Children find their own solutions to change their lives
Last autumn, Aimé Bada and James Boyon, Training Officer at Enda Tiers Monde and Child Protection Officer at the AMWCY respectively, gave an interview to Child to Child to discuss the African Movement of Working Children and Youth (AMWCY). AMWCY is an organisation led by working children and young people that gives them the opportunity to find solutions to their problems and change their lives.
In 1994 a group of children and young people from four African countries decided to establish the African Movement of Working Children and Youth (AMWCY) in the Ivory Coast. The premise underpinning AMWCY is that children from diverse backgrounds and countries will often share the same goals and life prospects. The organisation expanded rapidly and today can be found in 27 countries across Africa. Yet it hasn’t lost its child-led focus and mode of operation; children represent 73% of members.
Through AMWCY children come together to discuss the problems they face in their communities and reflect on possible solutions. Recognised as experts in their reality, children and young people are the ones who find the solutions, who advise and guide the other children.
Please see below excerpts from our very interesting discussions with Aimé and James.
Where did the idea come from to create this organisation?
In the beginning the children themselves created the group – we are talking of working children, whether domestic workers, mechanics, shoe shiners, children in masonry workshops, or those who helped work at home. They looked at their situation and decided to take charge of their destiny. By identifying their rights, they could truly exercise them and think about how to improve their living conditions.
Then the organisation grew, and the original children grew up! They are now able to help other children who join the organisation and give them advice.
What is the level of children’s participation in the organisation?
The children themselves lead the activities. The organisation is only there to support them, to give them technical advice and support so that they can successfully implement their solutions, ones that work for them in their working lives.
In fact the children have appropriated the spaces that adults offered, to defend their rights. They literally took ownership! Thus the Board of Directors consists of seven members, five children and two young people, who are assisted by a facilitator.
Have adults experienced difficulties working in this participatory way with the children?
No, it is not difficult for adults. Our approach is to support what is being done, so that children can do things by themselves.
However it has been difficult for the governments to recognise child labourers and the organisations that represent them, because of the stipulations set out by international conventions and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which typically mandate against child labour in any circumstances. In some cases the organisations have had to do a lot of advocacy about this, and the children have had to clearly explain their approach before being accepted.
Can you give us examples of projects implemented by children?
Depending on their needs children work on the 12 rights that frame the organisation’s work, rights to: read and write; express oneself; taught a trade; play and leisure; health care; be listened to; rest when sick; work in safety; be respected and afforded dignity; stay in the village; light and limited work; and to equitable justice. For example they recently conducted activities to raise awareness about – and advocate against – exploitation and child marriage.
Now the organisations also run training activities and engage in a range of advocacy and communications to raise awareness. One favourite approach is to produce cartoons on a range of issues, for example, migration and the mobility of children, on how to take into account the risks and dangers, and on child marriage. The three cartoons were broadcast on television in some countries.
Often the main focus of activities is the right to learn to read and write. For socio-economic reasons the children we work with must work to survive, which means they don’t have access to education since school is generally open when children are at work. So the children have to choose: either they go to school where they won’t really understand very much because they are not able to attend regularly or they engage in work to put food on the table and have a future. But children know the importance of writing, reading and counting, so they have developed connections with schools that offer them rooms in the evening, where they set up “literacy spaces”, often with a monitor to support their learning. This means that child domestic workers, for example, can attend these schools in the evening where they can learn to read and write and also meet other children of a similar age.