December 23rd is a special date across Sudan, as it marks the birthday of the country’s “greatest child”, according to ancient tribal mythology, and accordingly, is also the date upon which International Children’s Day is celebrated each year. Performances and children’s musical groups take delight in marking the date each year, but looking deeper into the meaning of Children’s Day unearths the darker side of the troubles affecting Sudan’s children and which UNICEF are working to resolve.
One of Sudan’s biggest problems is child-marriage – children as young as 9 or 10 are forced into marrying much older men in exchange for a dowry. This removes them from school and forces an adult head on a child’s shoulders, and unfortunately, such is the custom that girls who try to refuse are often punished severely before being forced into the marriage anyway.
Sudan has also long been a country with political unrest and ongoing conflicts between rival tribes. Difficult climatic and economic conditions add to the difficulties of the people, and UNICEF are working to highlight in particular the plight of the children affected. Hundreds of schools are involved each year to raise awareness across the country and regions, with the aim of achieving peace for not only the children, but all of Sudan.
Different events are planned each year to mark the date and spread the word. These include:
• Open day events at schools, including performances by students
• Talks from children/young adults who have been affected by events in the country
• Musical performances
• Parents often take the day to watch their child in performances
South Sudan took a further step in November towards ratifying the Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as the bill was passed in Juba, the national capital, by the national legislative assembly. This legally binding bill spells out the basic human rights of children worldwide and, once signed by the president, South Sudan will be the latest country to show its support to the convention.