|© UNICEF video|
|Delegates to Malawi's Youth Parliament fill out ballots; the group met for the seventh time to discuss issues affecting the country's children.|
By Guy Hubbard
LILONGWE, Malawi, 16 June 2008 – Arguments and debates echoed through the vast red brick hall here last week. Parliament was in session.
Malawi’s Youth Parliament met for the seventh time in the capital, Lilongwe, from 12 to 14 June. Held annually since 2001, the gathering coincided with the run-up to the Day of the African Child, 16 June.
The theme this year’s Day of the African Child is particularly apt: giving youth a voice. In marking the day, UNICEF is drawing attention to the importance of child participation in schools, community action, media and governance.
Health, education and AIDS
“It’s like a voice to every child in Malawi,” said Youth Parliamentarian Wepi Mzoa. “The children in Malawi are able to express themselves through the parliamentarians…. They help to come up with resolutions in every kind of abuse they face.”
The youth delegates debated issues of health and education, with an emphasis on the ever-growing threat of HIV/AIDS and related orphanhood.
Malawi has made recent gains in combating AIDS, and infection rates are down. Still, the country has struggled to care for the growing number of children who have lost one or both parents to the disease.
|© UNICEF video|
|Mothers in Malawi bring their young children to a nutrition centre to have them weighed and measured. The country expects to hit hard by the global food crisis.|
Volunteers work with orphans
At a UNICEF-supported centre outside Lilongwe, community members volunteer their time to look after children under five; almost half of these children are orphans. While many now live with extended families or older siblings, it is here that they get to be children again.
“These orphans are from our community. If we don’t come in and help them, who’s going to do that?” asked volunteer caregiver Alitina Chimbewa. “
Some of them have been traumatized by their experiences, but when they come here, after attending the centre for a month or so, you can actually see the change in them,” she added. “They can play better, they can talk better, but most importantly, they can smile. That’s the most important thing to me about this centre.”
Dealing with malnutrition
Also high on the Youth Parliament’s agenda was the international food crisis.
Malawi, still reeling from a nutrition crisis in 2005, is expected to be hard-hit. Most rural clinics deal with malnutrition on a daily basis. Mothers arrive with sick babies, their stomachs bloated, and their hair yellowing – sure signs of being severely undernourished. The babies are weighed and measured, and mothers are given desperately needed therapeutic food.
Back in Lilongwe last week, aspiring politicians debated these and other issues, resolutions were made and a detailed report compiled for presentation to the country’s main Parliament.
As the world celebrates the Day of the African Child, Malwi’s youth are ensuring that their voices are heard.