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Rwanda, 8 December 2016: More than 600 children celebrate 11th National Children’s Summit

© UNICEF Rwanda/2016
Children participating in debate and discussions at the Children’s Summit panel.

 
By Veronica Houser

KIGALI, Rwanda, 8 December 2016 – Alphonsine Uwineza, a young girl from Gakenke District, stood up and fearlessly grabbed the microphone. She turned towards the members of the panel and asked, “What are you doing about vulnerable and disadvantaged in Rwanda? What progress is being made for them? And what about the Itorero meetings? Our country’s leaders gather there for development discussions, but children are leaders too. Why can’t we also attend?”

Alphonsine was one of over 600 child participants in this year’s National Children’s Summit, organised by the National Commission for Children (NCC) and supported by UNICEF. Held from 6 – 8 December, the theme for this year’s Summit was “Positive Parenting: Foundation of Culture”, which was chosen by children and used to guide discussions and activities during the event.

UNICEF has supported the National Children’s Summit since its inception in 2004. The Summit has proven to be an outstanding platform for dialogue and change, with children at the centre of the debate and ideas.

In his address to the participants, Mr. Lamin Manneh, Resident Coordinator of the One UN in Rwanda, commended the children on their choice of theme. “Choosing this theme shows that you understand the responsibility to keep custody of the good culture of Rwanda, where a child is taken care of by the whole family and the neighbouring community. It shows you understand your rights and obligations. You understand that one day, you will also be parents and you will be responsible for the development of your own children.”

The Summit opened with an exhibition of all organisations in Rwanda working to promote child rights, followed by a press conference with the Honourable Minister Esperance Nyirasafari of the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF), and panel debates and discussions with the following day. The Honourable Minister and Mr. Ted Maly, Representative of UNICEF Rwanda, were among those on the panel. During the press conference, Mr. Maly reiterated how the National Children’s Summit aligns with UNICEF’s primary mandate: to protect the rights of children and ensure child participation, especially in the development agenda.

“This is probably one of the most important events in meaningful participation for children in Rwanda,” said Mr. Maly. “Children from all over Rwanda are able to use this opportunity to express their feelings and wishes in improving their own lives. For instance, some of the children’s recent debates have led to expanded inclusion of children with disabilities in children’s forums.”

© UNICEF Rwanda/2016
Hon. Esperance Nyirasafari visiting the UNICEF booth at the National Children’s Summit exhibition.

During the panel discussions, the children with disabilities were not shy about asserting their needs. Berthine Iradukunda from Musanze District was one of those children.

“We have challenges, especially in school,” she told the panel. “For example, albinos like me have poor eyesight and can’t see notes on the board very well. We may get low marks, we may be the last in our class. Our wish is that you help us.”

Hon. Minister Nyirasafari encouraged children at the Summit to work hard to help the Government, reminding them that they are representatives and should talk to their peers to help educate them. She commended the children for their thoughtful ideas and reaffirmed, “this is why we have forums like the Summit, to help us understand your views and your roles in Rwanda’s development.”

Under the leadership of NCC and MIGEPROF, the Summit closed successfully, with children reinvigorated and motivated to expand conversations about their rights and roles in Rwanda’s development. Mr. Manneh thanked the Government for their collaboration with the UN in Rwanda, saying that “this Summit is a perfect culmination of our collaborative work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the importance of partnerships in general.”

The 11th National Children’s Summit coincided with UNICEF’s 70th anniversary celebrations, commemorating seven decades of tireless work for children. Mr. Maly told participants and partners at the Summit that UNICEF Rwanda considers events like the National Children’s Summit essential to fulfilling the organisation’s mission.

“As UNICEF celebrates our 70th anniversary, we have a perfect opportunity to recommit ourselves to fulfilling the goal of hope, for every child,” he said. “Children are our mission, and the ‘hope of the world’ rests on them.”

 

 
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