels’ largest playground there every Wednesday.

“Such visits from international guests and their many questions and compliments constantly remind us how important our role as youth workers in an urban context is, how we as youth workers can really make a positive contribution to the development of children and young people”, said William Febiri.

Sven Gatz, Brussels minister and FCC Commissioner for Education and School Construction, is also pleased that the Brussels authorities themselves were able to share their best practices around youth and education policy.

“Thanks to Child in The City, participants were able to learn about our projects that encourage schools to transform bare, concrete playgrounds into fun and stimulating play and learning spaces. Playgrounds thus become child-friendly, creative environments where children shape their own playtime. Child in The City also gave the Brussels Education Centre the opportunity to promote its operation and expertise to a broad international field of activity, which can only be welcomed,” Sven Gatz explained

Elke Van den Brandt, Brussels minister and president of the FCC College, pointed out the importance of child and youth participation in policy, a key topic during the conference.

“This conference made clear with a range of examples and experts who are our most important inhabitants. When children and young people help shape the city, things look particularly good for Brussels. That’s something I definitely remember from Child in The city and from which I saw a whole lot of inspiration, including from Brussels: we need to give children and young people as much control over their lives, their future, their city as possible,” Elke Van den Brandt said.

The conference also featured many children and young people themselves. The keynotes and panel discussions were moderated by youth workers from Jes asbl and Brussels youth centres. There was also a performance by the Brussels youth percussion group Fanfakids and Brussels children expressed their dreams for the city in various videos.

‘Children’s rights not self-evident’

The conference ended Wednesday afternoon with a closing session. In it, Ans Persoons, Brussels State Secretary for Urban Planning and International Relations and FCC member for Youth, made it clear that children’s rights cannot be taken for granted.

“Children’s rights are violated all over the world, in war zones, but unfortunately also in Brussels. That is why we must continue to invest massively in education and youth care and fight harder than ever against child poverty. Because equal opportunities start with a decent roof over one’s head,” Ans Persoons concluded.

Click here for more information about Ans Persoons and the work of her department.

Click here to look back at our coverage of Child in the City World Conference 2023.

Author: Guest author

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