The town where children are saving their friends' lives

The town where children are saving their friends' lives

In a school hall in Uganda, children’s voices are not just being heard – they are helping rescue their classmates from unimaginable horrors.

Ritual child sacrifice. Sexual exploitation. Early marriage. Abuse. Life is full of dangers for children in many parts of the country – even inside their own homes. 

But a group of students are being empowered through a Children’s Parliament, where they can report child protection concerns and get action from authorities.

Take Marvin, aged 12. He became concerned that a friend was repeatedly failing to show up to school, and raised the alarm with forum members.  

It transpired that the friend had been kidnapped, and narrowly avoided becoming a victim of child sacrifice – a barbaric cultural practice undergoing a worrying resurgence in Uganda.

His one saving grace was the fact that he’d been circumcised, and thus deemed "impure" by Witch Doctors.

Marvin says his friend was left for dead in a bush, and was taken to hospital by his family.

“I discussed it here (in the parliament) and I went and advised him only one thing: 'You must be careful and not walk around by yourself at night',” he told World Vision. 

“And I told him when he goes home from school, he must go straight home and not move in lonely places. So the boy did that.”

Marvin says the parliament has played an important role in helping rescue some of his peers from trafficking, early marriage, abuse and child labour in the gold mines.

“This Children’s Parliament can stop issues like violence on the street and at home by giving children the right to speak,” he said.  

“Some parents don’t allow their children to speak freely. When you speak, they slap you or abuse you. When we come here to Children’s Parliament they always tell us: ‘This is your right, you have to speak what’s in your heart’. They promote courage in the members who come and attend.”

The Children’s Parliament is an initiative of World Vision Uganda aimed at ending violence against children, with child neglect, defilement and domestic violence among the top 10 leading crimes in Uganda.

Figures show 70 percent of children in upper primary and lower secondary school report physical violence; 12 percent of girls get married at 15 years of age; 57 percent are married by the age of 18.

Parliament members also discovered that many local children were working in back street brothels, which sparked local authorities to shut them down.  

“These lifesaving interventions are happening because of our sponsors in Australia,” says World Vision CEO Claire Rogers.

“The funding from child sponsorship goes directly into helping set up groups like Child Parliament. So, effectively Australian sponsors are helping shut down child brothels.” 

Frederick, from a local youth centre who works with World Vision, says children face many challenges in the community, with school dropout rates “very high”.

“Parents have neglected their children and many don’t provide for their basic needs,” he says.  

“So in the process, children go on the streets begging, some end up working as housemaids, some children end up going to other countries to survive.

"Children’s Parliament has been able to identify and report cases of child-related abuses to the relevant authorities and engage police, who have come up with bylaws that stop some of these abuses in schools and communities. These children are change makers because their voices have had impact in communities and in schools.”