The final session of the Children and Youth Assembly in Thailand was nearing its end and discussions on whether a clause should be added to the National Child and Youth Development Act BE 2560 (2017) that would allow for government officials to be punished should they fail to take action had reached an impasse. Not wanting to devote any more time to this subject, the host of the workshop announced that the proposals would be summarised then sent to each member to study and cast their vote.
Frustrated at not receiving voluntary cooperation from some government officials in the field, the Children and Youth Council of Thailand (CYCT) had raised the idea of punishment as a way to encourage such officials to fully cooperate with them when they sought help. But while some participants felt that a punishment clause would be appropriate, others disagreed, pointing out that it could discourage the officials from taking any action and that in fact the law already allowed for sanctions if officials failed to do their duty.
This final session, held on September 13, brought to a conclusion a three-day workshop that had gathered together and presented all the problems and challenges faced by the council in the past year. The proposals and demands for change that would improve the lives of children and young people were then put to the representatives of government agencies and non-profit organisations attending the meeting.
Suphaphit started to voluntarily work for the council in 2011. She was elected as the council’s vice president in 2018 and became the first female president in 2019.
Suphahit led the council members from around the country in pointing out the problems to the workshop’s participants and proposed solutions and suggestions to improve the work. Everything at the assembly was meticulously arranged. The round table at which all participants sat ensured everyone was on the same level, implying equality, regardless of their age, gender or position.
One of the priorities in which the council members had agreed was education reform, as they found the current school curriculum irrelevant and too impractical to be adopted or adapted to daily life.
Suphaphit recalled her own experience at school. She went from an opportunity-expansion school at the primary level in a small district of Ranong where just one teacher taught all the classes, to a secondary school for gifted students in the province where all the subjects were taught in English. She then enrolled at a university in Bangkok but had no idea how to manage her life or finances without her family.
“Despite my supportive family, I’d never been taught anything practical for daily life in school,” said Suphaphit. Like countless children whose parents didn’t receive much education, her hard-working parents were always supportive but couldn’t understand the education system or the modern job market.
But times change as do people and the role of a teacher needs to evolve too, moving away from the perception of being a second parent to adopting the idea of becoming a mentor. Children don’t want to discuss certain issues like relationships or friendships or even, in her case, further studies, with their parents.
Supatcha Suttipol, director-general of Department of Children and Youth of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, who was also at the assembly said the department would take all the demands into consideration.
She recalled a situation in 2005 when the ministry tried to solve the street racing problem by providing a proper track for the young racers to do away with the nuisance factor and prevent road accidents.
Supatcha felt the solution revealed that the ministry was trying to understand the teenagers but admits she was stunned when the adolescent street racers hit back, saying: “Why didn’t you ask us if we could join the races if they were held during the day when we have to be at school?”
The director-general realised that the conventional top-down policy would no longer work. Officials and the older generation had to listen to the children and find out how they wanted problems to be solved.
Suphaphit likened the demands for change to the different preferences of generations, noting that while parents may like a traditional-style house, the children may prefer a more modern abode that fits their lifestyle.
The strategies calling for a change from the younger generation can be made both on the street and through the system, she added.
To have a house in which people of different generations can live in harmony, Suphaphit compared the council to an architect who re-designs an old house that could fit both the parents and children while the protesters are the family members who are demanding that the house be immediately renovated.
The young woman, who completed her term as a president at the end of September has now established the Association for Social Development and Sustainability with friends who used to work for the council. A goal of the recently established association is to support the council both strategically and financially. The Social Administration graduate from Thammasat University is waiting to apply for a master’s degree course at the same faculty next academic year.