Feature: Children’s Summit advances the rights of children to their dignity
By Raquel Wexler and Cyriaque Ngoboka
KIGALI, Rwanda 19 January 2013 - Rwanda’s national Parliament was bathed in a sea of blue as more than 400 child delegates representing each of Rwanda’s 416 sectors gathered for the 8th annual Children’s Summit in Kigali on 19 January 2013.
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.
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, protected and develop to their full potential.
The annual forum was organized by the National Children’s Commission in partnership with the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, with UNICEF support.
In Rwanda, children shape their future
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.
Rwanda’s Prime Minister, Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, addressed more than 800 attendees as the guest of honour. He implored child representatives to stay actively involved in addressing the issues at the Summit in their families and communities, as they all have “a major role to play”. He continued, “The country expects alot from you. In the future when you grow up you will become leaders that our country will be proud of.”
In the run-up to the Summit, in August 2012 child representatives between the ages of 7-18 years 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 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 their peers who are at risk 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 the Government to establish a national Children’s Week to provide a space to discuss in detail issues of concern to children and to further promote child rights and child participation.
Speaking on the outcomes of children’s Summit, Sapiens Abavandimwe (14 years) 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.”
Ms. Noala Skinner, UNICEF Rwanda Representative, lauded the efforts of the Government of Rwanda to deliver its promises to children, “Dear children, you speak and Rwanda listens.” She continued, “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 do-ers. And this Children’s Summit has always produced results.”
Speaking of next year’s Summit, the Rwanda’s Prime Minister 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.
Download the speech by UNICEF Rwanda Representative, Ms. Noala Skinner [PDF]