Governments and adults should be partners of children for change not enemies.
By Christophe Ndikubwimana & Annet Birungi
Kigali, Rwanda 12 December 2016 - As the week started so did the 1st child learning event themed “Child participation influencing quality programming” led by Mepani Bharti, Global Child Participation Advisor, SCI-UK and co-facilitated by Save the Children Rwanda Child Participation team. Together they guided and facilitated children participants, subsequently applied these skills amongst themselves and raised many questions on how different countries support and promote child rights, as noted by Angie Pada Estopinan from Colombia.
One is, the issue of early marriages practiced in many countries like Zimbabwe (at 31%) where girl children are married off at the age of 12. The second issue is on Humanitarian Response & Europe: Refugees & Child Trafficking, and how children can promote peace around the world to prevent killing of children from time to time.
The 3 day child learning event took place in the beautiful Aberdeen House Hotel in the hill overlooking Kigali City and the surrounding Districts. Its location and the atmosphere led Michael, from Guatemala to compare how difficult it is to climb a hill to the challenge of ensuring children’s rights worldwide.
Junita, 14 year-old, from Nepal reflected upon the challenges inherent in trying to realize child rights to participate after hearing stories of early child marriage and how children are being killed in war zones. “These are the saddest stories I have ever heard. But yet it made her question: Is being brave sufficient to provoke change? Why do children need courage in approaching authorities/adults?” She added it is a truth universally acknowledged, that adults and children should be PARTNERS for change. “Governments shouldn’t be our enemies. We shouldn’t struggle for our rights; we should receive them naturally all across the world!”
After a participatory discussion and brainstorming session, the children developed a list of recommendations, such as education, health, diversity, hygiene, protection and security. Linking these recommendations to thoughts of their own hopes and aspirations. The event concluded successfully with a large variety of children thoughts, showing marked improvement in the children’s understanding of issues affecting them globally and understanding of children’s rights.
“Being at the children learning event enabled me to better understand the concept of child participation as they saw it being realised and lived out at the workshop,” Diana Gabriel Hernandez from a chaperon Hondrus saw the power of children to lead successful initiatives.
“How many times do we as child protection workers, parents, teachers and most adults think that we need to help the children in advocating for their issues, and in the long run we leave them behind because we would like to dialogue with the ‘big officials’ in a formal way? I realized the need to engage children around taking their issues forward; they can cause very positive impact in the presence of those with ‘power’ if given the opportunity to think on their own platform. How can we then facilitate that power and zeal from the children, because they already have it”, she added.
Patrick Byiringiro (12 years), one of the childrenparticipant from Rwanda, thanked SCI for the opportunity to express themselves creatively and for teaching them more about their responsibilities. He added, “I learnt all children have rights, such as a right to a good education. But with rights comes responsibilities, which we also need to follow."
SCI is already working to improve the availability of essential services to facilitate children participation, building the skills of those who work with these children and their parents. This is because critically, participation helps children to develop the skills they need to become active citizens able to contribute positively to the societies they live in.
“The right of children to participate is indisputable. Children’s voices should be heard anywhere where their development, safety and well-being are at stake. It is their fundamental right”, said Philippe Adapoe, Country Director, SCI Rwanda. He noted that such children learning events deliver significant benefits. “Only through listening to children can the best decisions be made, improving outcomes for both children and adults”.
Whilst there are undeniably pockets of good ‘participatory’ practice, there is much more to be done to mainstream children’s participation to ensure that all children are able to realise their right to be heard and taken seriously. “Rwanda has emerged as an inspiring leader in advancing child participation. The Government has put words into action through investment in concrete programmes, such as the annual National Children Summit, grassroots children forums and clubs”, stated Philippe Adapoe. Children participants accompanied by chaperons came from Colombia, Guatemala, Nepal, Uganda, Tanzania, Hondrus and Rwanda (host).