Children in the West Nile district of Adjumani have urged their leaders to talk less and do more to promote their welfare.
The call came during a recent children’s parliament organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and other development partners in Adjumani town.
One of those children, Gideon Keji Paska, 16, from Alere secondary school said child marriages are on the rise in the district, but nothing is being done about it. Keji Paska was among those speaking on behalf of children, who represent 58 per cent of the district’s 232, 623 population.
According to him, the situation has been exacerbated by the influx of South Sudanese refugees into their area.
“Child marriages are on the rise and it happens to both boys and girls. It happens in the host communities and also in refugee camps,” Keji said.
The representatives asked their leaders to incorporate their views in the budget and planning processes.
“Work should be given to children but not beyond our age. Children are obliged to help our parents but not beyond what we can do,” he said. “Sometimes, food is allocated according to work done … where is this empowerment and equal opportunities that you people are talking about?”
Keji Paska’s concerns follow a report by the UN High Commission for Refugees, which shows that Adjumani alone accounted for 222, 475 refugees and asylum seekers, almost the same number as the indigenous
residents of the area.
He added that due to poverty; coupled with the laziness of their parents, children are being overworked and given work way beyond their age.
The youngest debater of the day, Irene Kasara, 13, selected from Alere II primary school, asked the defilers are jailed for at least 40 years. She cited the story of a man, who lured two school girls with
sweets and ended up impregnating them.
“Instead of taking responsibility, he ran away. If you know you have impregnated girls why do you run away? That man should be got and sentenced to 40 years in prison,” she said.
Abraham Ngong, 16, also from Alere secondary school, said children in the area felt abandoned by their parents.
“Denial of necessities by parents is violence against children. This is violence because [children] need them [necessities],” he said.
He said children have fallen into peer pressure traps like drug abuse and prostitution to make ends meet. Lilliana Diana Mandera of Karoko village said several parents had abandoned their homes due to poverty. “[Parents] leave us children to take charge of our siblings.
Because we have to look for work ourselves so as to feed our siblings we drop out of school … we don’t even have sanitary pads, so you have to stay home until the [menstruation] periods are over. This has led to child
marriages,” she said.
Adjumani district chairman James Leku admitted that parent separation is common in the area. He cited instances where the slightest issues in marriages are never resolved amicably but by separation.
Stephen Drani, the Madi cultural leader, said it is high time communities went back to the traditional ways of raising all children.
“Are we [parents] preparing you [children] to be the first and not the last? The way we communicate with you is important,” he said.