Listen, learn, act – Unleashing the power of children’s voices

Listen, learn, act – Unleashing the power of children’s voices
Afrika Tikkun

Children and young people are experts on their lives – but they are seldom consulted about issues concerning their protection. Too many services and policies are based on what adults think and perceive rather than what children say they need. Children are not passive victims but young people with their own needs and the ability to act.

At a children’s Child Protection Imbizo convened by Afrika Tikkun in June, young people from Diepsloot, Orange Farm, Alexandra and the inner city of Johannesburg made presentations on key human rights concerns directly affecting them in their homes and township communities. Drawing on personal experiences, children, through a process of civic education and consensus building, decided on issues to focus on that put their lives, health and well-being at greatest risk.

That consensus building process involved children between Grade 1 and Grade 11 in their respective communities, making presentations to one another. They then voted for the presentations that they felt best conveyed a child protection issue affecting their community. This election process culminated in children of all ages making their presentations at the city-wide Afrika Tikkun Child Protection Imbizo.

Over 3 000 school-aged children participate in the Afrika Tikkun’s Child and Youth Development programme – which is the vehicle through which they are starting to make their voices heard. “Children came up with things we would not have known”, explained Makhoaphe Letsie, Afrika Tikkun spokesperson. “What stands out across these four townships is how different the challenges in each community were,” stated David Silva, youth development expert.

The concern brought forward by the Orange Farm and Inner City Johannesburg contingent (who were Grade 1 and 2s) was bullying. Bullies, they reported, not only steal food and physically abuse other children, but also bring drugs, like nyaope into schools. They spoke on behalf of children of all ages about bullying and the more modern threat of cyber-bullying. After two incidents of attempted child kidnapping (for perceived trafficking purposes), Grade 8s from Hillbrow raised the interlinked problems of child kidnapping and child neglect. Without adult supervision they explained in their presentations, young people are more vulnerable not only to the deprivation that comes with child neglect, but to trafficking and other forms of violence. One of the victims of an attempted trafficking incident was being held, and heard her kidnapper calling the trafficker. She only escaped because her cries drew the attention of some passers-by. Young people spoke about the culture and cycle of extreme violence they are witness to – one not only of men against women, but within the family, community and schoolyards, and perpetrated by both males and females.

The young people from Alexandra however cited their concern of kidnapping for the purposes of rape – something which they say is becoming more common. For them, the focus of their advocacy is directed at men and male children. Going forward they will be carrying out an advocacy campaign in their community targeting men.

Gender violence and imbalances were also a key concern for young people in Diepsloot whose attention was focused on the presence of Ukuthwala or forced marriage in their township. It is commonly thought of as something taking place in deeper rural areas; however, it is also a phenomenon in urban Diepsloot. They made a pledge to not be quiet about early marriage and rape.

Faced with the challenges of friends and siblings being raped by parents and caregivers, these young people are at the coal face of the horror of unchecked crime in South Africa. “Kids in Diepsloot presented that it was dangerous for them to go to school because they could be mobbed at any point, held at gunpoint. There was a lot of child abuse amongst parents or caregivers, uncles or family members. In Diepsloot there is so much going on that it is actually scary,” explained Silva.

One child from Diepsloot pleaded, “We shouldn’t be scared to go to the mall, because we are scared of the men that are going to hurt you. We need to be safe. Children in schools are not doing well. They are failing because of all the things that are happening to them.”

For the children this was a valuable opportunity to talk about their emotions as a group, as well as the issues affecting them. More than an opportunity to vent frustrations however, this Imbizo is one step along a journey they are taking, to empower and mobilise themselves to advocate for their rights to be protected. This journey will create opportunities for young people at Afrika Tikkun to engage peers, local stakeholders like principals and ward councillors, and bigger players at provincial and national level in discussion around the action needed to protect their rights. “These children are now, more than ever, able to exercise their rights and communicate these rights to an adult society,” concluded Julia Thobakgale, Child and Youth Development Manager, Diepsloot.

Afrika Tikkun has a hybrid model (Afrika Tikkun – Non Profit organization and Afrika Tikkun Services (Pty) Ltd – a Social Enterprise) which is dedicated to the eradication of poverty by caring for vulnerable children in townships through their cradle-to-career approach. Using a holistic development model, Afrika Tikkun runs programmes that address the various needs of township children and youth with the end goal being their successful placement in careers or tertiary learning facilities.

There are three core programmes, each focused on a specific age group;

  • Early Childhood Development aims to prepare 2-6 year olds for primary school;
  • Child and Youth Development provides empowerment; Innovation; Care for Yourself ( Health and Fitness); Grow Your Future and Inspired Learning programmes tailored for the specific age cohorts of 7–18yrs- with the aim of improving matric pass rates and preparing children for career and further learning opportunities;
  • Youth Skills Development and Placement provides career-pathing, job readiness, learnerships and entrepreneurial training and placement opportunities for young adults

In line with Afrika Tikkun’s holistic approach, these programmes are augmented by cross-cutting support services which include primary health care services for children, youth and their families, nutritional and food security services and family support services, all of which are provided on a case-by-case basis.