Are children allowed to protest?

Children are often perceived as our precious jewels of our future. Too precious that we shield them away from the realities of life. 

Realities as in what is really happening in the world of adult life. The controversies, the politics and the problems that adults might have caused that might destroy their future.

Perhaps, adults feel that children are too young to understand what is happening in the world of adults. Or perhaps that they are innocent and that they see the root cause of the problems too easily. 

When children appear and participate in protest, certain groups will criticise that these people are misusing children in activism. That happened last week when a MBPP councillor criticised NGOs for getting children to participate in the advocacy against climate change.

That brings up the question, are children allowed to protest? If yes, what is considered a right cause for children to participate in activism? If environment and climate change is about the future of the kids, aren’t they allowed to protest?

Which is right for kids to protest, and which is not?

I grew up in an environment where I was taught to study well in school, make a good career and have a great family. I believe most of my generation grew up that way as well.

Not to say that the environment that I grew up in is incorrect or bad, but I believe it is lacking the lessons about society and community.

Doing well in our education is mostly about ourselves, but lessons on society are about the community as a whole. It is not only caring and developing ourselves, but the world that we live in.

Looking thoroughly, does our education system prepare ourselves to be adults? Malaysia is now debating and preparing the reduction of voting age to 18 years old. We might be prepared technically, afterall, it is just amending the voter list to more voters. But are the 18 year olds prepared in terms of understanding of the governance and political system.

It is of utmost importance when we are dealing with the problems of environment and climate change. Aren’t we supposed to have the mentality whereby the earlier a child understands about it, the easier we can prevent actions that destructs the environment. 

Imagine, everything that a child would love to have, from toys to drinks to gadgets, things that they use might heavily affect the environment. Single-use plastics in foods and beverages, toys that were made using unsustainable products, simple actions that might pollute the environment. If the children understand the cause of the destruction of our earth, it would be easier for them to cultivate habits that prevent it. 

We just look at the many children of the world who are well-informed. They can be nurtured and taught to be great leaders of the future.

Greta Thunberg, at age 15, began protesting outside the Swedish parliament about the need for immediate action to combat climate change. 

Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, spoke about the urgency of immediate action against climate change at the United Nations General Assembly at age 15. He said, “What’s at stake right now is the existence of my generation.”

At 11 years old, Mari Copeny is helping kids to embrace their power through equal opportunity. She said, “I’m 11. My generation will fix this mess of a government. Watch us.”

Teenager Sonita Alizadeh is an Afghan activist who has been vocal against forced and child marriages.

Melati and Isabel Wijsen have been campaigning against the usage of single-use plastics at the age of 10 and 12 respectively. 

Many other children and teenagers like Jamie Margolin, Shawn DeAngelo, Asean Johnson, Katie Eder and a lot more have played an important role in the respective activism towards the betterment of our world.

These kids have put many adults to shame. Simply said, they are merely speaking for what they know, and what they love.

If we look into adults, many don’t even understand what they have fought for, or they don’t even bother to know.

Returning to the MBPP councillor that has criticised the actions of children participating in the protest, she must not forget the current government leaders are the ones that were part of the Bersih protest who brought kids along.

They were also the ones who had kids in programmes that promoted the Penang Transport Master Plan.

Instead of speaking against children, they should teach kids to walk their talk. And be fair towards their words.

As a matter of fact, kids already have access to the many issues of the world through the powers of the internet and social media. According to research, kids have been spending more than four hours a day looking at screens. We have already lost the ability to keep anything away from them. Worst is, the internet is flooded with negativity and fake information. Instead of shielding it away from them, we educate them the truth.

Keeping activism out of children’s reach does not protect them. It shortchanges them, by under preparing them for life.

If we want our children to grow up to be thoughtful and engaged citizens, we should help them be part of social change now.