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In Darfur, Voices Of Children Defend Their Rights

By Tania McBride

In troubled Darfur, the voices of children defend their rights

Amidst the sandstorms, heat, dust and insecurity of Darfur, the voices of hundreds of children rang out as they delivered key messages on the rights of children during the 18th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"Watch, Listen, Talk and Act," was the key theme of a joint initiative between UNICEF and North Darfur State Council for Child Welfare, staged in the city of El Fasher. Four high schools and two kindergartens participated in a wide range of activities including dance, drama, poetry, jokes, music and even a tug-of-war contest to convey their messages on child rights.

The Secretary General of the State Council for Child Welfare, Dr. Jihad Mohammed Yussef addressed children, parents, teachers and community members. Dr. Jihad emphasizing that upholding and defending children's rights is a fundamental role for parents and teachers and that the state had an obligation to ensure that these rights were embedded into Sudanese culture and law. Dr. Jihad's message was fourfold:

* All major stakeholders in children's education should teach children about their rights;

* Children should be encouraged to ask what rights they have;

* The community should vigorously defend the rights of children;

* Children's rights ultimately need to be protected.

Dr. Jihad also emphasized that with these rights comes responsibility.

Getting the message out

Large numbers of parents and community members braved the early morning 'haboob' - the renowned Sudanese sandstorms - to be entertained by the children, who used a variety of artistic mediums to talk about child rights.

A crowd favourite was a group of girls at Al Shargia Girls Secondary School adorned in UNICEF t-shirts and baseball caps who performed a rap with the message about acceptable behaviour between men and women.

In Trafiya kindergarten, a five-year-old girl moved the crowd with a heartfelt poem on the impact of war. Her words were echoed in a chant that broke out amongst children from Union High School for Girls: "No to war, yes to peace!"

An estimated 2 million children are affected by the conflict in Darfur and many have been born knowing nothing but a life lived in camps for the internally displaced. Amidst the drama and laughter in El Fasher, the message of respecting children's rights was especially poignant.


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