At the Scripture Union West Africa (SUWA), Child Participation Workshop held at RURCON Conference Hall in Jos from 9th – 13th June 2009.
We, the delegates drawn from Scripture Union movements from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, a representative from Liberia and AIDS Care Education Training (ACET Nigeria) gathered to have our capacities built on child participation issues and strategies for enhanced grassroots mobilisation towards greater participation of children in church and national decision making processes and actions with ultimate reduction in vulnerability of children to HIV/AIDS and other social vices.
The workshop featured presentations on focal issues affecting child development, vulnerability, child rights/protection, and how to develop children-friendly materials. Another key component was the development of SUWA strategies for increasing child-participation. At the end of this workshop, we the participants feel challenged and hereby express the following observations:
- We are happy to note that the countries represented namely Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia, are active members and signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
- We are pleased to note that some of the policies/provisions in the UNCRC are in the process of being implemented by some child related agencies.
- That the issues affecting the child such as child-trafficking, child-prostitution and child-labour are already being treated as priorities in the three countries represented at the workshop.
- We are excited to note that our different organisations have taken interest in the issue of child-participation and have started responding.
- We commend SUWA for taking the initiative to convene this international workshop.
However, we want to note that much still needs to be done to address the issue on ground. Some of the areas of concern are:
- Most children have not been involved in decision making process on things that involve and affect them.
- Many children in Africa face stigma and discrimination because of health conditions including HIV/AIDS. These children are not treated fairly or equally, even though adults’ behaviour contributes largely to the infection of most of these children.
- Many children are raised passively and this can even impair mental development and make it difficult for them to learn new skills later in life.
- Most children are bursting with potential to work hard and to express their creativity but they have no outlets to express their creative energies and exploit opportunities to develop their attributes.
- Youths who are disadvantaged in some way, lacking in lifeskills or unable to find constructive and creative outlet, are especially likely to turn their energies towards negative or self-destructive behaviours because they are always sidelined.
- While many agencies and policies have attempted to prevent high-risk youth behaviour, insufficient effort has been devoted to addressing the underlying causes hence the need for child-participation at all levels.
- By committing to the UNCRC, governments and agencies across the globe promised to ensure that all children are protected and able to grow up in safe and nurturing environments but the present reality is a far cry from these commitments.
- In African countries, most of the children are unaware of the existence of their rights and therefore are unable to play an active role in making the Convention resolves a reality.
- Exploitation of children still continues across Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Many children are exposed to child labour and become victims of violence and sexual abuse. They are also denied the right to play or to celebrate their own culture.
In view of the foregoing, we therefore proffer that the following recommendations be looked into;
- That child rights be included in the school curriculum
- That all organisations should develop child participation policies
- Criteria of recruitment of staff within organisations that targets children and young people should include the knowledge and ability to protect child rights.
- Child-participation should not be restricted to the urban areas but the rural areas should also be adequately mobilised for active participation.
- Government Organisations, Faith Based Organisations and other NGO’s should be committed to grooming Children to actively participate in the planning and implementation of programmes and projects that affect them.
- Child parliament should be encouraged at all tiers of government.
- All organisations should be committed to advocacy on child-participation.
- In organisations working among children and young people, children should be represented at all levels of leadership structures like boards, committees and teams.
- Every citizen and government alike should see to the adequate protection and safety of the child.
- All high risk behaviours affecting the child should always be addressed as a matter of urgency and priority.
- That children should not be stigmatised either based on their physical conditions or on health grounds.
- Churches should see children as stakeholders and not side line them but involve them at all levels of programme planning, and decision making process.
- National Governments of the three countries should make public to their citizenry progress reports submitted to the UNCRC as and when due.
- All stakeholders should provide a positive and safe environment where children can learn and play.
- Engaging the active commitment of the caring adults who surround the children to care for them with dignity, respect and integrity at all times.
- Churches, communities and government should prevent and reduce the incidence of abuse by enforcing child-protection policies, strategies and procedures.
- Cultural customs and traditional practices must not take precedence over the biblical guidelines for human relationships; more so that of the child. Our heavenly Father declares the value and dignity of human life. Adults and children are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139). God’s Word must have the final authority in regulating compassionate treatment of every human being, including children.
- It is critical to protect children not only from abuse but also from exposure that could make them more susceptible to abuse.
- Scripture Union urgently needs to scale up her life skills initiatives in order to equip stakeholders and reduce the vulnerability of young people to HIV/AIDS and other social vices.