Guinea-Bissau: A girl’s quest to promote children’s rights
Children’s Parliament helps children advocate for their rights in Guinea-Bissau
Before going on the stage to give her speech, Djarai Djalo hugged her young friend, Pedro. The 1-year-old boy was crying due to the heat, but Djarai, 17, didn’t seem bothered by the stuffy air in the room. Nor did she seem bothered by the pressure of giving the opening speech on International Children’s Day, June 1st, at the National School of Administration, in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau.
Djarai looked relaxed as she sat next to Lucio Rodrigues, Director General of Solidarity of the Ministry of Women, Family and Social Solidarity, and Etona Ekole, the Representative of UNICEF Guinea-Bissau Country Office.
“I don’t know how to dance, I don’t know how to play ball, but I know how to speak in public,” says Djarai, with a confident smile, in an interview.
She had made a lively presentation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child addressing more than 40 participants, most of whom were children and adolescents. “Public speaking is one of my best talents,” she says.
Djarai often talks about children’s rights and topics she feels are not receiving enough attention, and has become an influencer in Bissau. In her social media accounts, with thousands of followers, she mixes videos about child marriage and child abuse as well as videos looking trendy as she dances and plays games with her friends.
“When I make videos, I think about my brothers and the opportunities they can still have that I didn’t when I was their age,” she says. She hopes her little brothers and sisters - aged 6, 3, and 1, have a good education.
In her first video, recorded when she was only 13, Djarai talked about the national elections and asked adults and politicians to ‘unite for children’. Later, she made a video saying she wanted to be the President of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and how she will ‘change the lives of all children’. The task seems hard, but just like any other, Djarai faces it with her head up and a smile. She already has a plan: “I am in 12th Grade. I will do a bachelor's degree in Economics, a Master's in Public Finance, and a PhD in Political Science and International Relations.” In her characteristic determination, she adds, “I really want it and I will work for it.”
As Djarai looks forward to the future, studying and advocating more for children’s rights, she admits that she has some worries. “I will stop being a child. That makes me sad because I like being a child,” she says, laughing.
However, her achievements are impressive so far. Djarai is the Vice-President of the National Children's Parliament in Guinea-Bissau that works for the protection, promotion and advocacy of children’s rights, with UNICEF’s support.
"We give voice to children who can’t speak for themselves, and we elevate those voices, so people can see how much children suffer in our country,” she explains.
The Children's Parliament is also an organization that promotes learning and personal development. There, children and adolescents hear about human rights, education, sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, child marriage, politics and leadership, and attend short trainings. “I joined when I was 11, right after my mother died, because my father said I would find very intelligent children there. I was excited to meet them.”
On June 1, the members of the Children's Parliament celebrated International Children’s Day with the Government of Guinea-Bissau and UNICEF. The activities included the session on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, given by Djarai, and training about advocacy techniques for children’s rights, given by UNICEF. All the young faces were eager to learn and asked questions so they could know how to share key messages and raise awareness about their issues.
Joining the Children’s Parliament was important for Djarai, as she was going through a difficult time as her mother had died. “Being without my mother still affects me a lot and makes me very sad, but I stopped expressing my sadness, because it won’t change anything,” she says. Djarai’s smile fades away. “She’s gone.”
Studying is one of the ways Djarai stays close to her mother. “When she was here, she studied with me every day and always helped me do my homework,” she says. “I want to study a lot to be the person my mother would want me to be.” Future president or not, Djarai vows to make her mother proud.