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What Rights Are Most Important to You?

Over the past few weeks, you've seen some ways in which kids in Zimbabwe are handling the problems they face: poverty, the AIDS/ HIV crisis, physical and sexual abuse, drug use, and the plain old everyday difficulties that everyone, everywhere deals with growing up.

There are a lot of problems, to be sure. According to the United Nations, 1 in 4 people in developing countries live in poverty (you saw Abeja's tragic dispatch about Harare's street kids -- kids that must beg to survive). You've seen some of the statistics, too: that, by the year 2000, there will be more than 13 million children in sub-Saharan Africa orphaned because of AIDS. The numbers don't lie -- this is serious business.

But you've also learned that Zimbabwean young people are doing something about it, asserting their rights and empowering themselves in the process. Kavitha reported on the Matabeleland AIDS Council's Masiye program, which helps children orphaned by the deadly disease. And both Kevin and Abeja told you about the Girl Child Network, an organization made up of teenage girls learning to help themselves and each other in times of need.

But what can you do? What are the issues that most affect your life, or the lives of your friends? You can make your voice heard by voting in the United Nation's referendum on children's rights. In 1989, the UN introduced its Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which quickly became "the most widely ratified international treaty in history. It guarantees children's and young people's civil and political rights as well as their economic, social and cultural rights."

A lot has happened in the ten years since the treaty was signed. More than 180 countries have signed the Convention, "but children around the world still die from diseases that can easily be treated or immunized against, still have to work long hours instead of going to school or playing, still are recruited into armies as soldiers, still are discriminated against because of their gender, race or ethnic background, still are neglected, abused, and exposed to violence and harmful drugs." (text from UNICEF's Voices of Youth).

What are the most important issues in your community? Depending on where you live, these issues may be very different. Is it the right to express yourself, or the right to protection from discrimination, or the right to basic health care?

Young people from all over the world, from Mexico to Germany to Indonesia, are participating. The results of the referendum will be forwarded to UNICEF, and will be used by governments trying to make life a little better for kids everywhere.

So make your voice heard, and vote today!

Kevin - The Bumpy Road from Training to Freedom
Kavitha - Homeless Youth - From the Cold Streets to Caring Arms
Monica - The DP Foundation: Two Ladies who Make a Difference
Abeja - Rural Traditions and European Legacies
Monica - From Harare to Harvard: A Zimbabwean Student Comes to the United States

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