Children and young people empowered to speak out about the issues that matter to them most
In South Sudan, children are braving all odds to demand their right to speak.
Growing up in South Sudan I have witnessed a culture where the opinions, views and stories of children and young people are often brushed aside. ‘You’re too young to talk', 'you don't know, 'you talk too much for your age' are some of the things adults may say. But the children and young people of my country have a lot of meaningful things to say. They just need the guidance, opportunities, and platforms to be empowered advocates in our country.
UNICEF South Sudan is on a mission to change this scenario and is working with over 100 children and young people from across the country. Since its launch in early 2020, the Young Reporters Programme has empowered children and young people to promote children's rights and participation and speak out about many issues - embedded in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Article 12 and 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives every child 'the right to freedom of expression' and 'the right for their views to be respected.'
This programme is an attempt by UNICEF South Sudan to empower children to voice their opinions and views on themes or topics they want to talk about. An opportunity for them to tell their stories in a way that they would like to say it.
"I wish that my society would be a complete society and that there would not be any difference of opinions.
In my view of an ideal society, I wish that all children will be empowered to speak up," said 13-year-old Christopher Loyika, who joined the programme in 2020 in Juba.
The next objective of the programme is to provide platforms for children and young people to talk about the issues that are important to them. As Young Reporters, they are encouraged and guided to express their views through different platforms, including radio, social media, by writing blog stories and poems about various issues. These include on education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, peace, governance, climate change and environment and child protection.
"I wish that our small aspirations and big dreams will be fulfilled. I wish they would all stand on their own feet without depending on anyone's help. This is all I wish for — that all our dreams would get wings to fly,” said Grace Gamboripai, a 16-year-old Child Reporter in Yambio.
Between 2020 and 2022, UNICEF expanded the programme across South Sudan to Yambio, Bor, Malakal, and Wau. Over this time, UNICEF has partnered with local radio stations to give the young reporters a platform to speak on radio and also learn how media outlets such as radio stations operate. Radio Stations such as Eye Radio, Radio Miraya, Capital FM, Youth Advance Radio, Yambio FM, Voice of Hope, Jonglei FM and Nile FM have all embraced the young reporters and welcomed their voices into their programmes and news.
"Children learned many new things that they had never heard of before. I feel that this empowerment will play an important role in our lives; when children are empowered, they can speak about any topic concerning their lives," stressed Grace.
Many of the views that children reflect is what South Sudan needs for its development, which in effect, is the objective of this programme. In each location across South Sudan, the training sessions were about one or two days long, where UNICEF trained children to come up with opinions on things that concern their livelihoods.
"I am Princess Henry Charles. I came to this training to learn about Child Rights. It was exciting. First, I didn't know anything about Child Rights. However, after attending the training sessions, I came to understand the rights of every child," said Princess who is the 11-year-old youngest child to join the programme in Wau, a city in the north-western part of South Sudan.
The training sessions, which are designed to also be fun, include games and interactive sessions to help children look into their lives for inspiration, understand issues that affect them, and express themselves freely and boldly about concerning public matters.
UNICEF equipped these children with the information, skills and platforms. As a result, they grow in confidence and can utilize the platforms to raise their voices. Many of the Young reporters have engaged the Government, the UN and their community members with open discussions, debates and hopefully, some changes in the mindset of the decision makers and leaders in their communities.
From a Young Reporter to a mentor
Randa Wani joined the Programme as a 16-year-old child from Juba Christian Centre Secondary School in early 2020.
"The child reporters programme empowered me by giving me a belief that some of the issues affecting children can only be solved after listening to children's opinions," she said.
The programme is moving to identifying and developing a group of mentors to inspire and guide the other children and young people. UNICEF engaged three Young Reporters from within the programme, including Randa, to mentor existing and new reporters.
"The knowledge l will be passing to the children as a mentor is about determination because if a child is not determined to change social issues, then no change can happen. Child reporters should put efforts to speak fearlessly on behalf of the voiceless children, then the situation of many children, including street kids and orphans will change in South Sudan," she emphasised.
Randa volunteered to mentor other children as an opportunity for them to develop a long-term, one-on-one relationship with children who need a role model, friend and caring young person.
Randa recently joined a trip to Wau to coach and mentor a new group of reporters in early April. She says the children and young people she met in Wau were dynamic and ready to learn and take action for children's issues.
Raising awareness and advocating for child rights
In the last two years, children have conducted awareness campaigns about reopening schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a cleaner and greener environment, and the right of every child to fulfill their potential. Also, Child Reporters have advocated against child marriage. Other advocacy campaigns and events they have taken part in include World Breastfeeding Day, World Water Day, International Day of the Girl Child, International Women's Day, International Peace Day, 10th anniversary of the South Sudan Independence, World Children’s and UNICEF’s 75th anniversary.