20 Years - The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Luyando Mutale Katenda

The State of the Zambian Child
Since the adoption and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, much has been accomplished for children – thanks to our grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, who hatched this noble idea of recognizing our rights. Many evils that are done to children have been highlighted by governments, the media and civil society. Several initiatives have been put in place with a view to improve children’s well-being. A lot of pronouncements on children’s rights and the value of children have been made by people of both high and low statures.

International agencies, too, have made important advances in promoting child rights, in partnership with both non-governmental organizations and national governments. Both electronic and print media are now reporting more about issues specifically affecting children. Groups of adults have been trained in how to deal with children’s issues. As a result of the Convention, specific time-bound goals for improving children’s education and health were put in place by United Nations Member States. A number of these initiatives are linked to the Millennium Development Goals, which must be achieved by the year 2015, just five years from now. Since the Convention was created, many children’s lives have changed for the better. Despite this progress, much remains to be done. When I look at some countries in Africa, my country Zambia included, I wonder if the Millenium Development Goals will be achieved by the fast approaching year 2015.

Lack of funds for community schools & healthcare
Many children are still facing evils that threaten their very existence. Quality education appears to only be a right for children from well-to-do families. In Zambia, it seems quality does not count as long as children are piled into classrooms for 1 to 7 or 1 to 12 years. You cannot have more than 50 pupils per teacher and expect to have quality education. Still, in this sector in Zambia it appears some children are more important than others. For instance, children in community schools are made to pay facilities, examination and registration fees – in addition to so many other fees which those attending conventional schools do not pay. Paradoxically, community schools have more orphaned and vulnerable children who come from poverty-stricken homes. I have met children who could not write their examinations because they did not have money to pay the required fees.

I have been told much is given to community schools in terms of grants. But if a school with about 500 children is only allocated ZMK1 million – roughly US$215 – or less, how far can it go in providing for our well-being? Huge sums have been given, but have they reached the intended beneficiaries? The adults who misappropriate these funds have no heart for children. In this I do not find equality in the provision of education for all. This is complete discrimination. When an army of us are not educated what kind of future nationals do you expect to have?

Likewise, quality health care is a pressing concern for children. It is very painful for both children and their parents or guardians when they are taken to a health center for treatment and given a prescription for medicine, only to find that there is none available, or when they are told in the first place, “go home, there is no doctor.” Health services should be accessible to all; when this is not the case, even preventable diseases can result in death. It is children who are most affected by inadequate healthcare.

A plea for justice: securing children’s welfare
Children’s well-being also suffers as a result of poor justice. In cases where children have been abused sexually, defiled and raped, sentencing of culprits has often been light. Sometimes culprits have been given police bonds. They end up disappearing, and tracking them down is not easy. Moreover, there are other factors that I see as a hindrance to justice: poverty and corruption, a general perception in society that children do not matter and various cultural norms that do not give us the chance to express ourselves freely.

We not only need political freedoms, but also the good governance that comes with democracy. In the absence of these important elements, many evils arise and wreak havoc on people, especially children and women. One wonders what kind of material some adults are made of. They have no feelings at all. In some countries, children are turned into soldiers or slaves to provide sex and labour. Sometimes we are killed for not doing anything wrong. Further, poor governance promotes vices like corruption and other evils. Unfortunately, it is children that are affected more. One asks whether our fathers and mothers really have the desire to leave us a better world.

With the advent of the global financial crisis, we are in for it as children, and will be gravely affected unless drastic measures are taken. Plans and policies are devised every day, but little seems to be done. Communities, especially those in the slums and rural areas, are lagging in the improvement of children’s well-being. In these areas there are high levels of illiteracy that make life even harder. Understanding of children’s rights is very limited. Violations of children’s rights like early marriages, defilement, rape, commercial sexual exploitation and drug abuse seems not to bother many adults. These are some of the reasons we end up having irresponsible adults. Just what does their indifference entail for the future?

Children need actions, not just policies and plans. We are not gold mines, we are human beings and we need more attention than ever before. The media should cover us so that our voices are heard. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child every adult must know that more needs to be done. We still have a long way to go in this noble cause.

Luyando Mutale Katenda is a 13-year-old UNICEF Child Ambassador from Lusaka, Zambia. He is a strong believer that all citizens must be agitators to bring about positive changes in their communities. Luyando’s dream is to study at Johns Hopkins University and become a surgeon.

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