Giving children a voice, helping hand
By Isaac Salima:
Fifteen-year-old Mathews Moffat (not real name) lost both parents when he was nine years old.
He stays in Chileka, Blantyre, with her aunt, a peasant farmer. After knocking off from school, Mathews, who is in standard seven, is sent to a nearby market to sell fresh cassava and fritters.
The child is always told to return home after selling all items, which is why he normally goes home at around 10pm every day.
He is also forced to wake up early in the morning to do household chores before he goes to school.
“I do not have time for rest,” Mathews said.
“This affects my studies because sometimes I doze in class,” he added.
Mathews took the matter to some authorities in the village who promised to talk to the aunt but they never did. Mathews now faces an uncertain future and, unfortunately, he has nowhere to go as the aunt is the remaining relation to take care of him.
Mathews is one of many children who continue to experience abuse from parents, guardians, friends you name them.
According to the Law Commission, over 60 percent of boys and girls tell someone of violence or abuse but few get the desired response.
“Cases of violence against children are on the increase in the country and when the victims report such cases, it is expected that the one receiving the report should do something but a small number of people or authorities respond to those reports,” Gills Msiska, Law Commission’s Chief Education Officer, said.
Concerned with the rate at which children’s rights are being violated, Development Communications Trust (DCT) is, with support from United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), implementing a one-year Child and Youth Friendly Communities Initiative aimed at strengthening child-friendly governance.
The organisation recently gathered stakeholders in Mangochi to develop a strategic roadmap for the project, which was piloted in Chikwawa and Nsanje.
Msika said their involvement would be premised on raising awareness on child and gender-related laws.
“The laws that we have in the country on the protection of children provides for the protection, prevention and response to violence against children. However it seems the knowledge gap on these laws is a big problem and that is why Unicef approached us to raise awareness on the same among community members and duty bearers,” Msiska said.
The meeting attracted officials from the University of Malawi, Chikwawa and Nsanje district councils, Ministry of Local Government, National Planning Commission, Anti- Corruption Bureau, Mpira M’mudzi wathu and gospel musician Ethel Kamwendo, who all have specific roles in the project.
For instance, the Ministry of Local Government will be providing oversight and coordination roles aimed at strengthening local level planning systems which will be critical in empowering community members to participate in the development interventions. This is to ensure that programming is aligned to Malawi 2063 agenda, which is the overarching policy for development for Malawi.
The primary object is that all the stakeholders should ensure that, at the end of the project, every child and young person is valued, respected and treated fairy within their communities, every child and young person has access to quality and essential social services and also that every child and young person has opportunities to enjoy family life, play and leisure.
DCT Executive Director Prince Mtelera said, so far, they have made inroads in creating community members that are child-friendly.
“We are looking at the Decentralisation Policy, which entails participation of children in planning, implementation and monitoring of issues that concern them. As such, through village action plans, we have been involving the children to tell their stories. We also created spaces to allow children engage stakeholders when they have issues with quality of services,” Mtelera said.
Unicef Malawi Chief Community Development Manager Matteo Frontini expressed hope that, in collaboration with stakeholders, they will provide safer environments for children.
“We want the councils’ social and economic plans to have a voice of every child so that they can be considered an important part of the system. With this arrangement, we are sure that the youth will help in meeting Malawi Government’s agenda 2063 goals,” Frontini said.
Deputy Minister of Local Government Halima Daud described the project as crucial in efforts aimed at empowering and protecting children.
“We always say that youth are the leaders of tomorrow. However we have to start working with them when they are young. We are hopeful that the project will be rolled out in all districts of the country,” Daud said.
Unicef has been supporting about 3,000 cities and communities across the world in the initiative.