Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament

By Andrea Naicker

The legacy of Nelson Mandela is premised on advocating for people’s rights and an inclusive democracy, which also includes the participation and protection of our children.

Recognising the need to protect our children and develop their potential, Madiba stated: “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth, those who care for and protect our people.”

Madiba’s passion for promoting children’s rights and interests, led to the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament (NMCP) in 2011.

Through the NMCP, our youngsters petition government on social issues affecting them, thus holding government accountable for prioritising the protection of children within programmes and policies. 

To date, the NMCP has enabled the participation and representation of South African children by allowing them to be role players in policy and decision-making as well as governance, as they work alongside their respective legislatures.

This platform has helped our children gain experience and exposure which will equip them to be our future leaders. The NMCP has also served to address societal issues faced by our youth.

One of the biggest social challenges affecting children is the scourge of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF), and in efforts to combat this, it has participated in various commissions on GBVF.

Government’s efforts to combat GBVF is reflected in the amendments of our criminal laws pertaining to this scourge, which prioritises the protection of victims. Victims can now gain a protection order more easily, whilst our criminal justice system continues working towards ending GBVF.

Another criminal and social issue affecting our children is substance abuse including underage drinking, which has also cost lives. A grim reminder is the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, which highlighted the detrimental effects of underage alcohol consumption.

We call upon our youth to respect the law and avoid underage drinking and harmful substances that can ruin their lives. Every child, parent, teacher and citizen has a responsibility to uphold our laws and protect the rights of our children.  Ensuring that children stay in school should be a societal responsibility, and we must do all we can to ensure that learners complete their schooling journey.

There is no room for discrimination, as is often the case with pregnant learners, who are at times denied the right to education. This tramples on their Constitutional right to education and can have a devastating effect on their lives and mental health.

In the fast-paced modern world, issues of mental health are often neglected and can have lasting effects, particularly on children. An issue threatening mental well-being and contravening children’s rights, is cyberbullying which is becoming more prevalent as social media gains ground.

Government condemns cyberbullying and through the cybercrimes act has criminalised the disclosure of harmful messages, which includes the incitement of harassment and violence.

We call upon our youth to act responsibly regarding what they post or share online. Parents can also assist by monitoring and limiting their children’s access to online platforms.

As the children of today are exposed to a completely new world online, it is essential that we address the challenges relevant to them. The NMCP has proven effective in addressing the challenges facing our children by including their voices and views, enabling them to discuss issues that directly affect their lives.

The issues raised pinpoint areas requiring intervention and are used to influence policies, programmes and legislations with the aim to empower, protect and improve the lives of our children.

As we embark on initiatives to improve the lives of our children, we also appeal to parents to foster a healthy learning environment for children. Parents can do this by encouraging their children to read, learn and excel in their studies as well as prepare nutritious meals that helps with children’s mental development.

We can work towards developing the minds and sharpening the skillsets of our children by equipping them at an early age with leadership, communication and technology skills. We urge all youngsters to take hold of learning and skills development opportunities in these areas to develop our nation and economy.

Let us work together to move Madiba’s legacy forward by supporting the participation of our youngsters in the NMCP, and encouraging children to exercise their responsibilities alongside their rights.