By Bismarck Swangin
JUBA, South Sudan, 20 JUNE 2012 – Children in South Sudan marked the Day of the African Child, which took place June 16, by commemorating the theme ’The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill’, which calls for more support for children living with disabilities.
The need for child protection is growing more evident in South Sudan, where child abductions, violence, malnutrition, disease and illiteracy continue to take a toll on communities. And children with disabilities are especially vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
|© UNICEF Video|
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Shalin Popat reports on celebrations surrounding the Day of the African Child in South Sudan. Watch in RealPlayer|
Advocating for their rights
Mary Charles, a visually impaired girl, has experienced first-hand the discrimination confronting children with disabilities in South Sudan.
“Sometimes they will take me to the school and leave me there for a long time. Sometimes they will not take me to school for a month. And my message is going to my parents that even a blind child has rights. They should put us in school so that we can learn like other children," Mary said.
Speaking during an event attended by children, parents and senior officials of the government, Deputy Representative of UNICEF South Sudan Pelucy Ntambirweki called for concerted efforts to alleviate the situation of children in South Sudan.
“The focus on children with disabilities gives a further reminder to us of the responsibility to focus on the unique needs of each child,” said Mrs. Ntambirweki.
Nathan Wojia Pitia, Director General for Social Welfare in the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, emphasised the role of government and partners in increasing opportunities for children with disabilities. “Why is there discrimination and very few opportunities for children with disabilities? We need to ensure that every child needs to be supported and cared [for],” he said.
Youth leaders spread the message
Radio Miraya (FM and Shortwave), a UN Radio programme run through a partnership between the UN and Foundation Hirondelle, arranged to have 15 children present their programmes on the Day of the African Child. The event was organized through a UNICEF partnership with Right to Play, Handicap International and the Organization for Vulnerable Children.
Throughout the programmes, which included listeners calling in, the children urged families, communities and the government at all levels to provide equal opportunities to all children despite their physical or mental state.
|© UNICEF Video|
|Children in South Sudan promote the rights of children with disabilities during this year's Day of the African Child.|
Speaking with UNICEF Representative in South Sudan Dr. Yasmin Haque, the children said they often help their peers with disabilities, assisting them as they cross roads, get into public transport cars and access the toilets in their school.
Dr. Haque said the radio programme was one crucial platform for ensuring that the children’s message gets across.
"For South Sudan, it is particularly important that we make sure that children are able to use this forum [radio] to put forward the issues they face and for us to then hold the various stakeholders accountable in meeting those challenges. So it has to continue and ensure that all the different facets of a child’s life are addressed."
The 2008 Southern Sudan Child Act and the Convention on the Rights of the Child call upon everybody to respect and promote all rights for all children. By advocating for the protection of children’s rights and by helping children meet their basic needs and expand their opportunities, UNICEF works towards realizing these rights for every child.