What if government officials around the world began listening to children and youth? Would their own views and priorities change? Would the world become better for children?
Zambian youth who are enrolled in programs operated by ChildFund’s Kafue Child Development Agency decided to test the what-if scenario. They knew that lack of recognition and respect for children’s rights around the globe would make it difficult for their voices to be heard. But after participating in child and youth associations, working with peer mobilizers to develop leadership skills and gaining community support for their ideas, they felt it was time to speak out on practical issues impacting their daily lives. Members of the Kafue area youth association developed an action plan and formed a children’s advocacy team to secure appointments with government policymakers.
This past June, the advocacy team met with their area member of Parliament, Bradford Machila, to discuss various issues concerning children’s rights and protection. In the minister’s entourage were the Kafue district commissioner, the council chairman and the council secretary. The youth called on the government to put a stop to underage patronage in drinking places, a common practice often ignored by adults.
Children and youth committee leaders also successfully engaged with a local government minister, securing permission to make a statement calling for the prohibition of locally brewed opaque alcohol sold in small sachets, called “Tujilijili.” The youth pointed out that this alcohol’s packaging makes it portable enough for children to conceal in their pockets.
Commending the youth advocates’ research on these dangers to children, the local council secretary promised to stiffen measures to reduce underage drinking. Specifically, local government authorities have committed to more inspections of beer-drinking places, with the promise to confiscate licenses from owners found flouting regulations on opening and closing times.
Buoyed by these successes, members of the youth association are now expanding their efforts to bring about additional change in their community. The Kafue Child Development Agency has helped create an information center to enable youth better access to community information and government contacts.
Now, instead of wondering “what if,” youth in Kafue are planning what’s next.