ABIDJAN — Children took over the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire on Monday as part of this year’s World Children’s Day celebration, an annual event on Nov. 20. From radio stations to private businesses, government offices, and schools, children were placed in leadership positions for the day — an initiative that the United Nations Children’s Fund hopes will spark a two-way discussion between adults and children worldwide.
Children’s Day signifies the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and typically mobilizes support against child injustices, including child labor and the right to education, preventable childhood deaths, statelessness, child trafficking, and child labor. This year discussions on these topics were led by children themselves in front of dignitaries and government officials.
“This year, we decided to give this day to the children,” UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire Director of Communications Sophie Chavanel explained. “With things happening all over the world, the idea is to let children tell adults what they think they need for their future, because it’s their future that we’re talking about.”
In Côte d’Ivoire, children took the reins of various media, politics, business, arts, and sports outlets. Some assisted photographers during photo shoots, while others served as guest writers on fashion blogs and as guest hosts at the pop radio station. Youth answered phones and responded to emails at the customer service office for the local phone company; they served popcorn and drinks as hostesses at the local movie theater. Members of the Children’s Parliament of Côte d’Ivoire also toured Abidjan with UNICEF promoting children’s rights in front of education and government officials.
At a Children’s Day UNESCO event on quality education, young Lisa Kouassi replaced the UNICEF representative. Another youth stand-in for the UNICEF rep, 17-year-old Jonathan Gabou told Devex about the challenges he experiences as a student.
“As a speaker on behalf of Ivorian children, we would like a quality education, meaning we would like for our teachers to be well-trained,” the recent high-school graduate said. “Often our teachers complain that we don’t understand their lessons well when actually sometimes it’s the manner in which the teacher delivers that can be the root of the problem.”
Gabou noted that the number of children in each classroom — up to 100 at times — makes for difficult learning conditions.
As here in Abidjan, children took control worldwide. The United Nations headquarters in New York participated, along with the offices of French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Celebrities including David Beckham and Pink also participated.
Among the goals was to hear directly from children about the challenges they are facing. A UNICEF analysis released on Children’s Day found that 180 million children in 37 countries are more likely than their parents to stay in extreme poverty, be out of school, or be killed by violence. In 14 countries, the poverty rate rose by 1 percent or more over the past 10 years mostly due to unrest, conflict, or poor governance. Conflict, financial crises, and population growth have led to a decline in school enrollment in 21 countries.
Seven-year-old Blanche Bakayoko said parents must give children the foundations to succeed. “The only thing I want is for children to stop working in the markets,” she said. “Some parents don’t have money, some send their children to the village, and it’s not completely their fault, but the child has a right to education and not just to marry.”
Launching this international movement is a first step but it’s not enough, Chavanel told Devex. She said UNICEF, in their ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life for children, will continue to encourage governments to adopt policies that promote youth participation and rights in areas concerning better education, quality health, protection, and equality.
“What we are doing is shouting to the world that every other day we should give children a place when we make decisions about their future,” she said.
Read more Devex coverage on UNICEF.