Homeless and traumatised: that is the plight of thousands – if not millions – of children in the Southern African Development Community.
Due to ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique’s strife-torn Cabo Delgado Province, in addition to other socio-economic factors, children are paying a heavy price.
A 2020 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed that the Southern Africa region has nearly 9.5 million “persons of concern”. This number includes 6.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and close to 1.1 million refugees and asylum-seekers. It also includes nearly two million IDP returnees in the DRC.
And many of these people are children.
It is against such a background that some SADC leaders recently vowed to end the plight of young people and deliver a better future to them.
Presidents Mokgweetsi Masisi (Botswana), Hage Geingob (Namibia), Hakainde Hichilema (Zambia) and Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe) last weekend pledged to hand-in-glove to address the challenges children face.
At a unique World Children’s Day Commemorations at Kazungula Bridge in Kasane, Botswana, the four Heads of State held an open forum with young citizens, heard their concerns and agreed to forge an alliance aimed at alleviating their plight.
The venue for announcement of the alliance could not have been more fitting: Kazungula is a quadripoint where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet. On November 20, Kazungula Bridge was one of several landmarks across the SADC region lit up in symbolic blue on World Children’s Day.
World Children’s Day is marked annually on November 20 to raise awareness of children’s rights to healthcare, nutrition, education and protection, among others.
“We have just agreed with my fellow presidents to form a network for children and young people with the aim of ensuring that their plight is ended,” said President Masisi, who is Unicef’s SADC Global Leader for Generation Unlimited.
The Generation Unlimited initiative seeks to ensure that everyone has quality education, training or gainful employment at the appropriate age by 2030.
President Masisi added, “Children and young people have potential to propel this region to great heights and we need to invest more resources to prepare them for the future. This event gives us an opportunity to listen to children, and we recognise the value of their experiences, views and concerns. It is not sufficient to just listen to children, but to take their views into consideration when we make decisions that affect them.”
President Geingob noted that combining a dialogue between children and Heads of State was a first of its kind interaction in the quest to advance the rights of young people.
“As leaders and parents, we are on this day and occasion demonstrating our shared commitment to the welfare and progress of children and young people,” said President Geingob. “The fact that we are here at this special event with children tells a story in itself.”
President Hichilema also talked up the new four-nation effort to improve advancement of children’s rights.
“In our bid to look after the welfare of our children, we will endeavour to strengthen the laws that favour and protect the interests of our children.
For his part, President Mnangagwa said it is imperative for SADC countries to reconsider reviewing education systems, and possibly synchronising them, so that they better delivered opportunities to young people.
“We, as SADC heads of states, need to create an environment for you (children) to excel and showcase your talent like other children in the first world especially China,” said President Mnangagwa.
He said SADC should create an environment that encouraged people to innovate from a young age, which he said would help grow economies and build individual and national self-reliance.
Unicef regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa Mr Mohamed Fall moderated the discussion between the four presidents and the children.
He said, “Today provides an important opportunity to hear from children – to listen to their ideas and solutions – and to take them into account in the work Unicef and governments are doing in these countries. Children have a different perspective to adults and can produce innovative solutions that can be implemented to address some of the region’s biggest problems.
“As we recover from the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that adults listen to children’s ideas. Let’s remember that children are not the cause of the problems that the world is facing, but they pay a heavy price for them and therefore should be an essential part of the solutions to these shared challenges.”
Several of the more than 100 young people at the dialogue directly raised their concerns with their leaders.
Among them was 17-year-old Yande Banda from Zambia, who said: “It is crucial now more than ever that we accelerate girls’ access to gender transformative education and centre this in government policies and curriculums. This World Children’s Day, we must recognise that investing in girls’ education is key to building back equal.”
And Rivaldo Kanga (18) from Namibia weighed in saying: “Children with disabilities should be listened to and should be included in decision making processes to enable them to have the same opportunity as any other child.”
On the day, Unicef Youth Advocates and Young National Ambassadors around the world were appointed. In SADC, these included three each in the DRC, Malawi and Tanzania.
There were child and youth-led TedX talks in Eritrea, Rwanda and Zambia. Other landmarks that were turned the symbolic blue besides Kazungula Bridge were in Madagascar and Zambia; while there was a children’s rights march in Namibia, child takeovers of local news outlets in Lesotho and Zambia, and a high-level event in Madagascar attended by President Andry Rajoelina. – Africa-Press/Southern Times Writer