The Day of the African Child has been marked on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was initiated by the Organization of African Unity. This year’s theme is 'The Place of Parenting in Curbing Child Abuse’. Here is one in a series of related stories.
By Yvette Bivigou
NIAMEY, Niger, 15 June 2011 – For the majority of the 20 children attending the UNICEF workshop led by long-time UNICEF photographer Giacomo Pirozzi, it was the first time they had ever gotten close to a camera.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a UNICEF-supported workshop in Niger that encouraged young people to become photojournalists. Videographer: François Therrien. Watch in RealPlayer|
Now, the best photographs from the workshop are being highlighted at a special exhibition on children’s vulnerabilities, with a focus on street children, as part of activities marking the Day of the African Child 2011 this week.
Many of the children – who were between 8 and 16 years of age – came from the 66 per cent of the Nigerian population who live on less than $1.25 per day. For them, buying a camera is unaffordable.
|© UNICEF video|
|Twenty children attended the UNICEF-supported workshop in Niamey, Niger, which trained young people to become photojournalists.|
The workshop offered a unique opportunity for Nigerien youth, who represent more than half the country’s population of 15 million, to get acquainted with photography and develop their awareness of the environment in which they live.
For a full week, the children covered a range of issues – including street children, early marriage, malnutrition, child labour, hygiene and sanitation. An estimated 43 per cent of Nigerien children aged 5 to 14 work as beggars, street vendors or domestic servants.
Early marriage also featured among the prominent issues the young photojournalists covered in Niamey, Niger’s capital. An estimated 61 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 are married to older men. With 26 per cent of them engaging in sexual intercourse by age 15, young people are at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS.
|© UNICEF video|
|A young woman in Niamey, Niger, looks through the viewfinder of her new camera. UNICEF trained young people at a workshop in the capital and encouraged them to use their new skills to investigate human rights abuses.|
Right to protection
For Romaric Onadja, 17, the experience altered her perception of her own life. “I used to complain about my life, but when I became acquainted with some of the living conditions of children on the streets of Niamey, I feel very rich,” she said. “You find six to eight people living in the same mud house. That is what really affected me the most.”
Nigerien families live under extreme economic and environmental conditions that compel many to develop coping and subsistence mechanisms harmful to children’s well-being.
“Children have the right to be protected, but not all parents offer protection to their children,” explained Amadou Roufai Ibrahim, 14, who excelled at the photo workshop. “Children who live on the street, it’s because they are not protected by their parents or caretakers.”
Workshops of this kind are part of UNICEF’s advocacy and communication programme to help Nigerien children and youth stand up for their basic rights. This is achieved, in part, through peer-to-peer prevention campaigns on HIV and AIDS, early marriage, violence and abuse of children. UNICEF also helps train and equip young journalists to produce radio programmes, and advocates for more airtime on radio and television to broadcast shows produced by and for children.
|© UNICEF video|
|A participant in the UNICEF-supported photojournalist workshop in Niamey, Niger. Young people were trained how to use cameras and then sent out on the streets of the city to document abuses of human rights, such as child labour.|
UNICEF Niger also supports and promotes youth participation in election processes. In 2010, a total of 600 young people participated in the campaign ‘Your Vote, Our Future’ and delivered the children’s declaration during a forum organized in Niamey.
‘An eye opener’
“The workshop has enabled children to develop their awareness of the environment they live in. It was thus an eye opener for those Nigerien children who came from much wealthier neighbourhoods,” said Mr. Pirozzi. “Many adults who see pictures taken by children have a hard time believing that children actually took them!”
After Niamey’s week-long photo work shop, the prize for best photographer was awarded to Amadou Roufai, who was thrilled with his new found skills.
“I fully mastered the techniques I learned during the workshop,” he said. “Taking pictures made me the happiest of all men.”