Political campaigns

Children’s issues are not prominent enough in political campaigns

Legend

I have been listening to ongoing political debates on social media as well as those broadcast live on mainstream media platforms in recent days.

Politicians work hard to sell their plans to reduce poverty and create wealth, but the issues affecting children and their remedies are not very clearly articulated.

Even during the vice-presidential debate, none of the candidates singled out children as a critical segment of the population with real rights and challenges that require targeted, well-thought-out solutions tailored to their needs.

Beyond promises of better education, many of the issues relating to the well-being of children are lumped together with those of their parents. If child-specific policy actions exist on paper, they are certainly not part of the political campaign rhetoric.

Yet children’s needs are unique, and while empowered parents are more likely to empower their children, children’s rights and responsibilities must be addressed separately and with the sensitivity they deserve.

Children live and react differently to societal issues and are disproportionately affected by crises including climate change, food costs and Covid-19. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly sets out “the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of race, religion or ability”. Under our constitution, children have the right to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment, and dangerous or abusive work.

However, it is not enough to quote the Constitution. Politicians need to be clear about the steps they will take to ensure that children enjoy these rights. Tell us, how are you going to end child marriage, female genital mutilation, defilement, unequal access to education, health and other services? How will you protect children from the devastating effects of armed conflict in communities where it has remained pervasive? What actions will you take to disarm young boys in conflict areas and bring them back to school?

We need child-centred socio-economic deliverables not only in manifestos but also in the various discussions on media platforms and campaign rallies. Free education is only useful when children are allowed to access and enjoy it. This is only possible if all the other underlying challenges are addressed in a way that sees children as important members of the communities in which they live.

We still mistakenly think of and treat children as invisible beings whose needs and vulnerabilities are automatically taken care of once those of their parents are taken care of. It’s no wonder that many policy documents, including those intended to protect children, are rarely published in child-friendly versions. The use of technical language in many legal and policy framework documents makes it difficult for children, who are the real rights holders, to access information about their rights. Children with disabilities, such as those who need braille, are more disadvantaged.

Political candidates should integrate the rights, responsibilities and vulnerabilities of children into their campaigns and explain how they will improve their lives.

Dr Kalangi is a Trainer and Communication Consultant, Kenyatta University