Children know their heroes


For children of yesteryear, powerful Superheroes were disguised in magical attire – they could do anything, be anywhere, at any time. It doesn’t take anything other than mentioning the names of heroes such Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Power Girl, Spiderman, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and many more others to see any child’s face light up.

The common qualities of these characters has always been their ability to fight evil and restore good in the world for the benefit of humankind. But the world has changed since the creation of these fictional characters. What’s further changed is the form of the “evil” these characters battle against. Today, poverty, inequality, sexual violence, human trafficking, lack of quality healthcare and education are some of the evils currently facing children across the world.

The Convention on Children’s Rights adopted in November 1989 states that “parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”

It is this modern day there are brave superheroes – ordinary men and women – who work tirelessly to ensure children’s rights are upheld and in turn children of today have come to look up to them. As the world marks Universal Children’s Day today, we think of modern-day heroes such as Burundi’s Spès Nihangaza, known for her 25-year fight for orphaned children who have been severely affected by the AIDS epidemic and a brutal civil war, Ashok Dyalchand from India, who has been campaigning against child marriage and fighting for girls’ rights for 40 years and Haiti’s Guylande Mésadieu who has been fighting for 20 years for children who have been forced into slavery, children in prison and children on the street.

The synonymous phrase that connects all these heroes is the word “fight.” The three activists who have advocated for children’s rights have however not gone without facing challenges. There have been plenty of impediments to the work they seek to do but they have risen above all odds to deliver. As a result of their hard work, Nihangaza, Dyalchand and Mésadieu have been selected by a jury of children from 15 different countries for the World’s Children’s Prize (WCP).

Children who form part of this jury are experts in children’s rights and also have their fair share of experiences which includes them being refugees, slaves and child soldiers.

In South Africa, one of these children who form part of the jury is Sesethu Ntikinca. The 14-year-old pupil from Noluthando School for the Deaf in Section B, Khayelitsha, Cape Town has spent spends most of her time advocating for the rights of children living with disabilities. As a youngster, who is mute and deaf, Ntikinca has shown those in her community that all children matter despite the challenges they are faced with. Ntikinca was already in Sweden early this year attending workshops part of the WCP project and sharing her experiences with others from different countries.

The adult heroes that Ntikinca and others will be recognising and appreciating at an award ceremony on May 19, 2019, at the Royal Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred, Sweden have gone to prove that with a little bit of patience – making a difference is possible. Queen Silvia of Sweden will be assisting Ntikinca and her peers in presenting the awards Previous WCP laureates include the children’s Decade Child Rights Heroes such as Graça Machel and Nelson Mandela, Ann Skelton, Hector Pieterson and Nkosi Johnson (both posthumously).

Since its launch in 2000, some 42 million children have participated in the WCP Program, which is the world’s largest annual rights and democracy education initiative for children. Moreover, patrons of the WCP include Malala Youzafsai, the late Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, Desmond Tutu, Sweden’s Queen Silvia and Sweden’s Prime Minister and Minister for Children. South African patrons include philanthropist and businessman Dr Iqbal Survé, the late struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada and legendary African singer and songwriter Vusi Mahlasela.

The WCP Program educates and empowers children to become changemakers who stand up for human fellowship, the equal value of all people, the rights of the child, democracy and sustainable development. The majority of the children involved in the program are living in poor and fragile states. These vulnerable children, including also children who have been exploited as soldiers, slaves or in the child sex trade, discover for the first time that they have rights and are able to make their voices heard.

Noni Mokati is a development content editor.