Hon Khazimla Adam, Speaker of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament speaking during the 11th sitting of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament held in the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature on 14 July 2023.

By Precious Mupenzi

  • South Africa commemorates 30 years of democracy, highlighting the importance of child participation, evident in the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament, a platform where children from all provinces engage on issues impacting the nation’s 20 million children.
  • Established in 2011 under the defunct Department of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities, the parliament draws inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s call for a safe platform to amplify children’s voices.
  • Milestones include global conferences on child labour and gender-based violence, showcasing children’s voices, and the drafting of a manifesto, demonstrating the commitment to children’s rights and governance.

As South Africa celebrates 30 years of democracy, which has been sustained by citizen participation through exercising the right to vote, it is equally important to note the significance of child participation since children are the future.

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament provides a platform for such participation, where children from all provinces in South Africa come together to engage on pertinent issues affecting the 20 million children that populate the country.

David Chabalala, Director of Child Advocacy at the Office on the Rights of the Child within the Department of Social Development, explained that in 2011, the Government of South Africa, under the defunct Department of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities, established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament to commemorate Madiba’s birthday as both a concept and a programme.

“The Children’s Parliament draws inspiration from a call made by the Founder of Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and former President Nelson Mandela for the establishment of a secure, safe, and conducive platform to allow for children’s voices to be heard. In the parliament, children are elected by their peers to be represented at a national level.”

Chabalala highlighted that South Africa is characterised by many challenges affecting its children.

“Issues such as the scourge of substance abuse, child trafficking, child killings, rapes, and teenage pregnancies should be addressed vigorously. It is in the hands of all of us to make a meaningful change in the lives of our children. Government alone will not succeed. We need parents, community organisations, and of course children themselves.”

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament is one of the mechanisms in South Africa designed to safeguard children’s rights to participate. Other instruments include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the South African Constitution, and the Children’s Act.

Chabalala said the process of selecting children to participate in the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament is guided by an agreed criterion.

“These guidelines emphasise the importance of ensuring fair representation based on localities (rural and urban, race, disability, etc.). Provinces are continuously advised to comply with the criteria and national role players have the responsibility to guide the selection. We do have provincial preparatory sessions where the children are elected by other children, based on the stipulated guidelines. We ensure that national comprised of all stakeholders are physically present at all the sessions.”

Milestones in the enhancement of child participation

Chabalala said the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament introduced an Ambassadorial programme where children from all provinces elect a provincial ambassador for one year, which is now being reviewed to be two years. “We can confirm today that some of the former ambassadors are in the political space and others pursuing studies on children’s rights.”

Additionally, Chabalala noted that South Africa hosted the Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour in June 2022. Through the coordinating Department, DSD, the participation of more than a hundred children globally at the Conference, held at the ICC in Durban, was secured.

“Children’s voices were captured in the Durban Call For Action,” said Chabalala.

He noted with pride that the second milestone in enhancing child participation was when children were represented at the second Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF), held in November 2022 at the Gallagher Estate, Midrand.

“The voices of children were acknowledged towards serious consideration of adding Pillar seven in the GBVF Strategic Plan. There are engagements presently taking in this regard. This shows that the voices of children are gradually being taken seriously.”

He said that the last key achievement is that, both the AU Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child acknowledged the best child participation model initiated in South Africa.

“But both expressed the need to strengthen the process,” said Chabalala.

He continued to add that without diminishing these milestones South Africa needed to strengthen child rights governance in all spheres, including in local municipalities.

“There is a narrative in the local sphere of government that children’s issues are not a priority, they are soft issues. We need to interrogate this narrative because it is misleading, considering the many challenges we are facing in our country.”

The fruits of child participation

Chabalala explained that children drafted a Manifesto, launched on 1 June 2019, as part of Child Protection Week. This Manifesto was subsequently shared with the Minister of Social Development, Ms. Lindiwe Zulu, who committed to informing the President of the Republic about the initiative.

The minister reported afterwards that she was able to share the Manifesto with the President. Good news indeed for the children of South Africa. The Children Manifesto is part of the critical deliverables in the 2020-2024 National Plan of Action for Children. 

In monitoring the implementation of the NPAC, there are government processes such as the National Steering Committee, comprised of government departments and Provincial Offices on the Rights of the Child.

He said that the above structures meet quarterly to assess progress made in the implementation of the NPAC comprising all the issues raised in the Children’s Manifesto.

“The Department of Social Development, being the coordinating Department through the Office on the Rights of the Child produces an Annual Children’s Rights Status Report based on the implementation of the NPAC and the same report is channelled through all governance structures, including Cabinet,” Chabalala said.

He added that going forward, the children would regroup to review the Children’s Manifesto, which will be included in the 2024-2029 National Plan of Action for Children. This plan is earmarked for Cabinet approval sometime during the next financial year.

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