Addis Ababa-All Africans win when children are given a chance to express their views and take action together with adults.
When actively involved in decision-making, children are making positive changes in their schools, families, and communities.
If services and initiatives designed for children better suit their needs, democracies and economies in Africa are also likely to grow stronger and work more effectively.
Despite notable progress, more than half of the African population, comprised of children under 18 years old, remains largely unseen and unheard in public and private life.
According to a recent progress report by the African Union, children’s participation in the world of the adults is “extremely rare”.
A 2007 snap survey in Zambia by Media Monitoring Project revealed that children hardly feature in the news and if they do, only account for 4% of news stories.
Over 60% of that coverage was on child abuse, crime or disasters, while 65% of people quoted on children’s issues were adults.
“We need to be given space to contribute towards national development,” says Jackson Lengwe, Youth Media Editor in Zambia.
“Many adults still believe that children are not mature and are unable to have a reasonable opinion and make good decisions. Others are afraid to lose their power,” stresses Elkane Mooh, one of Save the Children Sweden’s specialists on children’s participation.
“On the contrary, if you really want to protect your children, you should consult them. Who can understand children’s problems better than themselves?
“Most of the time, adults are the ones making the decisions for us. They often think children must obey the rules. But at the end of the day, when it is not working out, they put the blame on children. Actually, they are the ones to be blamed because they haven’t asked our opinions about the rules,” says Musu Bakoto Sawo, 17 year old girl from The Gambia.
Today’s adults can help by making tomorrow’s adults more comfortable in sharing their opinions. To commemorate the 2008 Day of the African Child with the theme “Right to Participation: Let Children be Seen and Heard”, Save the Children Sweden is calling on all adults to listen to children and help them make their ideas become reality.
Allowing children to participate makes sense for many reasons: It is educational in the sense that it teaches civil responsibility, democratic principles and allows children to understand their ability to create change within their societies.
It is cost-effective because it has been proved that policies and activities for children designed by adults, without taking children’s views into account, frequently fail because they are irrelevant, unattractive or even harmful for children.
It builds children’s confidence and self-esteem because children who are given the chance to speak become more confident and, as a result, are more responsible citizens now and in their future adult lives.
It helps to avoid discrimination because children are often much more aware of those among them that are facing discrimination and often have creative ideas on how to tackle complicated issues.
It is their right. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child both underline that children’s participation is a key pillar and right for all children.
A Councilman in Livingstone, Zambia eloquently described the impact of child participation: “When an adult hears the story of a child from another adult, it does not carry weight. But when children speak out about their problems, I feel, as an adult, humiliated. As a Councilman in the Local City Council, I will carry your message to my fellow Councilmen.” Siga Rose Sène, 15 year old girl from Senegal explained the importance of child participation within the family.
“At home, my mother discusses with us before doing anything for us. But I’m sorry to hear some of my friends saying that they are afraid of their parents. Some parents think that children do not know anything. If a child has a problem, saying it will allow the parents to understand and help.”
All over Africa; children have found many creative ways to get their message across on the Day of the African Child. From Banjul to Nairobi and Pretoria, a great number of activities will take place on June 16th with thousands of children mobilised by Save the Children Sweden’s partners, the national NGOs making child participation a reality.
In Kenya children will be presenting papers to the current government on post-election violence and how it affected children.
In Ethiopia, children will be marching in the streets.
In Togo, toy weapons will be symbolically destroyed by children and soldiers to protest against violence.
In Côte d’Ivoire, child parliamentarians will submit to adult legislators projects of bills on forced migration and birth certification.
In The Gambia, drama on children’s participation will be performed by children before politicians and policy makers.
In Senegal, children and local artists will work on mural paintings in urban poor areas to remind adults on the importance to send girls to school.
In Zambia, where the day is being commemorated under the theme of child labour, children will march and present papers to the local leadership.
Apart from the national event which will be graced by the national leadership, there will be a number of activities in different provinces in South Africa where children will perform drama and recite poems.
We have seen in many African countries that by empowering children, we are supporting change to happen. When given the chance, children are changing their families, communities and countries for the better.