The voice of children

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted 25 years ago on 20 November. The widely adopted convention includes the right for anyone under 18 to give their opinion, and be taken seriously by adults. But how easy is that in a country like Burundi?-By J. Berchmas Siboniyo

 Eliane Luthi: “All young people can become U-reporters” ©Iwacu

Eliane Luthi: “All young people can become U-reporters” ©Iwacu

To facilitate the community involvement of young people, UNICEF launched a mobile communication platform to help children express themselves, share experiences and give suggestions on how to improve their living conditions.
U-report is a UNICEF innovation designed to help children who have difficulty speaking up, due to poverty or because they live in rural and remote areas. The communication platform was launched in Burundi in January 2014. It is a free SMS- based service compatible with every type of mobile phone, which allows youth to bring up issues that are important to them but that they may not feel comfortable talking about in public. Eliane Luthi, Communication Specialist with UNICEF Burundi explains that the system is important for Burundian young people because they get informed and can express what they think may be improved in their community.

A committee of local civil society representatives and government members review topics that may be worth being discussed by children throughout the country before sending out the polls. “All young people can become U-reporters”, Luthi says. “Everyone that joins can send a free text message reporting what happens in the community. The messages from different youths are subsequently analyzed by UNICEF’s project team, who visualize and share the results with decision makers responsible for essential public services, thus enabling young people to play a direct role in improving conditions in their communities”, she says. Luthi indicates that young people who don’t have mobile phones are not forgotten. “We started a partnership with Radio stations like Bonesha FM, Umuco, Humuriza FM and others to broadcast the polls and feedback.” In just a few short months, over 80,000 messages have been exchanged over U-report, by over 14 thousands U-reporters.

Paulin Himbazimana, a U-reporter who lives in Ngagara indicates that he benefited from the new system: “It gives us relevant information about the realities of life countrywide. We respond to each poll. When children in different areas answer, their feedback is send back to our phones and we can read about it. I was surprised to read how scarce water is in some areas of the countryside. Through the messages we receive we discover how other children think and what their concerns in life are”, he says.

Lydia Kwizera, a child journalist, says she was surprised when she learned about the number of young girls who stop their studies because of unwanted pregnancies. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that more than 60% of girls give up studies because of pregnancies. It is awful”, she says. She indicates that as a child journalist, she benefits from U-report in the way that she can be inspired by topics being discussed there, and can find out what might be interesting to her readers.
How to register to U-report.
1. Go to messaging
2. Write ‘Join’ as the text message
3. Send it to 156
4. Wait until you receive a reply asking you to give your profile (name, gender, age…)
5. You receive a message welcoming you to U-report


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