Africa: The Power of the Children

The international children’s rights organisation KidsRights has awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize to Divina Maloum (14) from Cameroon and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (16)  The prize was awarded on 20 November in The Hague on the occasion of World Children’s Day. The two winners were selected from 137 candidates from 56 countries.

Divina Maloum  has received the Peace Prize for her peaceful fight against extremist violence and radicalisation.  She has built a grass-roots, youth-led movement of around 100 permanent members in 10 regions of Cameroon, called Children for Peace. Together, they teach over 5000 children a year that they have a choice: that they can say no to violence and build a lasting peace.

In 2014, Divina visited family in the north of Cameroon, where she witnessed first-hand the impact of radicalisation and violent extremism on children. They are separated from their families and face exploitation, abuse and recruitment as child soldiers. She learned of child brides and child suicide bombers. Determined not to abandon them, she went back home and started the “I am standing up for peace” campaign, spreading the story of the north.

In 2015, Divina went on to create the movement, Children for Peace (C4P), to promote child participation in peace building and sustainable development. She believes that children are the true carriers of peace and that peer education is the best way to reach them.

Cameroon is in the grip of multiple conflicts. Terrorist attacks on the north-west border have intensified since May 2014, and increasing numbers of refugees come from the Central African crisis in the west.

In some parts of Cameroon, children experience violent extremism on a daily basis. As victims of terrorist attacks, they lose their lives, become injured or traumatized and are forced to flee their homes. Children see their villages burned to the ground and families torn apart. Going to school is no longer an option. Terrorist groups target vulnerable children and recruit them to become child soldiers and child brides.

Language barriers are an issue when it comes to spreading a national message of peace. Cameroon is home to a diverse mix of cultures, languages and dialects. Divina therefore has created cartoons explaining the horrors of violent extremism.

She consulted children who had experienced violence personally, and with her team, she incorporated their stories into cartoons for everyone to understand. So far, Divina has distributed more than 3,000 cartoons.

Divina also uses the cartoons as the basis for meaningful conversations about peace. As well as spreading awareness within her own school and Koranic schools in the capital, she also visits street children, children orphaned by conflict, and underprivileged children from rural areas in the north.

She continues to march on the capital to spread the message of peace, and to talk to her peers about the true meaning of peace building. Divina understands the power of children. She teaches children to speak up, quite literally, and to believe that their voice should be heard.

Greta Thunberg was awarded for a role model for young people’s international climate activism. In the summer of 2018, she was on strike every week for the climate in the Swedish parliament. Since then, Thunberg has become the face of an international climate movement.

The International Children’s Peace Prize is awarded every year to a child who bravely fights for children’s rights. South African archbishop Desmond Tutu has been the official godfather of the prize for ten years. “I have great admiration for you. Your compelling message is reinforced by the energy of your youth and your firm conviction that children have the ability, if not the duty, to improve their future,” he said.