2.7 Advocacy with children

Empowering children to advocate for themselves – Uganda

As you know from your study of this curriculum it is a guiding principle of both the UN Convention and the African Charter that children have the right to be heard and have their views taken seriously. However, generally, it is adults who have the power to decide how things are run. In practice it can be difficult for children to express their views or have their voices heard. Sometimes what is required to make sure this happens is advocacy with them and not just for them. Health workers provide support to children who come into health centres, clinics and hospitals. Advocating for child rights in health involves making this idea part of everyday health care practice. Health workers who care for children must be able to listen to children, respect their right to be heard and help them express their views to others.

Children can be involved in advocacy that is led by adults on issues concerning children, or they can be empowered to be advocates themselves. Organisations that work on issues affecting children need to move from talking on behalf of children to giving children opportunities to speak and empowering them to speak for themselves and their peers. Girls and boys in many different situations around the world have organised themselves to take collective actions and to promote and support their rights. Children will still need help to achieve this but rather than speaking for children, an advocate can be a facilitator. For example they could encourage and support their efforts with information and explanations about the way systems or bureaucracies work or with finance and technical assistance, such as helping them to produce a poster. It is children and young people who are taking the lead.

An example of a campaign run by children and young people on sexual abuse

Example from a pilot project involving World Vision Zambia in monitoring and evaluating children’s participation

A 12-year-old boy was sexually abused by a 26-year-old woman. In this community, there had been a project to run an advocacy campaign by children and young people to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse and children’s rights to protection. Local men, women and children had been provided with knowledge on protective legislation; they learned that under the laws of Zambia, defilement was a serious crime punishable by imprisonment. Upon hearing of the incident of defilement involving the 12-year-old boy, the community was concerned, and mobilised themselves to take action. They involved the police, and the boy received psychosocial counselling and, in his best interests, was removed from the abusive environment and sent to live with his aunt in another town to enable him to recover. The alleged perpetrator had run away by the time the police got involved. Nonetheless a search for her was launched. This incident illustrates both that children can be effective advocates in raising awareness of the need for action within their local communities, and also the power of communities to protect children as a consequence of that advocacy. They were empowered with knowledge on protective legislation for children that they acquired through this project. Had the incident occurred in the previous years prior to the start of the programme, it is possible that perhaps the community’s attitude towards the incident could have been one of showing very little concern.

Some of the benefits of child-led advocacy are:

  • Children have a unique voice – they talk about issues clearly and simply.
  • They can cut through technical jargon. They just want things to change.
  • Decision-makers do not usually come into contact with children so when they do, they often find it refreshing, and they take notice of what children say.
  • It will bring ideas from children’s reality and adults will be able to see the problem and the solutions through the children’s eyes.
  • Children and young people will have ownership of the solutions.
  • The visibility of children promotes recognition that children can express their views and can be active citizens and have rights.
  • Children will learn new skills, gain self-confidence, and begin to have a voice and exert influence.

2.8 Strategies for advocacy