The Aids Foundation of South Africa (AFSA), Woza Moya and the Children’s Rights Centre co-hosted a COMMUNITY DIALOGUE on CHILDRENS RIGHTS at Woza Moya. Teachers, Principals, Students from all across the Ofafa Valley attended the day, as did Ms Mpofana, the Education Inspector. Also present were representatives from Correctional Services, SASSA, Department of Social Development, the Education Department, Parents, and the Woza Moya Community Care Workers and Staff.

A Community Dialogue is a way for members of the community to come together to discuss important issues pertaining to themselves.

The process empowers communities to find their own solutions to problems they themselves have identified. The interactive discussion is facilitated in a way that ensures full community participation, mutual respect, improved understanding, decision making and action.

The day at Woza Moya began with Opening Songs and Prayers, a formal Welcome and Introductions. Tusani Kunene of AFSA introduced the topic for the day, ‘Children’s Rights’. Thembi Mweli, Woza Moya Child and Youth Care Coordinator, began facilitating the community dialogue, by skilfully presenting a series of questions, in order to stimulate discussion. The community was initially asked to reflect on their own strengths reminding them of the assets that already exist in Ofafa.

Subsequent questions posed, were with regard to the challenges faced by children in community, services available to them, access to these services, the understanding and importance of children’s rights, solutions to children’s problems, and by whom - adults or the children themselves.

Very lively discussion and debate ensued. It was good to see everyone making full use of the safe space provided and in particular to hear the children speaking out, so openly and frankly. However disturbing revelations, about the daily life of children in the Ofafa Valley Community, began to surface.

Thembi did an outstanding job of keeping everyone focussed on the topic and ensuring that the discussions remained constructive and positive, despite some very difficult matters emerging.

The large crowd was then divided into sectors and given specific questions to continue their discussions, in these smaller groupings. People were divided according to Primary School Students, High School Students, Parents, Civil Society and Government Departments. After an hour or so, everyone reconvened and each group gave a presentation on their findings.

There was general shock and deep concern at the children’s presentations, as they shared their feelings of helplessness in dealing with wide-scale abuse - emotional, physical and sexual abuse. They pleaded for more care and support, guidance and respect, from their parents and teachers. They also requested a space for these dialogues to continue.

The Parents, CBOs and Government Departments agreed that Children needed to be protected and respected and their rights upheld but they also wanted to see Rights balanced with Responsibilities. The CBO community members felt that they could play an important role in educating the community on Children’s Rights and Responsibilities. The Government Group spoke about the Constitution of South Africa and the priority given to Children’s Rights and how it is their duty to make sure these policies and directives are implemented.

Nothile Ndlovu, from the Children’s Rights Centre, summarised the findings for the day, reiterating the voices of the children. Calling herself a children’s rights activist, she congratulated the children on articulating their needs so clearly and courageously. Nothile addressed the adults present about the important role that they have in terms of breaking unhealthy cycles of behaviour, such as violence towards children.

Sibusiso Mkhize from AFSA gave the final address, outlining the basic needs of children and how by protecting and promoting children’s rights, and taking seriously the concerns raised today, we can all participate in building a better, safer and happier society.