#UniversalChildrensDay: Kids' voices must be at the heart of efforts to end violence

On Universal Children’s Day (November 20), aid agency World Vision says now more than ever is the time for leaders to start taking the most vulnerable children in the world more seriously.

“Children are always the worst affected by conflict – no matter how they are involved – and struggle to regain their childhood afterwards,” says Patricio Cuevas-Parra, World Vision’s Child Participation and Rights Senior Adviser. “We can see this happening in the Kasai region of the DRC at the moment. We can see this happening in refugee camps in Bangladesh."

Children know better than anyone what they need. They need to be involved, and their needs must be at the centre of all of our efforts.

- Patricio Cuevas-Parra, World Vision’s Child Participation and Rights Senior Adviser

Cuevas-Parra says it’s the role of children that is given the least consideration in funding, programming, legal decisions made by power-holders yet their involvement has the most potential for real, sustainable change. World Vision highlights this in its new report It Takes Children, written and photographed by 21 children in its Young Leaders project.

In the DRC, one step forward sometimes feels like two steps back, says the head of World Vision’s DRC office Scott Lout.

“On the one hand, we have seen some progress in the decline of recruitment of child soldiers – children are no longer being recruited by the national army. However, they are still active in other armed groups, and we are hearing horrific stories from former child soldiers who now face an uncertain future. A lack of funding and a lack of attention all threatens their volatile, precious future.

“In the Kasai Provinces, children tell us about being lured and forcibly recruited into armed groups, by family members and friends. They feel they’ve lost hope.

“Children have been forced to fight, they have been chased from their homes, they have seen family members beheaded or shot. Children who weren't active in any armed groups have still been treated as combatants and killed by opposing groups. Some children have shut down to the point where they no longer speak or communicate after witnessing the violence happening around them.

"And yet for many of these children, their goals and hopes right now are of resuming their education, and being reunited with their families. They still have hope for the future, hope that another reality is possible. Action to safeguard this hope and help build a brighter future is needed at every level, starting with their families.”

“It takes children being listened to. It takes children being valued. It takes a world recognising the potential and gifts that children bring. It takes a world to listen, and act,” says Cuevas-Parra.

“They have solutions, they have answers, as the victims and survivors of violence, which affects 1.7 billion of them, they know better than anyone the change that needs to happen.”

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