Each year, June 16 is celebrated as the Day of the African Child. Since the first time it was observed in 1991, the day has been an opportunity to focus on the challenges facing the continent’s children and youth, but also a chance to recognize how children and young people themselves are working to address these challenges and how they contribute to peace, growth and development.
In that spirit, we’re incredibly excited to announce that for this year’s Day of the African Child – which focuses on the issue of child marriage – for the first time ever, we’ve invited five inspiring young women to take over our Twitter account and share their stories of overcoming struggle and fighting for the rights of others.
Each of the women – who are aged between 22 and 31 and come from Chad, Sierra Leone, Niger, Uganda and Somalia – will spend an hour tweeting from @UNICEF, recounting their personal experiences and answering questions from our Twitter followers. Some will be sharing their stories for the first time in such a public forum; collectively they all want to inspire action to end child marriage and other child rights violations.
Here’s how you can get involved
Starting at 7 am EST/ 11 am GMT, every hour on the hour until 12 pm EST/ 4 pm GMT, each young activist will be given the reins to the global UNICEF twitter account.
You can read their powerful personal narratives by following tweets on the UNICEF account or by following the hashtags #youthtakeover and #endchildmarriage (You don’t have to have a Twitter account to do this!)
We invite you to retweet their words to spread their messages even wider, and to ask them questions about what motivates their activism and what they believe to be the biggest challenges and opportunities for Africa’s children and young people.
At the end of the day, we’ll capture the entire experience on Storify and make it available for all who won’t be able to make it on the day.
Who will be taking over @UNICEF on June 16?
‘Jennifer’ (24) from Uganda: At the age of 13, in December 2002, ‘Jennifer’ was abducted from her home in the middle of the night. She and her five siblings were sleeping when they heard their names being called and saw soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) flashing lights in their eyes. She and the other abductees were forced to walk until they reached a town called Kitgum. From there, they were taken to Sudan, where the Jennifer and the other girls were ‘given’ to different commanders, who became their ‘husbands’. After a number of years, she escaped captivity and returned to Uganda, and she is now living with her daughter. Jennifer’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
Ilwad Elman (25) from Somalia: Ilwad runs the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu – Somalia’s first-ever programme to care for victims of gender-based violence, providing services in counseling, health care and housing for women in need. After her father, Elman Ali Ahmed, an entrepreneur and peace activist was killed during the height of Somalia’s civil war,Ilwad emigrated to Canada together with her three sisters and mother, activist Fartuun Adan. Fartuun later returned to Somalia and set up the Elman Center in honor of her late husband. In 2010,Ilwad also returned and has been working alongside her mother ever since. She also helps run Sister Somalia, a subsidiary of the Elman Center, and is active in many issues in women’s and children’s rights.
Halima Laoual Bachir (24) from Niger: Halima was born and raised in Zinder, Niger, and studied in Dakar, Senegal. She and all of her siblings have attended school and graduated but many of Halima’s friends did not have the same fortune – they were taken out of school to be married at a young age. Although she did not share this fate, she is very concerned about this issue and every day endures social pressure from relatives and friends (not her parents or siblings) who question her decision to pursue school and build a career rather than becoming a wife and mother. Halima uses her personal story to advocate for girls’ rights to an education and an end to child marriage.
Josephine Kamara (22) from Sierra Leone: Josephine started her advocacy work at the age of nine when she joined Peacelinks Sierra Leone, an organization that promotes peace and unity. She is also active in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and organized an awareness and testing programme at her university. Last year, she formed Women of Wonders Sierra Leone (WOW-SL), a movement targeting vulnerable young women in the country, including those living in poverty, those who are illiterate, school dropouts and teenage mothers. Through WOW-SL, young women learn skills such as handicraft, catering, music, and tailoring to help them make a living and become productive. Josephine is former Miss University 2012 and current 1st runner-up of Miss Sierra Leone 2014. Together with other WOW-SL members, she has recently embarked on series of Ebola response activities including raising funds and donating food and non-food items to child survivors and those who have been orphaned by Ebola. She is currently hosting a local television programme addressing issues affecting female children in Sierra Leone.
Mariam Agrei Musa (31), from Chad: Born in Libya to Chadian parents, Mariam was raised in that country until she was 15-years-old. She then moved to Chad to live with her uncle but before she had finished school, at the age of 16, her uncle and the family in Chad arranged her marriage to an older man. Her parents, who were still living in Libya, were not informed and only found out on a later stage. Mariam fell pregnant and decided to escape the country as she wanted to continue with her education and did not want to be married. She left to Cameroon for 3 years, with a cousin, and after she finished high school she started her university studies. She also managed to get officially divorced. She decided to go back to Chad with her daughter and look for work. One day while she was at work, her ex-husband’s family took her daughter away because it is the tradition for the first daughter to live with the mother-in-law. In Chad, although the law protects children’s and women’s rights, the reality on the ground is different. Today Mariam is a women’s rights advocate.
Gerrit Beger is Senior Advisor on Social Media and Digital Engagement in UNICEF’s Division of Communication in New York.
All photos are courtesy of the Twitter takeover activists.