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Children speak out on key issues at the third Pan African Forum on Children, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Mwangi
Mekdim Zerubabel, 15, from Ethiopia, participated in the plenary dialogue between international experts and a panel of children at the third Pan African Forum on Children, held 19-20 November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

By Anthony Mwangi

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 27 November 2012 – The message of children attending the third Pan African Forum on Children was clear: Despite improvements in their welfare, a lot still needs to be done to enhance the lives of millions of children facing daunting challenges across Africa.

Speaking freely

At the forum, held 19–20 November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the children delivered a joint statement to high-level representatives from more than 15 African governments, the African Union Commission, United Nations agencies, other international organizations, civil society organizations and experts in the fields of child rights and welfare.

“A majority of African children are still exposed to economic exploitation, child labour, lack of education and road safety measures, early marriages, sexual violence, prostitution, ill treatment, drug abuse and forced recruitment into armed forces,” the children outlined. “Children are also exposed to diseases such as malaria, cholera, HIV/AIDS, polio, non-access to safe water and non-vaccination.”

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Mwangi
Child delegates at the forum join hands in solidarity.

The children’s statement was read at the opening session of the forum. Through it, the children urged African leaders to pay close attention to 12 key recommendations, including: punishment for sexual and gender-based violence; rehabilitation of street children; setting up of a mechanism to prevent armed conflicts affecting children; provision of quality education, health care and recreation facilities for children; and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

The forum was organized around the theme ‘Accountability for investment in children’. The first and second fora had both been held in Cairo, Egypt – in 2001, and in 2007.

Engaging in dialogue

The UNICEF Liaison Office to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa facilitated the participation of some 23 children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Somalia and Zambia, along with their chaperones. The children actively participated throughout the forum. A two-hour panel on intergenerational dialogue was moderated by Aissata Bocoum, 16, from Mali and Dagmawi Haileyesus, 16, from Ethiopia.

The plenary comprised a dialogue between experts – representing UNICEF, Plan International, the Government of Namibia, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and Humane Africa – and UNICEF-facilitated child panelists, including Eunice from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mekdim from Ethiopia, Habiba from Somalia and Luyando from Zambia.

Habiba lives in the Benadir settlement for internally displaced persons in Bossaso, Somalia. The conflict in her country has separated her from her parents and siblings, who live in Mogadishu.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Mwangi
Delegates, including children, in attendance at the forum.

When Habiba took the microphone during the dialogue, she talked about how girls in her country have suffered – and continue to suffer – from female genital mutilation/cutting. “It is because of my experience having faced this practice that I’m here today,” she said.

She recalled that she had been 6 years old when her mother took her to the practitioner who caused her so much pain. “Now I’m here to speak on behalf of other girls who have undergone this bad practice, and to speak against it and seek your support to stop it,” she said emphatically.

Other child panelists gave their views on pertinent issues. A child from Mali spoke about the role of the country’s children’s parliament, while a child from Zambia focused on the need for universal education. A young girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo shared her concern over the escalating conflict in the eastern part of her country, while a child from Ethiopia decried how early marriages were robbing young girls of their education and future.

Looking towards the future

Children said that they were eager to return home and press their governments to take up their rightful responsibility of protecting and providing for children by allocating resources for the realization of child rights, as well to be accountable in their actions towards children.

They also plan to share their stories and experiences with their families, other children, schools, their communities, social media and other mass media channels.



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