Children's issues not salient enough in political campaigns


I have listened to the political debates going on on social media as well as those televised live on mainstream media platforms over the last few days.

The politicians are working hard to sell their plans for poverty alleviation and wealth creation, but the issues affecting children and their remedies are not very clearly articulated.

Even in the deputy presidential debate, none of the candidates singled out children as a critical segment of the population with real rights and challenges that need targeted, well-thought-out solutions tailor-made for their needs.

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

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

Children experience and respond to societal issues differently, and are disproportionately impacted by crises, including climate change, cost of food and Covid-19. The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child clearly sets out ‘the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of their race, religion or abilities’. According to our constitution, children have a right to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour.

However, citing of the Constitution alone is not enough. Politicians need to clearly explain the actions they will take to ensure children enjoy these rights. Tell us, how will you end child marriages, 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 that has remained pervasive? What action will you take to disarm young boys in conflict zones and take them back to school?

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

We erroneously always think of and treat children as invisible beings whose needs and vulnerabilities are automatically taken care of once their parents’ are considered. It is no wonder many policy documents, including those meant to protect children, are rarely published in child-friendly versions. The use of technical language in many of the legal and policy framework documents makes it difficult for children, who are the real rights holders, to access information on their rights. Children with disabilities, such as those needing brailles, are more disadvantaged.

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

Dr Kalangi is a communication trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University