On 3 February 2010, the Commissioner had a very interesting meeting with Chris Varney, the 2009 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations.
Chris is currently touring the country to report back to children and young people on what was achieved during his year in the position, and met with the Commissioner to provide an overview of how the role works and to highlight some of the priorities for the future regarding children’s rights.
The Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations (UN) is responsible for ensuring the voices of Australian young people are heard on both a domestic and international level. The position was created in 1999, when the United Nations Youth Association of Australia (UNYA) presented a proposal detailing the need for a Youth Representative to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Chris is well qualified for the Youth Representative role having formerly been National Co-Director of Vision Generation Australia (VGen), World Vision’s youth movement. In this role, he was an ambassador for VGen’s vision and youth spokesperson for World Vision. He has a deep passion for campaigning for global justice and increasing youth participation in decision-making processes.
Chris’s role included a National Youth Engagement Tour of all states and territories to hear young people’s opinions for his work at the UN General Assembly in New York. During his time in New York, he presented on a variety of issues, including climate change, poverty, youth detention and early childhood and related these to his experiences speaking to children and young people in Australia.
For example, in his statement on early childhood, Chris reflects on his contrasting encounters with children at Chapel Hill Primary School and a boy (Matthew) at a youth detention centre in Adelaide who had experienced a childhood with his family of violence, abuse, drugs and alcohol. He had left school at 14 only to live on the streets.
“When I think of meeting Matthew next to the energy of the children at Chapel Hill Primary, I wish I had a magic wand and could go back in time and provide for Matthew the early childhood that I saw these primary students in Chapel Hill experiencing – theirs was a learning environment that was giving them the best possible start and the best possible chance to become all that they are capable of.”
For further access to Chris’s other work, you can email him directly at email@example.com. Additionally, Chris’s Statement to the UN on Social Development: Youth – which highlights stories from young people in Australia reflecting on climate change and youth leadership – can be accessed through the following link: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/ga64.htm
Chris is now ‘reporting back’ to young people across Australia, meeting with as many groups as possible to share:
He is keen to promote the message sent personally from UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to young Australians – to take up the ‘mantle of global citizenship’ and to get involved in their communities by speaking out about their concerns and aspirations.
During the meeting with the Commissioner, Chris detailed the work he has engaged in as Youth Representative, including the Dear Kevin project which continues to run and is a collection of stories, reflections, comments, recommendations, artwork, articles and concerns from young people (12-25 years) right across Australia. It will be given to Kevin Rudd and the Australian Government at the end of Chris's Youth Engagement Tour (April/May) as a report on young people's perspectives during the consultation.
Also, as part of the work he conducted in New York, Chris was able to provide a paper ‘Resolution adopted by the General Assembly’ (the Resolution) regarding the rights of the child. Of particular note is the promotion of children and young people’s meaningful participation, including the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them. The Resolution also acknowledges that these rights also require adults to adopt an appropriate child-centred attitude, listening to children and respecting their rights and individual points of view.
The Commissioner was delighted to meet with Chris and was impressed by the commitment he had shown in sharing the thoughts of children and young people in Australia during his time as the Youth Representative.
The application for the role of Australian Youth Representative to the UN is a rigorous process. Further information on the role can be found at http://www.unya.org.au/youthrep/