Doing advocacy with a big ‘A’ and a small ‘a’

At the core of the Child Labour Action Research in South and Southern Asia consortium (CLARISSA) is the impetus to find sustainable and lasting ways to end the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL). We know that advocacy must be part of our efforts in reaching this ambition. But how though? Well advocacy with a big ‘A’ and a small ‘a’ are equally important and will be threaded throughout the programme.
We want to do much more than just talk the talk, and we know that advocacy happens in so many ways and spaces. Fundamentally, we do not see our advocacy as separate to the action research and innovation on the ground. They are deeply intertwined and should be informed by each other.

Big ‘A’ advocacy

This programme will call for change in policy at every level. This will not come from one or two dedicated members of staff, but from the supported and embedded experts on the ground – through the advocacy experts in country in Bangladesh and Nepal, our country teams and the children themselves in WFCL. The context is very different between and across countries, and it is important that we represent that.
Based on the findings from the action research and work with the children in WFCL, areas for regional and international advocacy will be identified to strengthen human rights instruments, policy and understanding.
We will also pursue opportunities to engage with international agencies, including the International Labour Organization and UNICEF at country, regional and international levels. We will work closely with our country teams in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal to engage with UN treaty bodies, such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to encourage recommendations are made to the respective governments.
A very important part of that is leveraging and influencing high-level conversations on the global stage. It is fundamental for us to engage the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.
We are early on in our programme – but we intend to be a voice in the dialogue and represent the need for a nuanced conversation around the WFCL is vital to progress. As a starting point, we intend to engage with the Universal Periodic Review of Nepal and Myanmar.

Small ‘a’ advocacy

Coupled with the advocacy work at ‘high-level’ platforms, is the local and national advocacy with children. To be clear, this is not secondary or any less important than the engagement we hope to achieve within the policy and political sphere – and will very likely come into it. The linchpin of this programme is that it is child centred. We cannot seek to shape and influence the lives of children if they are not included. They are at the very heart of our advocacy. They are the experts on their lives. They know best what they need, and what it requires for them to live better, healthier and happier lives.
We will work with children (and especially children’s coalitions) to advocate for children’s rights, views and needs with relevant decision makers at local, regional and/or national level. These will include caregivers, employers, ‘middlemen’, local and national government etc.
Fundamentally, this programme is focused on the empowerment of children. We want to train them to speak up for themselves. To reduce the power discrepancies that exist between them and decision-makers (at all levels), and therefore gaining more control over the decisions in their lives. We will train them in understanding their rights and developing and delivering their own messages to decision makers, whether these are caregivers, employers, or government officials.
To enhance sustainability and increase our reach we will also train organisations in-country to support the children they work with in understanding their rights and amplifying their voice.
There will be a need to conduct advocacy activities with children outside children’s coalitions, as from early scoping exercises we have found that children’s coalitions (e.g. child clubs in Nepal and Children’s Parliament in Bangladesh) are not always inclusive of the most vulnerable/marginalised children engaged in the WFCL. It, therefore, becomes difficult for those coalitions to directly represent the voice/needs of these children. In addition, in Myanmar children’s coalitions do not exist yet. What this work (so the work outside the coalitions) will look like will be developed together with children.
This work will be led by the Consortium for Street Children, together with in-country partners, who are able to reach and facilitate advocacy activities with the most marginalised children that may otherwise be left out.
All this work will also feed into the  advocacy campaigns that we plan to run during the programme. The topics are yet to be determined because we want them to be built on knowledge and experience from the ground and in collaboration with children in WFCL and other actors to push for real and achievable change. ‘No man is an island’, so this programme cannot imagine change will happen with our lone voice.
March 4, 2020
Lizet Vlamings & Vivienne Benson