It was a Monday, November 20, 1989, when the world made a promise to protect and promote the rights of the child. Twentyfive years down the road, the Convention on the Rights of the Child has led to important landmarks in the protection of children’s rights all over the world. And yet as new technologies change the way the world operates, the need for innovation and enterprise in the child rights crusade has become inevitable.
Today, as Uganda hosts the Equity ACTIVATE event, the first in a series of activities that will kick-start international public discussions on the role of innovations in addressing the rights of the child, Jaya Murthy, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s chief of communication, reflects on the critical place of innovation in protecting the rights of the child as interviewed by Stephen Ssenkaaba.
Almost 25 years ago many countries including Uganda made a promise to protect the rights of the child. How has Uganda performed on this promise?
Uganda was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since then, the Government has been working with us to champion children’s rights to education, health and other rights. Great progress has been made; child mortality rates have reduced, school enrollment has increased and many other achievements have been realised.
This is a moment to take stock of where we are in our efforts to champion children’s rights and look at the state of the rights of a child. We have a flagship report every year where we look at the state of the rights of the child. Last year we looked at adolescents. This year we are looking at new, innovative ways of addressing children’s rights issues. How to find solutions to health problems like malaria among children, how to keep children in school, how to protect them against violence. There remains a lot of work to do.
UNICEF is convening a series of events in different countries to chart solutions needed in championing children’s rights within the local communities. What is the major focus of these events?
The focus of these events is to explore new innovative solutions to children rights issues. Uganda will host the first of 10 events aimed at addressing challenges in our campaign to realise children’s rights.
The themes and ideas from these events will be brought together into a multimedia platform that will form a new, digital State of the World’s Children report, which will be launched at a high level event on the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 2014, in New York.
The idea is not just the innovation; we are also looking at how to use these innovations to reach out to the most marginalised communities and to address the inequalities in child rights access.
Why is Uganda leading the way in hosting the inaugural event?
Uganda provides a good experience of using new media platforms to address children’s rights issues. As UNICEF Uganda, we have been working closely with the Government and partners to develop and implement innovative solutions to keep children alive, safe and learning.
We do this through a number of technologybased platforms such as; birth registration using mobile phones, the digital kiosk platform through the use of solar powered computers in different centres in the country, mTRAC which involves using Short Messaging Service (SMS) facilities to track the health facility stock of essential medicines like the antimalarials, U-report, a free SMS service designed to voice young people’s concerns, eduTRAC that helps to monitor the quality and safety of schools using SMS; among others.
These innovations use widely available technologies like basic mobile phones and text messaging service. The results for these innovations have been great. Birth registration has for instance risen from 30% two years ago to 48% now. Digital kiosks have scaled up access to information. There are 257,000 U- Reporters.
Over 500 schools are benefitting from eduTRAC. Over 20,000 health workers are using Mtrac. I think the global UNICEF thought that Uganda with all the work and innovations that have been undertaken deserves to showcase the potential of innovation in championing child rights.
Jaya Murthy, UNICEF’s chief of communication
How are children being involved in such innovations?
The people that are undertaking these innovations are mindful of this. On our part, our digital innovations have been done after a lot of consultation and feedback from the children.
What challenges have you met in your efforts to implement these innovations?
Innovating is not easy as it involves exploring new boundaries. There is a lot of trial and error as well as learning.
What are the prospects for the future?
There is so much work and creativity going on and a great potential for growth. With the evidence available that innovative solutions can enhance child rights, more innovations are in progress.
What are your concluding remarks?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is ratified by many countries. Virtually every government agrees that children need to be protected and helped to realise their potential. While many children have their rights, many others do not.
We need to find ways of empowering these children to survive, grow, develop and realise their potential. If this is properly focused, the potential for development in Uganda and other parts of the world is great.
What is the inspiration behind this drive for innovation?
We realise that as the world is increasingly getting interconnected, we need to embrace the times; to tap into the new innovations to find solutions to local issues.
We realise how these new innovative solutions can tangibly change children’s lives. In addition to this, there are many issues affecting children that call for ways of handling. Such issues are inequalities in access to rights between different countries and even within countries. If we are to narrow these inequalities, we need to pay attention to the new circumstances under which they are happening; This calls for high level innovation and networking.