On World Children’s Day, South Sudanse children use creative spaces to advocate their hopes and dreams
Meet 13-year-old Daniel Sabri from South Sudan. He is confident, passionate, intelligent and does not mince his words asking tough questions, or getting his voice heard on live broadcasts.
“We are going to be talking about the child’s rights, because on this date in 1989, the Convention of the Rights of Children was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly,” he says, as he introduces himself on a live show he is “taking over” for an hour.
Daniel is one of several South Sudanese youngsters who participated in a radio show, part of a ‘Speak out. Be heard’ campaign, organized by the UN Children’s agency, Unicef, in collaboration with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to mark the World Children’s Day.
Co-hosting ‘The Beat’, an upbeat music and interview show which airs weekdays on the United Nations Radio, Miraya FM, Daniel, who hopes for a better generation for South Sudan’s children, engaged South Sudan’s Acting Director-General at the Ministry of Gender, and Unicef’s Child Protection official.
“I am so happy because the world has remembered the children – they have not forgotten them,” said Daniel in an interview after going on air, where he had articulated the concerns, hopes and challenges, he and other children face in South Sudan.
“What I want to tell the people who are going to listen to me is that let them put more effort in taking their children to school because education is what we are looking for,” said the bright-eyed student on air. “There is a proverb that says, ‘If education is expensive, try ignorance’ - ignorance is not good” he added. “So, we have to try our level best to continue with our education because this is what we are going to depend on in our future. Without education, our life cannot change,” he concluded.
The children, indeed found their voices, gently challenging the adults.
“I need my government to encourage girl child education because some of the girls in the country are suffering because of education, and they are not able to pay their school fees,” said Joyce Poni a female student who participated in the “take over”. “Some of them are really suffering, we need help so that we are able to go ahead with our education,” she added.
“They are asking us very tough questions which most of them we cannot answer,” said Mary Kojo Ali, the Acting Director General at the Ministry of Gender. “It is their right that we should be focusing on children,” she said, “ but given our current situation, it looks like we are neglecting them – but we are not neglecting them – it is because of the circumstances that we are in, and as a Ministry, we have a lot of strategies and policies that we have developed to address the issues of children,” she added.
All dressed in blue t-shirts, part of a global taking over and turning the world blue, the primary school students also took in calls from listeners from across the country.
The United Nations Universal Children’s Day was established in 1954 and is celebrated on November 20th each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare.
For Unicef, discussing the Convention of the Rights of the Child is an important step to ensuring that it is fully implemented. The Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on this day in 1989, spelling out civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. South Sudan ratified the Convention in 2015.
“The takeover of radio is to make sure that the children are in the forefront of radio programmes and platforms today, and make sure that they commemorate their day in reality – that it’s not only adults who can seat on the chair and interview and run the programme, but children can do it, too,” said Unicef’s Chief of Child Protection Vedasto Nsanzugwanko. “Actually, it is fascinating, and it actually shows that children are able – children can do it!” reiterated a delighted Nsanzugwanko.
Other guests sympathetic to the rights of the child hailed the need to have children listened to.
“I believe children have a lot to contribute to the society, and I believe children should not be disregarded and assumptions should not be made that we know the best for children,” said Denis Ogen Rwot from Hold The Child.
“We should work together with children to bring out the best in them, to nurture them,” he said.
“These children are relevant. They need to be listened to. I have been amazed at how many good ideas children have,” says Helene Ryeng from Unicef. “We have a saying in my country [Norway] that it is the one wearing the shoe that knows where it hurts. They know where it hurts. They are in the best position to come up with solutions. That is why we should consult them, because a lot of the time if you don’t wear the shoe, you don’t know where it hurts, so how can you fix the problem?” she asks.
“The children are the future of this world and country, and we really have to make the space and time for them,” said the Head of the Miraya FM, Ratomir Petrovic.
Speaking on one of the Miraya FM shows, the Head of the UNMISS Child Protection, Alfred Orono Orono said the revilitized peace agreement gives the children of South Sudan a chance to claim their childhood that was stolen by years of conflict.
“All of us have a lot of hope that the peace is coming,” said Orono, adding that “two months ago, the government issued a legislation in support of children on the streets.”
“We work with the government and the parties to the conflict to make sure that children are not recruited into the army, not raped, not killed, not abducted, sexually assaulted, and the schools they go to study and hospitals they visit are not attacked and destroyed and that humanitarian access to them is not hindered,” said Orono.
At a separate space, an Art for Peace competition brought together about 30 secondary school students who through their drawings tried to highlight the ‘Child’s Right to Peace’.
The creatives were handed plain paper and coloured pencils, and asked to come up with a visual representation of their hopes for South Sudan.
“I like doing arts, music, drawings - so I had an idea about drawing something to express the peaceful coexistence among people, and the actions we should be taking, because peace has come to South Sudan,” said 17-year-old Bappino Anidawe, whose entry won the coveted first place.