Children take on UN radio airwaves to champion their rights ahead of Day of the African Child
It may have started like any other day, but this was no ordinary day for a bunch of excited South Sudanese students.
Marking the Day of the African Child a couple of days early, they took on the reigns of the UN Radio station, and also clearly articulated various issues they had up their sleeves.
Hiding her nervousness, as she read the first news bulletin of the day, Elizabeth Aguil soldiered on with confidence and clarity.
“It was very interesting reading the news and it was even a life experience,” said young Aguil, at the end of the news broadcast which highlighted various current issues affecting South Sudan and the region.
“When I used to be outside there, I used to think those reading news are maybe … I thought those guys are magical,” said the bubbly student. “They are awesome. You know if you are coming to do something for the first time you feel a little nervous like, ‘what should I do?’ but it was really very interesting I enjoyed reading news; I even felt like not coming out, and that I should continue reading,” she went on.
The UN Radio Miraya has in recent years occasionally invited students to practically take over the airwaves so they can echo their concerns and ask various officials tough questions.
This year, the students are speaking out demanding the right to education for both boys and girls.
“I am feeling so happy that I have been given the chance to express myself. Such an opportunity is a lifetime opportunity to promote child education, in the country and look into the suffering of children,” said Marlin Khidir.
Every year on June 16, since 1991, children across Africa commemorate the Day of the African Child, remembering hundreds who were shot in South Africa’s Soweto during protests against the low-quality education that they were receiving.
Friday’s broadcasts, punctuated by some entertainment, also brought out serious discussions relating to violations that many children have been experienced in troubled South Sudan.
On the receiving end, the UNMISS head of Child Protection explained the role of his work to the inquisitive day-long ‘news personalities’.
“The children are the future we should all work together to prepare this future. If we expect a bright future let’s invest in the future right now and the future is children,” said Orono-Orono. “Let’s ensure that all violations against children are eradicated. It is very simple,” he continued. “It requires education, it requires commitment, and it requires resources,” stressed the UNMISS Chief of Child Protection.
Also at hand to be grilled by the children, was an official from the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), who underscored the importance of giving children a voice, while explaining the role of the global UN children’s agency in South Sudan.
“Children should speak up about the issues that are affecting their lives,” said Helene Ryeng, Unicef’s Communication Officer. “I understand it can be challenging because I know that in some areas … in some places they are not used to being listened to, but it is important that they’re exercising their right to speak up and getting used to having their voice heard,” said Ryeng, who encouraged “all children to speak up about issues that affecting them, addressing them with adults and other influential people in their lives.”
The students also had the chance of engaging one of the country’s government officials who encouraged the children to loudly articulate themselves to help unite the country’s leaders with the hope for a better future.
“We want to see that these children grow up as good future leaders, and we want them to be mentored by good leaders,” said Mary Kojo Ali, Director General for Child and Social Welfare, saying that she hoped the current generation should be given a safe space where they can mentored, unlike the space she grew up in during the country hard years of conflict.
With the day’s theme, ‘Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First’ in mind, the young broadcasters also had a chance to put the country’s most senior United Nations official and Head of UNMISS on the spot, prodding him with questions on what he thought they, as children, should do.
“I think children should dream; they should have hopes and they should have dreams,” said David Shearer, who with ease was able to bring out his humane side in an interview where he spoke about how he grew up and how he dared to dream.
For the adults, Shearer asked: “How can we help you fulfil your dreams? That’s what adults should be doing. My message to all the grown-ups out there is: Listen to your kids. Listen to their dreams and help them to get to where they want to go,” he advised.