Rwanda

Rwandan children speak out to power at the Second Children’s Summit

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© UNICEF video
Children and adults exchange ideas at the Second Children’s Summit in Rwanda.

By Sarah Crowe

KIGALI, Rwanda, 20 January 2006 – At an expensive hotel in the capital city, delegates filed in importantly, carrying their official documents, took their seats in front of the microphones, put on their headphones and the Summit began.
 
Few of the delegates at Rwanda’s Second Children’s Summit were under the age of 18, but their aim was noble – to give children actual power in parliament.

The young people who were present called on those currently in power to account for their actions and shortcomings since the First Children’s Summit in 2004. At the initial Summit, the government made a public apology to children for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, during which nearly one million people were massacred, including close to 400,000 children. The genocide left the country with the highest number of orphans in the world.

“Adults have let us down. They’re the ones who were responsible for these terrible things that happened in our country, for dividing us, for our nightmares,” said 17-year-old delegate Erick Kanyemera. He was only six when he witnessed the massacre of his parents in April 1994. Today he is one of an estimated 100,000 children who now head households in Rwanda.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Children’s Summit delegate Erick Kanyemera, aged 17, is an orphan of the 1994 genocide.

He struggles to talk about what happened in 1994. “That nightmare is still with us. We, the children, were the victims of genocide. The adults have left that legacy of a genocide. This is why it is so important that the government reconciles with us as children. They must listen to us now,” he explains.

In this deeply wounded society where children are taught not to speak in front of adults, children have found new confidence since the First Children’s Summit of 2004.

“Politicians are amazed that children are willing and able to monitor the achievements since 2004,” said Bintou Keita, UNICEF’s Representative in Rwanda.

“If, in Africa we want children to participate in the building of their nations, they have, at some point, to start being taught how to become responsible, educated citizens,” she said.

“This is sending out a message of good governance because democracy starts with kids. If you are able to educate kids from the earliest stage on how to deal with conflict, how to be tolerant, and how to have an environment where there is peace, unity and reconciliation. Nobody is saying that it will be easy but it has to start with them and governments everywhere have to consider that time spent with children is not a waste of time. It’s an investment,” said Ms Keita.

There have been some significant gains made since the First Children’s Summit of 2004 . Free primary education has been established, education funds have been set up to support the most vulnerable children and laws to protect children are being put in place.

At this Summit, the politicians mostly did what politicians do – talk. But they also started to listen too.  At the end of the Summit on Thursday 19 January it was announced that the government had agreed to the children’s demands to set up an independent national commission by the end of 2006. This will begin to give children an independent voice so that their needs will be heard at the national level. 

The ultimate aim of the Children’s Summit in Rwanda is not only to establish a children’s parliament but to have it integrated into the official national parliament.


 

 

Video

20 January 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports from Kigali on how young Rwandans are making their voices heard at the Second Children’s Summit. This story was filmed and produced by David McKenzie.

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Audio

20 January 2006:
Ms. Bintou Keita, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda, talks about the importance of youth voices in the government in Rwanda, as children are the future leaders.

20 January 2006:
Erick, 17, an orphan of the genocide and a delegate to the Children's Summit, explains why its important for the young people of Rwanda to reconcile.

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