World Children's Day 2021: Regional consultative workshop

Voices of Youth

By Zakaat Sambo, UNICEF Youth Advocate
Youth advocate Zakaat Sambo
UNICEF Malawi/2021
30 November 2021

The 20th of November is World Children's Day, a Global Day of Action for children, by children. The adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is commemorated on this day. In anticipation of World Children's Day 2021, UNICEF Malawi and the Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare held a children's workshop in each of Malawi's three regions: north, central, and southern.

The goal of the children's workshops was to assist children and the youth to understand their rights, listen to their concerns, and explore solutions to those concerns. The workshops also offered them the opportunity to have a question and answer session with child rights duty bearers. All the  information that was raised in the workshops will be compiled into a report that will be presented to the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare and the President of the Republic of Malawi, and other stakeholders.

I attended the southern region workshop that took place in Phalombe from 28- 29 October 2021. My first observation was that there was a great representation of children from all walks of life. Participants were drawn from primary and secondary schools, children, adolescents and young adults, girls, boys, those with disabilities and out of school youths.

Children participating in one of the three consultative workshops
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Atlas Media
Children participating in one of the three consultative workshops

The first day was an interactive session in which the children's awareness of their rights and responsibilities was assessed through a variety of entertaining games. The children discussed their rights to life, protection, health, the environment and safety. Efforts were made to talk about what the various rights mean to them and how they experience them daily. This session was followed by a discussion on the Presidential Pledges that were made on World Children’s Day 2020 commemorations. I was surprised to note that the children understood the pledges and were able to link them to campaign promises made during the 2019/2020 election campaign. They were also able to link the pledges to their rights. The first day left me with the impression that the youth of Malawi are intelligent, know what they want for the future but have no opportunities to interact with  those in power to hold them accountable.

I also felt that children are very observant and know when they are not being treated right. The discussion on child rights was full of examples of incidents where child rights were not respected. I noted that children do not trust adults. They do not report child rights incidents to teachers, parents, and the police because they feel that these officials cannot help them.

Zakaat with a U-Reporter at the workshop in Phalombe
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Atlas Media
Zakaat with a U-Reporter at the workshop in Phalombe

On the second day children were split into groups where they discussed and prepared presentation on their right to health, education, participation, child protection/child trafficking, child abuse, climate change, impact of COVID-19 and child marriages in Phalombe. They prepared presentations and questions for duty bearers. During the afternoon, various Phalombe council member representatives, a traditional and faith leader joined the workshop. They came for a question and answer session. The major issues raised during this session were; the need for more schools and health facilities in the district, the rise in number of sexual harassment, child marriage and child trafficking cases in the district and the notable lack of skilled child protection workers.

My observation of the workshops are: there is a gap in information sharing between the district and different leadership structures at community level and the children. Some of the issues raised by the children are either already resolved or the council and different community structures are working on resolving them. However, children do not know this.

For instance, the children know that each village has a mother’s group but they do not know what their mandate is and do not trust them. Children are also not aware of the bursary opportunities that the council offers to children who need school fees, they do not know where to report child rights violations and they do not know that the government has enacted laws to protect them. The workshop was a good information exchange opportunity.

I also observed that children are very aware of the challenges they face, and they are not afraid to demand for answers and explanations from community leaders.

I would recommend that these workshops should be scaled up to reach children in other districts in Malawi.