Child rights campaigners shortlisted for world prize

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, a fighter for girl’s education in her homeland, was this weekend name as one of three finalists for an international prize to honour child rights campaigners.

She has been shortlisted for the World’s Children’s Prize to be announced in Sweden on October 15. The other two nominees are John Wood from the US who runs educational programmes in developing countries and Indira Ranamagar who works with child prisoners in Nepal.

The prize is awarded by a Swedish-based non-profit organisation, started in 2000, annually honours child rights campaign leaders from across the world.
Its patrons include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Queen Sylvia of Sweden and Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Yuu Kyi from Burma.

The Surve Family Foundation, its local donor, organised this weekend’s event that included Swedish royal family guests.

The foundation’s Saarah Surve named the three finalists. Close on forty million children worldwide will start voting for the first, second and third prize winners.

Marlene Winberg, who coordinates the World’s Children’s Prize in South Africa, said children at 800 local schools would vote for their favourite candidate. She said children aged 10 to 18 from 108 countries vote on election days at their schools.

Winberg said the project would this year focus on commercial sexual exploitation of girls via its Rights and Democracy for One Million Girls project.

“The project extends to boys and girls but we want to focus on the sexual exploitation of girls because it is an issue. We are creating safe spaces for them… The most beautiful thing is watching a child grow from silence to being able to speak her story without shame,” said Winberg.

As part of the democracy project, Amanda Mtambo started a “girl’s club” at Chris Hani high school in Khayelitsha. Twenty-one girls were trained to run the club.

They found poverty, “parents who abandon their children”, and the township’s taxi drivers all contributed to sexual exploitation of girls.

“We formed a girl’s club where we can tell our stories and break silence on sexual violence, that too many think is normal… We have come to understand that we are not alone,” said Mtambo.

“We are sad that other girls in the world suffer as we do. But this project gives us courage as we learn how other girls fight against sexual exploitation.”
Nadia Kamies, a South African goodwill ambassador for the prize, said all three finalists would receive financial assistance for their campaigns, once the awards are announced.

“South Africa has been closely involved with the prize since its inception. The Western Cape education department has (recently) come on board,” said Kamies.

“Annually we reach thousands of teachers and schools and children learn about their rights and democracy. The prize results in recognition of children’s rights in the media and in society and brings attention to the violation of these rights.”

She added: “We’re working towards respect for children’s rights, respect for democratic values and respect for the environment… The voting process is to educate children about democracy, with the hope that they will grow up with respect for democratic values and use their right to vote.”

Iqbal Surve, from the Surve Family Foundation, said they “take issues of children’s rights seriously”.

“For millions of children in this world, the only fault is that they have been born into extreme poverty, many without parents and support systems. We made a decision to support such initiatives,” said Surve.

“It’s important to highlight the issues of children being exploited. It gives them hope. We can do something about it. I would like to see these kinds of stories being told in our media. I would like to see children having a voice in our media, telling their stories.”

“We need more people to say we can do something about it. Everything little thing we do can make a big difference… People who have money, power and resources should use that to stop the exploitation of children. As a family, we will continue to support this prize.”

The foundation also supports a youth band in Delft and offers educational bursaries to young people.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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