20 Years - The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Grace Mwenya

Day to Day: Realizing child rights as a UNICEF child ambassador
Hello! I am Grace Mwenya, an 11-year-old Zambian girl. I am the firstborn and the only girl in my family of five. I am in the seventh grade. Being a child is a very interesting stage in life because you are young and full of energy and dreams about your future. Your life is mostly dependent on the people around you – parents, extended family, community or government – for love and care. That is why children need to be protected against things like violence, malnutrition, disease and abuse.

Any young person below the age of 18 years can be called a child. A child may look small, simple and defenseless, but inside is the right to live and grow in a healthy family and society. Sometimes, an innocent child may be looked down upon, defiled, abused or oppressed, and in most of these cases culprits go scot-free because it is a child that is involved. I would love to see a situation where children’s rights are respected by all, a situation where laws are used to punish those who abuse children in any way.

Governments and other willing partners must commit themselves to take all necessary steps to ensure that children are well protected and developed. When children are not safe and educated, the future suffers. Children, too, must stand up to know their rights. I would like to see a world where every child becomes an agent of change by knowing his or her rights.

As children, we have the right to live in a healthy environment, but we must also learn to protect our environment. Children, protect your environment as you would like to be protected. I feel sad when I see kids abusing the environment. For example, litter must not be thrown anyhow and anywhere. I would like to see the government in Zambia build more safe parks for children to play in. A playing environment is good for a growing child because, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’.

Education as a remedy
Most children in Zambia do not have access to many basic facilities such as schools, clinics, safe water and sanitation. Much of the water supply that is drawn in rural areas is from rivers, lakes and unprotected wells. Children in the rural areas are classified among the poorest of the poor, besides that HIV and AIDS have killed millions of parents, leaving millions more children as orphans.

In Zambia, many parents are jobless, making the situation for their children even worse. Some children are forced out of school or to live on the streets; others are being taken care of by elderly grandparents who can barely feed or educate them. Undernutrition is another enemy of Zambian children. It comes as a result of poverty and because people do not know what foods children should eat. Undernutrition makes children living with HIV and AIDS weaker, and they become sick with other diseases. The saddest part of it is that when it persists in childhood, it can lead to permanent physical and mental damage. As long as undernutrition remains high, it is a sign that the right to education remains greatly unfulfilled in Zambia.

Today, because of cultural and traditional demands that favour boys, girls are not as likely to finish their education. But girls are the ones who later become mothers, and if they are not educated, boy children will also suffer. If a girl child is educated, not even malaria can threaten a child under the age of five because she will be in a position to know that malaria is both preventable and treatable.

A voice of the Zambian children
As a UNICEF Child Ambassador, I have a duty to make sure the voices of Zambian children are heard as loud and clear as possible. It is not easy to represent children from different backgrounds, especially since the Child Ambassador status is new in Zambia. I found this opportunity when I read an advertisement in one of our local newspapers that UNICEF was looking for a Child Ambassador, and that children could apply by submitting an essay.

I felt honoured and privileged when I was selected to become a voice of the children in Zambia. Being a Child Ambassador has really helped me start seeing things differently. I always think about what is happening to children around me and what can be done to help them. Also, being a UNICEF Child Ambassador has helped me become a leader at school; I work hard, and now I am the head girl in my school.

Children at school and at church like my company. They usually invite me to their parties and functions just to be with them. My whole extended family is very happy about my new status, and they always encourage and wish me well. Mostly they call me ‘ambassador’ instead of by my name. That is always a reminder that I should behave, so that when I speak for children they will believe me.

I usually spend my time out of school at home. My mother runs a small kindergarten for about 25 children. My youngest brother Moses, who is 5 years old, attends the same school as me. Our school is 11 kilometers from where we live. My father takes us to and from school every day. After classes my friends Linda, Mary and Nana usually come along with other kids to study at our place. On weekends I visit my relatives and friends and attend any functions I have been invited to. Although I have not yet decided what to do in future, at the moment I would love to be a fashion designer. I like to design things and to inspire those around me. I feel confident and happy.

Thanks to UNICEF for introducing a platform for children to have our voices heard.

Grace Mwenya is an 11-year-old UNICEF Child Ambassador from Lusaka, Zambia. She is involved in HIV/AIDS programming at her school, where she has been a leader in the Anti-AIDS Club. Grace talks about the many challenges that Zambian children face and how she can contribute to helping other children realize their potential. When Grace completes school, she would like to be a fashion designer.

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