By Raquel Wexler and Cyriaque Ngoboka
KIGALI, Rwanda, 21 February 2013 – Rwanda’s national parliament was bathed in a sea of blue as more than 400 child delegates – one per administrative sector, 30 presidents of children’s fora at district level, 6 children representing children from refugee camps and 30 children representing children with disabilities – gathered for the 8th annual Children’s Summit in Kigali on 19 January.
|Rwandan children express their views and their role in attaining dignity at the 8th annual Children’s Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. Watch in RealPlayer|
The theme of this year's summit – The role of children in attaining their dignity – focused on preventing drug and alcohol abuse, supporting the right of every child to grow up in a loving family environment and promoting good hygiene and nutrition.
The annual forum was organized by the National Children’s Commission in partnership with the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, with support from UNICEF.
“A major role to play”
Agaciro means ‘dignity’ in Kinyarwanda, and the children chose this term to define how children in Rwanda should develop and prosper. Without dignity, children cannot grow up nourished, healthy, hygienic and happy. Children who live with dignity get the best start in life – they survive, thrive, are healthy and protected and develop to their full potential.
Prime Minister of Rwanda Pierre Damien Habumuremyi addressed more than 700 attendees, as the guest of honour. He implored child representatives to stay actively involved in addressing the issues of the summit in their families and communities, as they all have “a major role to play”. “The country expects a lot from you,” he said. “In the future, when you grow up, you will become leaders that our country will be proud of.”
|© UNICEF Rwanda/2013/Mugabe|
|Children from across Rwanda convened in Kigali for the 8th annual Children’s Summit. The theme was 'The role of children in attaining their dignity'.|
In the run-up to the summit, in August 2012, child representatives between the ages of 7 and 18 were elected in each village, cell, sector and district. Elections were held in more than 30,000 villages, and child committees, including children with disabilities, formed at all levels. Child representatives, with support of national authorities and UNICEF, organized and facilitated sessions throughout Rwanda on the summit themes and formulated recommendations, which were shared at the national event.
The summit kicked off with two days of pre-summit consultations among the children. Through theatre, dance and song, they discussed the theme and sub-themes of the summit in preparation for their day in parliament.
Summit delivers results for children
The children made a number of recommendations to Government, and for their own follow-up. From emphasizing the importance of the national institutionalization programme to committing to support peers who are at risk of dropping out or have dropped out of school, the children set an ambitious agenda for results. They emphasized that Government should support capacity development of children’s fora at the sub-national level. Children also requested that the Government establish a national children’s week to provide a space to discuss, in detail, issues of concern to children and to promote child rights and child participation further.
|© UNICEF Rwanda/2013/Mugabe|
|UNICEF Rwanda Representative Noala Skinner lauded the efforts of the Government of Rwanda to deliver its promises to children.|
Speaking on the outcomes of the summit, Sapiens Abavandimwe, 14, said, “I think it will be good because, when we talked about problems in previous summits with our leaders, they were addressed. For example, the problem of children in orphanages which was discussed in a previous event – now, the number of children in orphanages is beginning to decrease.”
UNICEF Rwanda Representative Noala Skinner lauded the efforts of the Government of Rwanda to deliver on its promises to children. “Dear children, you speak, and Rwanda listens,” she said. “I would like to thank the Government of Rwanda for enabling this unique forum for children to happen and for seeing how the dreams and recommendations expressed by children can become a reality. For, we are dreamers, and we are doers. And this children’s summit has always produced results.”
Speaking of next year’s summit, Prime Minister Habumuremyi said, “Next time, invite children from all across Africa. We shall provide you with funds to host them.”
More than 400 children burst spontaneously into cheers and applause.
Often, children are not able to participate in decisions that affect them, and their voices are not heard. In Rwanda, the Government supports children’s right to participation and inclusion in the nation’s second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS). The first national children’s summit took place in 2004, and each year, hundreds of children from across the country, Ministers, members of parliament and others gather to debate the priority themes and issues that have been selected by the children themselves.