Children and leaders from four countries renewed their commitment for child rights
Leaders from Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet with about 500 children in Lusaka to mark World Children’s Day
World Children’s Day (WCD) is a Global Day of Action for children, by children - taking place every year on 20 November, the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This year, celebrations reached new heights when around 500 Southern African children met with the presidents of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the Vice President of Namibia in Lusaka. Under the theme of “A Better Future for Every Child” the event presented a unique opportunity to foster dialogue between children and the highest representatives of the four countries involved.
This event comes exactly a year after the same leaders brought together young people to light up the Kazungula Bridge in Kasane, Botswana, blue to commemorate the 2021 World Children’s Day and to celebrate UNICEF’s 75th Anniversary. At this event commitment was made to promote and protect children’s rights in their countries.
Gathered in Lusaka, children from across neighboring nations reflected on their situations, celebrating progress achieved while also recognizing the challenges they still face. They also had an opportunity to engage their presidents on progress made in four key areas: the regional learning crisis, climate change, disability rights and inclusive environments; and called their leaders to act towards ensuring that the commitments are fulfilled in the respective countries.
Children expressed themselves through various arts like song, poetry, dances and wrote letters to their leaders on issues that affect children in their communities.
17-year-old Kimberly from Zimbabwe wrote a song called blue/green planet as an appeal to everyone to safeguard the planet earth. “We all are required to protect the planet earth. With the growing effects of climate change, there is need for urgent action she said.”
The growing effects of climate change globally have affected children directly and indirectly, and deprived children from enjoying their rights. Heavy rainfall leading to floods have prevented children from going to school and from getting medical care. Droughts in several parts of the regional have caused crop failure and lead to increased numbers of malnutrition in children.
These are some of the reasons why children asked policy makers to take action and protect the rights of children affected by the climate crisis, by providing emergency support, increasing awareness raising and providing options for household cooking. The call to action also covered other issues like inclusive education urging leaders to build more and better sanitation facilities in schools that are accessible for children with disabilities; provide access to quality learning and means to access learning materials including better connectivity. In addition, children talked about child abuse and exploitation and requested their presidents to enforce existing children’s laws to better protect children against sexual harassment; put in place ways to engage community, traditional leaders and parents to protect children against child marriage and make schools safe for children.
“Having a platform where we, children, can actively participate is very important. A day like this presents an opportunity for us to be heard on issues that affect our lives. I have really learned a lot from the rich discussions held here today and I hope that our presidents have not only heard our voices but act on the commitments they have made to promote our rights,” stated Blessings Mwamba, 16 years old, from Zambia who was one of the three children that presented the call to action.
Children also had the opportunity to engage with their presidents in a panel discussion where they raised issues affecting their lives and focused on solutions.
Catherine Manstwe, from Botswana, referred to the situation of children with disabilities. “I have a dream of a Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe where every young person with a disability doesn’t have to face stigma and discrimination.” Catherine gave examples of how children with disabilities are faced with several challenges in accessing education and asked that the leaders put up school facilities that are inclusive for all children.
Following this intervention, Botswana President agreed for his government to set aside finances that will enable the construction of ramps in all Botswana public schools.
During the dialogue, Kavanga Rivaldo from Namibia requested the leaders to work with children on issues that affect them rather than leaders managing the world for children.
Yolanda Grace Tembo, from Zambia focused on children’s right to education and demanded that the Government of the Republic of Zambia take action to improve the education system by building more classroom blocks to reduce overcrowding in schools; change the curriculum to allow for children to select subjects related to their interests and dreams; and transform the education system to one that will allow for children acquire knowledge through theory and practical learning.
The child panelist from Zimbabwe Unathi Nyoni requested governments to invest in advance implementation of renewable sources of energy as the main source of energy in the various countries as a way to help reduce the causes of climate change.
The four leaders acknowledged children demands and renewed their commitment to continue taking forward the child rights agenda.
“Zambia is honored to host this multi-country commemoration of World Children’s Day. A day that we celebrate children for what they embody: the present and the future of this country. It has been inspiring to listen to their perspectives and their call for action for doing more and better, something that this Government is committed to doing. As our efforts continue to increase their access to quality education, and equal opportunities to thrive, we count on them to continue speaking their truth. To hold us accountable, and to inspire us – in creating a brighter present and future for Zambia,” stated His Excellency Hakainde Hichilema, President of the Republic of Zambia.
Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said that this event showcased the essence of World Children’s Day: a Global Day of Action for children by children. “We have witnessed children and young people working alongside their Presidents to make a brighter future for every child – advancing the rights of children with disabilities, tackling climate change and spearheading action on the regional learning crisis.”
To conclude, children unveiled a mural representing child rights, which they helped paint with the help of local artist, London Kamwendo.
In 2023 Namibia will host the World Children’s Day with the participation of leaders and children from Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.