This week at Unicef UK we launched U-Report, a global messaging platform that allows young people to speak out on issues that matter to them. First launched by Unicef Uganda in 2011, there are now over two million young people using U-Report in 22 countries around the world. By joining this global community, we hope to give young people in the UK a voice, to increase their engagement in society and, hopefully, bring about positive change.
Globally, U-Report has already shown it can be a valuable tool to empower children and young people. In Liberia, for example, it helped to expose a "Sex for Grades" scandal. Working in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Gender, Unicef used U-Report to highlight the issue of teachers in Liberia exploiting children by awarding grades or pass marks in return for sex. 13,000 young people responded to the U-Report poll asking them about this issue, with 86 per cent saying they believed this was a problem in their school.
As soon as the results of this poll were known, Unicef met with the Minister of Education and an action plan was implemented to respond to the findings, address the problem and take action to make sure that young people were safe. In addition, all the U-Reporters who participated in the poll were provided with information on how to report abuse and where to receive support.
So why is U-Report needed in the UK?
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which underpins all of Unicef's work, is universal. It protects and promotes the rights of all children, whether they live in Liverpool or Lagos. Unicef in the UK has the same duty to ensure that children can survive and thrive, as do our offices around the world.
A key part of this is a child's right to participate, express their opinions and be heard. In the UK, young people's participation in political and social dialogue is low. Our focus groups in the lead up to launching U-Report UK showed that young people don't feel they are listened to. U-Report has a real opportunity to help children and young people realise their rights, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised children, giving them a chance to speak out and hold authorities to account. Now more than ever it is important that we give young people a platform to have their views heard and make sure they are taken into account in decisions affecting them.
The pilot - which is run with the help of a youth steering group - will test how U-Report can be of greatest benefit to children in the UK. We hope to engage thousands of young people in this test period, giving them an opportunity to try out U-Report and feedback on their experiences.
We hope to work with local authorities to give young people the chance to have their say on policies and services in their local areas. We also want to give youth campaigners the opportunity to set their own questions and gather information to guide and support their own campaigning. From adding their voices to campaigns to help children in danger, or commenting on issues such as the impact of climate change on children, the possible issues U-Report can enable young people to speak out on are endless.
We're really excited about U-Report's potential in the UK to give young people an easy and anonymous way of voicing their opinions.
As we build and develop U-Report, young people will be at the heart of what we do, but we are also interested in collaborating with other organisations who work with and for young people and children. So please get in touch, we want to hear from you!
Find out more about U-Report in the UK - http://uk.ureport.in/