Our children need to be heard, not just seen: iLIVE

28 January 2013 - 02:10 By Stanley Maphosa, advocacy and external engagements adviser for World Vision South Africa, writing in his personal capacity

In 1976, the government of the day did not listen to the voices of children about educational issues and a historic tragedy occurred. No one wants to see a repeat of the 1976 issues after 19 years of freedom in South Africa.

Children are speaking again to their parents, churches, political parties, civil society, business and government, and we should listen rather than overreact by dragging each other to court or trying to silence the young voices.

Recently, First National Bank launched its "You Can Help" campaign, in which the voices of 1300 children from across the country were fused into one message presented by a 17-year-old girl.

The children, who are born-frees, speak about issues of education, health, employment creation, nutrition, governance and accountability. FNB simply facilitated and amplified their voices, bringing them to the public space.

I trust FNB had parental consent and followed all the ethics of child protection in getting the children to share these stories.

I am not sure whether the stories were really from the children themselves, or made up by adults and spoken by the children. However, when all is said and done, the children have spoken.

While we correct the mistakes FNB might have made (if any), we need to take time as a society to listen and act on the key messages the children have shared with us.

Many organisations that are child-focused, such as World Vision South Africa, Unicef and Save the Children, have always encouraged child participation.

They have collected views of children in their assessments of their projects.

These voices have not reached public spaces in the way the FNB ad did.

Children need to be heard.

The ANC Youth League called the FNB campaign treacherous. This is a strong term that brings fear to those who want to facilitate the voices of children, and to the children themselves.

While the vessel (FNB) might be wrong and there are some scripts that attack individuals (which need to be apologised for by the creator of the campaign), the message as a whole is not completely wrong.

Someone once said that if you get one fake note out of 1000, you throw away just one and not the other 999.

The days when children were only seen and not heard are over. Even in our own homes, our children challenge us, talk back and participate in decisions that affect their wellbeing.

We need to find a mechanism as a nation to listen to and act on the voices of the children rather than sanction them.

Children have the right to speak about their concerns and to take the responsibility to suggest solutions.

With the National Development Plan in place it is critical to hear what children want to see in the country by 2030.

There are also continuing national consultations on the goals that will be developed after 2015, on which children need to be heard.

The voices of the children, especially the most vulnerable, should be listened to and reflected on in the framework produced after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

Children have a right to have a say on decisions that affect them in this country, this region and globally.

The success of this government should not be measured only on the infrastructure and other high- level engagements and events, but also on its impact on the most vulnerable children.

Children and youths should participate in setting the agenda of development in the country.