Painful new directions
Girls living through the COVID-19 crisis face an alarming risk of gender-based violence, unwanted pregnancy and child marriage. According to a recent World Vision global survey conducted to mark Universal Children’s Day, 81 per cent of children are reporting an increase in violence during the pandemic.
This is something Martine has witnessed in her own community, including with children she knows personally.
“After schools in my community closed following theCOVID-19 pandemic, one of the girls in my neighbourhood was taken by her parents to their rural home to help with farm chores,” says Martine. “Unfortunately, while there, she was abused by an adult in the area. I feel this was a consequence of closing schools.”
Violence can move a child’s life in a painful new direction, with devastating consequences that are with them for a lifetime.
Now, more than ever, the voices of children and youthlike Martine, especially the most marginalized, must be sought and included in not just COVID-19 responses, but also in the design and implementation of all humanitarian and development programs.
Why children make powerful advocates
Inviting young people to the conversation benefits all of us. Child participation is a right protected in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and works to fulfil other child rights. Yet all too often, we presume that adults can do a better job of making decisions for children.
There’s a common misconception that children lack capacity or knowledge to competently participate in the decisions that affect them. But participation serves as a virtuous cycle: the more opportunities children are offered, the more skilled and informed they become.
Initiatives that empower children, like child parliaments, become a positive path to their participation in broader community decision-making.
Here’s what happens when stakeholders adopt a participatory approach to mobilizing and equitably including children’s voices:
- Child participation shifts the narrative, so children are no longer perceived as objects to protect but agents of change who are champions for children’s rights. In fragile and emergency contexts like the DRC, this focus on child-rights interventions can lead to decreases in child marriages and gender-based violence while increasing education rates for girls.
- Children are empowered by an enabling, supportive environment that allows them to meet and share their views. Child participation forums can be inclusive, encourage diversity and removing barriers to participation. Democratic and respectful environments provide opportunities for those who are often denied a chance to speak, particularly girls.
- Children improve programs and policies because they are experts about their own lives, needs and experiences. Children possess knowledge from their unique lived experience that may not be understood by the adult decision-makers in their lives.
By serving as a liaison among policy makers, local partners and community members, children can influence policies, practices and attitudes and spark transformative solutions that change communities and countries.
Fighting back against COVID-19
The complete, devastating impact that COVID-19 will make across the world is still not fully known. We know the pandemic has claimed the lives of more than a million people, disrupted education and livelihoods and placed tens of millions of people at risk of extreme poverty and gender-based violence.
The time to intervene is now – not once COVID is under control. This is a critical time to rebuild with stronger systems that reinforce the rights and agency of the world’s most vulnerable children.
Concerted efforts to engage young people, especially girls, in the recovery decisions that affect them offers a unique opportunity to harness their under-represented expertise, insight and enthusiasm to solve global problems like COVID-19.
Child parliaments in action
Around the world, child parliaments have been a powerful way to galvanize and equip children, youth, parents and community leaders to take responsive and pro-active action for social change in their communities and countries.
Formed in 2011, child parliaments in the DRC have engaged thousands of children, youth, parents and community leaders on issues pertaining to access to quality education, child protection, child marriage and sexual reproductive health and rights. It teaches youth to harness activism, government engagement and social movements to challenge unfair policies, practices or attitudes affecting children and young people.
Martine’s life, Martine’s voice
Martine became involved with a child parliament in the DRC after becoming aware of the devastating impact of gender inequality firsthand. Today, Martine presses for change through her role as the Gender Commissioner of her local child parliament.
“The child parliament has helped me so much,” says Martine. “It has equipped me with so many skills for my development as an advocate for children. I tell children in the community that women and girls have rights, and that these must be respected."
“We want to be able to stand before people and speak about our issues, and talk about our rights and dreams,” says Martine. “When girls realize that their rights are respected, I know that they will do their best to achieve all their dreams.”
This story was originally published by Word Vision Canada (Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore). Read the full story here.