At the 20th anniversary celebration of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Dakar Friday, it was the children who took center stage.
Senegalese educators, government ministers and international partners gathered at a primary school in Dakar Friday to hear what children had to say about their rights. The students performed songs, dances and skits they had prepared.
In one skit, students stand up to an abusive teacher. In the skit, the student says our performance has dropped since you came to our class. You have terrorized us. You do not listen to us, and every time you yell at us we forget everything we have just learned.
As the skit continues, the teacher has a change of heart after another student recites their rights according to the U.N. Convention and according to the students themselves.
In the skit the student says the right to have a name and a nationality. The right to live with my family. The right to be well and taken care of and well-fed. The right to go to school. The right to laugh, dream and play. The right to express myself and be heard. The right to peace. The right to be protected from violence and exploitation. The right to participate in development and the right to be respected by adults and institutions.
Enacted on November 20, 1989, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty.
Friday's event in Dakar was one of more than 160 taking place throughout the world. It was organized by UNICEF, which says that every year in West Africa, three million children still die before age five and 25 million children are out of school.
Mariam Ndiaye Coulibaly, the group's representative to Senegal, applauded the country's progress with regards to reducing child mortality and improving access to school. She said the country has gone from 7,000 communities circumcising young girls to just 1,500. But, she said, there is still work to be done.
She says, in Senegal, we still see cases of child abuse and children begging on the streets whose rights need to be protected. The fight to end violence against children is the theme for this year's activities in Senegal, which Coulibaly says demonstrates the government's commitment to the cause.
During the event, children poured over illustrated posters of their rights, slowly tracing their fingers along the pages as they mumbled the words.
Ndeye Maty Toure? Fall, a teacher at the primary school hosting the event, said her students listened intently as she taught them about the Convention.
She says many thought that only grown-ups have rights and children were just there to do what they are told. She says they are so happy and so proud to talk about their rights. The most important thing, she says, is that children know their rights and demand they be respected.
Fall said the event was a call to action to protect and empower children.
Eleven-year-old student Anna Ndiaye could not agree more.
She says people think we are just kids and we do not have a role. Adults think they are the only ones who should talk. She says sometimes parents do not listen to their children when they have problems. She says she just wants to tell people to stop hitting their children and to send them to school.
As Anna waited to climb on stage for her class' performance, she said the day was about listening to children. Besides, she said, this is our party.