Child participation is one of the fundamental rights of children recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 12). However, in reality this right rarely receives adequate attention. The principle calls for the views and voices of children to be heard, respected and thoughtfully taken into account by duty-bearers responsible for ensuring the realization of children's rights. Child participation refers to children's and young people's involvement in decision-making, whatever form this may take.
In Swaziland, the principle of “children's participation” is widely misunderstood, especially in a traditional society undergoing rapid change. Where communication between parents and children is already breaking down, and adults feel that their values and traditional ways of life are under threat, many adults fear “children's rights” symbolize a world where children no longer listen to their parents, and everything seems to be turning upside down.
In 2005, children's choral group performances on child abuse and HIV and AIDS, resonated the absence of a safe and protective environment especially for orphans. More than 15,000 children, including the orphaned and disabled, participated in the choral performances organized by local churches, competing from sigodzi (communities) to regional levels. The messages from one of the winning choral groups moved the then Deputy Prime Minister to tears at the Mid-Term Review where he implored citizens to save the ‘nation’s future'. The Prime Minister has publicly come out clearly to condemn abuse of children and women as the most heinous of crimes.
In an effort to ensure that children have a forum to express their views, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Swaziland Theatre for Children and Young People (SWATCYP) initiated a children's theatre programme for children in and out of school. The drama festivals provide children with the skills and opportunity to engage in key life skills and social issues that affect them. SWATCYP provides basic training to children and teachers on development of a drama theme. After developing their own drama (depending on critical issues affecting the children such as abuse and HIV and AIDS), teachers assist the the children in presenting the drama at the Inkhundla (constituency). The drama is used to facilitate discussion among peers, teachers and the entire community.
UNICEF and partners including Swaziland National Youth Council (SNYC), and the Ministry of Regional Development and Youth Affairs, seek to provide platforms for children to articulate their needs, and to establish a forum for children to engage in development planning and implementation at community level. It is envisaged that this would be achieved through assisting children to form Children's assemblies (children's parliament) from Tigodzi to Chiefdom, to Inkhundla, and eventually to national level. At these forums children will discuss with policy makers pertinent issues identified by their peers at the local level, including HIV and AIDS, abuse, and corporal punishment.