Forum of Hope shows that children’s voices matter

Child participation is something that is talked about a lot, but in reality is seldom put into practice. This gap between theory and action is found everywhere, but it’s particularly striking in a number of Africa countries, where the concept of ‘rights and duties’ is still fairly new.

To change the status quo, in DRC and Burundi we’ve been pushing to increase the accent on the fourth pillar of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (which has been signed by all countries but three – USA, South Sudan, Somalia). After all, participation goes hand in hand with Survival, Protection and Education.

In ‘our’ countries, as everywhere, UNICEF places children at the heart of our work, through investments in health, nutrition, education and protection services. We also aim to familiarize children, aged 12-17, with their rights through a combination of play and knowledge. Today between DRC and Burundi, almost 400 child reporters are actively reporting on the situation of children here. After all, children know best, and it’s time that we as adults let them tell us what the challenges they face are – and what solutions they are coming up with.

Our experience has shown, that once aware of their rights, children join forces and take up social issues in their schools and communities. They proactively inform and sensitize other children and adults around them. When facing injustice, they lobby with local stakeholders to bring about change for children.

In DRC and Burundi, as all over the world, children are keen on tackling challenges! They are full of energy and hope, they see their world without prejudice, and they speak up with no hidden agenda. Their language is clear and simple. As adults, we should seize their strengths to move forward, together. Now!

During the forum participants prepared and presented creative artworks. (c) UNICEF DRC
During the forum participants prepared and presented creative artworks. (c) UNICEF DRC

To make children part of the dialogue that will shape their future, in June we organized the Children’s Forum of Hope: 52 children, aged 13 to 17, from seven countries of the Great Lakes region gathered in Burundi, sharing one common goal – to promote peace in this region. The event saw a variety of VIPs, including the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, who acknowledged that children are often overlooked in the decision-making process.

(c) UNICEF DRC
Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson attended the Forum of Hope. (c) UNICEF DRC

“Children are our future. Too often, we take decisions without listening to what children have to say.” Addressing the children directly, she said, “I have great faith in your potential.”

The participants elected four ‘peace ambassadors’, from DRC, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan, who will present the Forum’s recommendations to the Heads of State Summit that takes place in July in Nairobi. Why? Because, as the children explained: “As we are speaking right now, some of us are still living under the burden of war, which affects our children. We the Children’s Forum of Hope are suggesting to the governments that they should help in promoting a culture of dialogue for the questions concerning peace and security in the region.”

To ensure follow-up of the children’s recommendations, and continue the dialogue between children and policymakers, different tools such as U-report, social media, and radio will be used. For extensive coverage of the Forum, and real-time updates on the next steps please visit the inter-country platform: http://childrensforumofhope.tumblr.com/

Cornelia Walther is the Chief of Communication with UNICEF DRC/Kinshasa and Eliane Luthi Poirier is a Communications Specialist with UNICEF Burundi.

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