|© UNICEF Swaziland/2010|
|Nontokozo Mtsetfwa (standing),17, was elected 'Prime Minister' at Swaziland’s inaugural Children’s Parliament.|
By Sibongiseni Mamba
MBABANE, Swaziland, 25 March, 2010 – Earlier this month, 65 Swazi children traded places with members of the country’s House of Assembly, sitting in the lower-house chamber for Swaziland’s inaugural Children’s Parliament.
The young Members of Parliament were nominated and elected by peers from their constituencies, known here as ‘Tinkhundla’. Twelve of the youth MPs formed a cabinet, headed for the first time in the country’s history by a female ‘Prime Minister’, Nontokozo Mtsetfwa, 17.
The Children’s Parliament was convened by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, led in Swaziland by veteran politician and MP Marwick Khumalo. UNICEF viewed this historic event as a victory for Swazi children, following years of unsuccessful attempts to advocate for such a body.
“By organizing this forum, the country is passing a vote of confidence on children and youth,” said UNICEF Representative in Swaziland Jama Gulaid. “We acknowledge that children are also part of the solution to the myriad problems facing the country.”
Positive role models
For a week preceding the Children’s Parliament session, elections and orientations on parliamentary procedure were held, and UNICEF facilitated a meeting in which the 12 cabinet ministers deliberated on the session’s order paper.
Then, on Parliament day, the child MPs took to the chamber as adult MPs filled the public gallery. About 50 other spectators sat quietly as the young people below engaged in robust debate under the guidance of the Children’s Parliament Speaker, Lindokuhle Zwane, 19.
His Royal Highness Prince Lonkhokhela, who represented His Majesty King Mswati III, officially opened the parliament. In a message delivered by Prince Lonkhokhela, the King congratulated the children for making history, urged them to be positive role models for their peers and warned them to remain modest, now that they had become ambassadors in their own communities.
“You now face a heavy responsibility, that of living by example to other children,” he said.
Improving child welfare
The session’s first order of business was a motion by young Prime Minister Mtsetfwa, who proposed a courtesy call to thank His Majesty the King for supporting young people, including his recent announcement of a Youth Development Fund. The motion was seconded and put to a vote, and the MPs voted overwhelmingly to approve it.
Prime Minister Mtsetfwa also presented a policy statement regarding – among other issues – the work done by the government to improve child welfare, such as a new policy of free primary education launched early this year.
She said HIV/AIDS remained the government’s biggest challenge, along with such problems as youth unemployment, the escalating number of orphaned and vulnerable children, abuse of children, and global warming.
Vigorous discussions on free primary education and compulsory national service followed.