Linda’ s experience in Kwale
There are around two billion young people under 18 alive somewhere in the world. That’s 2,000,000,000 individuals, one-third of the world’s population! Yet despite these numbers, children and young people in many societies are rarely heard. They often have little chance to express themselves about issues affecting them. Many do not have the skills or tools to communicate their messages to others. All too often, adults are unaware that children and young people have something useful to say. So they become passive spectators in their own lives, unable to affect decisions that impact on them directly.
And this is the situation young citizens are saying must change: and ICTs can and will change the rules of exclusion for them.
Culturally among the communities in Kwale, Kinango and Msambweni districts, children and more specifically the girls are to be seen and not heard. This limits them from airing their views and opinions. Adults, especially the men end up making decisions on key issues that affect the children and not necessarily do the children have a chance to say what they want. The indigenous population is predominantly Mijikenda, and they are highly patriarchal communities, which raises the need for empowerment of children and women in the community decision – making process. The results of this have been basically low participation of both women and children in development activities. This has seen them being denied opportunities to control resources, own property, access services and legal rights.
Families work hard to provide the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing despite the low economic status and poverty. In the Mijikenda community, the family is pre-dominantly patriarchal, the woman and the girl child lack a voice especially when it comes to making important decisions. Within the home set up, the girl is over-burdened with domestic chores leaving no room for her to express herself or have an opportunity to realize her real and full potential. This impact negatively on the girls’ education and social orientation which hampers ambition as girls are raised to only be housewives and passive participants in decision making processes. Consequently, the girls’ needs are never a priority and this perpetuates the marginalization of the girls. The culture hinders boys from expressing themselves especially on issues affecting them and their female siblings. The socio-political set up of the community in Kwale has for a long time had no consideration for children participation in decision-making. A majority of the community structures such as the village councils, Community Based Organizations and interest groups have minimal or no provisions for children participation and involvement in decision making. Where those provisions exist, children participation lacks meaningful impact because only a few children are involved, the approaches are not child friendly and their contributions are often ignored. Similarly the local provincial administration structures have not been accessible to children, have not been child friendly and a majority of the administrators have lacked the capacity to address children issues.
There is a general perception that giving children a voice makes the adults feel they will loose control and will lead to indiscipline and disrespect. Some community members have low regard of proponents of child voices and rights. Others think that due to high levels of poverty, it may be difficult to provide for the children voices and rights, which will come with certain emotional, time and monetary demands.
“I cannot sit with my child to discuss issues in my home, they will start demanding for things that I cannot provide. These rights are for the rich not people like us here.” Parent
Yet still some question whether promoting child voices and rights has any worthwhile returns to warrant investment of time, energy and resources. Most efforts to raise the children’s’ voices by different agencies including NGOs and the government have not been able to fully impact and contribute tangible results in areas of children’s rights especially children participation and protection. It is not uncommon to hear a parent saying that child rights are the creation of development agencies just seeking ways of making money in the name of helping children. The communities believe that they have always done well and that they mean the best for their children and are always acting in the best interest of the child.
Through the work I have been engaged in I recognise the fact that children and youth have the right to organize themselves to represent their own interests and there is need to cultivate a socio-political system and culture that promotes this organisation by the children. To be most effective, participation requires widespread changes in political and institutional structures, as well as in attitudes, values and cultural practices, so that children are recognized as citizens and stakeholders in the present – not just in the future.
The main premise of my work has been to facilitate the voices of children and youth to bear on their own issues and rights, using information and communications technology to broaden their to participate in decisions about their own lives.
Many individuals, children and institutions have contributed to my work by offering their time and perspectives to the great benefit of my everyday interactions with the children, youths and communities. This Blog shares my experiences in the field with young citizen participation as they change the rules for social change in their communities through the use of ICTs.