Why are children being chased away from community-related awareness raising events?

Having worked with Refugee Law Project (RLP), School of Law, Makerere University for two years and in two different refugee settlements – Palabek and now Kiryandongo refugee settlement, I have watched with discomfort how children from 6-15 year of age are often “Chased Away” - sometimes with sticks - during community-related events such as community policing sessions and commemoration of international days that are intended to raise awareness and pass on information. Ironically, this strange practice of ‘chasing’ children away is at times at the hands of humanitarian and development agencies - including some mandated to work directly with children. Such practice leaves a lot to be desired; don’t the actors’ plan and budget for such sessions to include children from the onset?  One may want to know whether, when organizing an information session for instance targeting 150 people, whether this number includes children. Does ‘people’ by default imply ‘adults only’? If we say ‘non-discrimination’ do actors really walk-the-talk? Perhaps contentious, this is what this blog explores.

More often than not, mobilizing and notifying communities about these activities requires the use of megaphones, as the mobilisers drive along the road, loud speakers and music go hand-in-hand with distribution of beautifully designed posters – all of which attract children to run after the vehicles for several minutes if not hours. In the process, children sometimes aid in relaying the information to their parents and caretakers through bringing the posters home and/or talking about the activity being announced. Clearly, the process of dissemination of messages through the moving caravans during mobilization does not discriminate against children. At this stage, the communiqués passed are inclusive. Words/phrases such as “Come One, Come All” are common.

D-day is usually not any different as it is characterized by loud music and sounds used to attract the audience. Children often come earlier than adults and sometimes even offer to help by carrying and arranging chairs and tables. Ironically, as adults emerge and come to occupy their seats, children end up being instruments of arrangements and mobilization after which they are “Chased”, and sometimes with sticks, by the “Askaris” of the day tasked with crowd control.

Such occasions propel me to ask; Do organizations plan and prepare messages and resources including refreshments for children attending such community events? It is not unusual - and I have myself witnessed this in both Kiryandongo and Palabek settlements - , for ‘refreshments’ to be served to adult participants only despite children being in attendance. Unconsumed bites and drinks are often returned to the stores for accountability purposes. In addition to the discriminatory serving of drinks and bites, it is also typical of such events for the chairs to be reserved for the adults only. It is saddening to watch children sitting on the bare ground as if they are not in attendance. And are children all treated the same? Definitely not! I have seen, on more than one occasion, children invited from schools and donning school uniforms being treated rather differently, and actually in a rather more friendly manner than those not in school uniforms. In other words, the non-school going children in attendance are further marginalized. To make it worse, only few people seem to observe this with dissatisfaction or bother to ask why some of these children are not in school in the first place.

What does this mean for actors concerned about child protection and safeguarding? Clearly, a number of children continue to be excluded from public events as well as community-related planning and programming. Secondly, excluding children from accessing appropriate information is further discrimination, and violation of the right to information. We might argue that age-appropriate information needs to be provided to children and they should acquire them from homes and schools - but such arguments ignore the numerous reasons why children in the refugee settlements are out of school; parents unable to afford the scholastic materials to support the Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education systems; child headed families; total orphans, and unaccompanied minors during war times. It further ignores drunkard parents who are unable to take time with their children. And does the current education system include the kind of information delivered during such sessions? If so, how will rule of law actors address the increasing cases of child delinquency - including cases of “child-to-child sex” – particularly given the very limited number of remand homes in Uganda.

Through this blog, I question the least thought about, because I strongly believe that silence on an issue is not far from perpetration. Some of us perhaps grew up in very different contexts decades back but that doesn’t mean we should blind ourselves to contemporary challenges facing children. If anything, it’s clearer than ever that children are not passive recipients of aid and information – they too are active participants in causing transformation in their lives and their society. The recent cases of children crowding streets in various countries in protest against environmental destruction should awaken us to the fact that children are the legitimate leaders of the future, and as such, we ought to perhaps keep them in the loop of conversations especially those that concern them and their futures.

The Loud Silence: The plight of refugee male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence

The Loud Silence: The plight of refugee male survivors of conflict-related sexual violence

 “At first I even never told the doctor about what happened to me, because it is not easy to talk about it...” – Male survivor of conflict-related sexual violence based in Kampala.

Sexual violence against men and boys is not a new phenomenon in many parts of the world, especially in war zones and post-conflict communities but, surprisingly, the vice has continued to receive very little attention and recognition both at policy and program levels. Additionally, the many legal jurisdictions have narrow definitions of sexual violence offenses that recognise female counterparts, but not male victims. 

Proactive approaches required for transformative political participation of refugee women and girls

Historically, there has been limited inclusion of women in leadership and decision making due to the patriarchal nature of society at large. However, women such as Mother Teresa and Marie Curie emerged in humanitarian and scientific spaces. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S when women where considered as potential leaders in the political arena like Rosa Parks-let alone the British matriarchy era. Today, a number of women all over the world have held important positions in office like Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, etc. By 2018, over 70 women had served as presidents or prime ministers all over the world.

Tackling Conflict-related Sexual Violence: How much are we tapping from young people’s creativity?

By Onen David Ongwech (Published 10th July 2017)

I recently found my commitment to tackling conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) reinvigorated when I took an important trip to Bath College’s New Perspectives exhibition on June 20, 2017 to support a magnificent piece of art on display which illuminates the plight of male survivors of CRSV. This trip came ahead of the World Refugee Day, Uganda Solidarity Refugee Summit on Refugees, and UN Day Against Torture.

Integrate Partner-supported Voluntary Safe Male Circumcision into the fight against HIV and AIDS

By Onen David Ongwech, Programme Manager - Gender & Sexuality (Published 23rd May 2016)

Several decades have passed and scientists still continue to seek durable and workable solutions to HIV and AIDS. As the quest for the cure is still in limbo, several approaches have seen light of the day, including the famous ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful, use Condoms) strategy.

The ABC approach continues to encounter resistance; Condom use is contested among some faith-based sects while Abstinence and Being Faithful are impractical for some people. In the search for alternative feasible and faith friendly options, advocacy for Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) became pertinent.

Activism & Social Transformation; Does Our Behavior Matter?

By Onen David Ongwech, Programme Manager - Gender & Sexuality (Published 21st April 2016)

Sometimes people and cultures are more impacted by what is done than what is said. I personally find it hard to breathe when, for example, I see police officers walk passed people fighting, when a medical doctor drives past a tragic accident scene, when a community leader organizes a meeting that excludes women, when a child protection officer contributes to the marriage of a 15 year old girl, when a law enforcement officer is arrested for selling drugs, or when a person makes a U-turn upon reaching a cul-de-sac but tells no-one heading in the same direction. These are just a few examples of how some professionals in a range of spheres become complacent and even complicit when confronted with issues that should instead bring out the best in them. 

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