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National Children’s Forum brings young voices to Niger's electoral process

Niamey, Niger, 20 December 2010 – A quiet revolution is taking place in the unlikeliest of places, with children at its forefront. “I want our rights to be respected and ask that the new president build schools with well-built classrooms,” said Hourey Amadou, 12, who was among the 161 participants in a National Children’s Forum held late last month in Niger’s capital, Niamey.

VIDEO: 27 November 2010 - UNICEF reports on the launch of a campaign aimed at putting children at the heart of Niger's development agenda. Watch in RealPlayer
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At the forum, children from 36 districts had the unique opportunity to speak out about their concerns during three days of meetings with political leaders, researchers, journalists and UN staff.

Children from all backgrounds came together in this first-of-its-kind initiative, with support from civil society and the media, at a time when the country is at a crossroads between military rule and a democratically elected regime.

© UNICEF Niger/2010/Pirozzi
A girl asks a question during a meeting with the President of Niger's Interim Parliament at Parliament House in Niamey, as part of the National Children’s Forum.

Children’s voices heard
“There must be water pumps in our villages, and authorities must work to ensure that there is enough food for all,” young Hourey said in a discussion with Hourera Abdou, another forum delegate who works as an apprentice in a tailor’s workroom. Also among the participants were disabled children, young people in conflict with the law, some who have never been to school and others who aspire to be doctors.

In the run-up to the forum, a UNICEF-supported training programme gathered children in their respective regions and encouraged them to express their needs and concerns through messages that would then be shared with decision-makers.

On 26 November, the children invited members of the country’s three main political coalitions, as well as government ministries, UNICEF staff and others, to attend a ceremony that ended with the youth delegates reading a declaration. In it, they summoned leaders to listen, stating:“We want to live our dream of a better tomorrow. We have some proposals to make. Do listen!”

Vulnerability persists
Children’s messages from the forum are now being broadcast on TV and radio stations on a daily basis in advance of presidential and local elections that are scheduled for next month. The media is expected to play its part by informing voters about child rights through interviews, debates and investigations.

“The rights that we have been talking about must become reality and not remain empty shells easily talked about during official speeches,” says UNICEF Representative in Niger Guido Cornale.

A national study on child poverty and disparities in Niger, published in 2009, found a high level of vulnerability in this regard: More than 9 out of 10 children are deprived of at least one right essential to their well-being, while almost 8 in 10 children are deprived of at least two essential rights simultaneously.

Efforts by the government and its partners in the past decade have made only a limited impact on the quality of child health and education, and the reduction of gender disparities. As a result, 34 per cent of girls are married before the age of 15, and about half of all children between the ages of 5 and 14 have to work. 

Ensuring accountability
To increase knowledge about these key indicators and concerns, UNICEF and its partners recently held training sessions for some 50 political leaders engaged in the electoral process.

As part of this process, candidates for the presidency also will be invited to share their visions and concrete action plans for the betterment of children’s living conditions. They will then be asked to sign a memorandum sealing their commitment – a first step in holding future Nigerien leaders accountable for ensuring child rights.

“It has been 50 years since our country has been independent, yet we still suffer from hunger and poverty,” said Ibrahim Boubacar, 14, a National Children’s Forum participant. “In 15 years, I see a prosperous and rich Niger, a country where all children would live happily.”

By Halimatou Hima Moussa Dioula

 

 
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