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Swazi children taking control

Bill Law
Reporter, BBC Radio 4: Crossing Continents

The young presenters of Ses'Khone
Swaziland's radio programme aimed at children is also being made by children

You would think there would be no reason for joy or hope in a country with the highest HIV/Aids prevalence rate in the world, a place where nearly half of all girls and women have experienced sexual violence at some time in their life.

In Swaziland, 42% of women are HIV positive and almost half of all deaths of children under five are caused by Aids. Life expectancy is 40.

These are numbing statistics.

But in spite of them, I found courage, resilience and smiles among Swaziland's children who are determined to take charge of their futures and fight the terrible scourge of Aids.

This was apparent when I visited the battered but still serviceable studios of SBIS, Swaziland's state broadcaster.

I was there to meet the producers, presenters and researchers of the children's programme, Ses'khone.

Ses'khone means "we are here -we have arrived" in Siswati.

Understanding

Lindela Mabuza, Khulekani Mamba, Thabo Shabangu
The presenters write the scripts and choose the topics they cover

The programme is made by children and the subjects they are dealing with are tough and challenging: HIV/Aids epidemic, bullying, child abuse, love and relationships.

Today the programme is discussing human rights. Thabo Shabangu, 14, tells me why:

"We chose human rights because our rights are ignored," he says.

"We want our voices to be heard and we want to hear from other young people. It is our right to be heard".

Ses'khone was launched on 28 February of this year and it has had an immediate impact.

It is not just the children who are listening. Teachers and parents are listening too.

Sixteen year old Lindela Mabuza says they want parents to know that their children have rights:

"We want teachers to know that they cannot hit (cane) children more than three or four times. After that it is abuse," she says.

Khulekani Mamba, 14, says "understanding you have human rights is a way of taking care of yourself".

"There are parents who beat their children like animals. The children are afraid to speak out but we can communicate with them through the radio," he says.

In a country where many people still will not even mention the word Aids - they prefer to call it "the virus" or "the thing" - and where sexuality is considered a private matter, Ses'khone is talking openly.

Ses'khone kids urge their listeners to abstain from sex before marriage. And they are dismayed that so many men refuse to use condoms.

"They just don't listen," Khulekani tells me. "They think they know everything".

Role models

Elizabeth Kgololo
Growing up will be a tremendous strain and burden.
Elizabeth Kgololo

Elizabeth Kgololo, a volunteer mentor from Save the Children, says Ses'khone was long overdue.

Aids has decimated a whole generation of people between the ages of 25 and 45. Nearly one in three children is an orphan or vulnerable because of Aids. They find themselves running households, looking after siblings, nursing dying parents.

Ms Kgololo says "The role models for these children are no longer there. Growing up will be a tremendous strain and burden".

And that is where Ses'khone can help:

"We will have programmes about life skills, how to be manage a home because now you are a child who is the head of a household," she explains.

Thabo says the children of Swaziland have to speak up "The decision you make today will determine your destiny," he says.

But in a culture where children are supposed to be seen and not heard that is not easy.

Thabo says this is difficult for Swazi adults as they feel that they are not being respected when the children speak up.

He is smiling as he speaks. It is not a cocky smile but a confident one that says Ses'khone is here and we are going to speak.


The edition of Crossing Continents featuring Ses'khone was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 2 April 2009 at 1100 BST. The programme will be repeated on Monday, 6 April at 2030 BST.

You can also listen to Crossing Continents on the BBC iPlayer or subscribe to the podcast .



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SEE ALSO
Swaziland: The Kingdom of Kids
02 Apr 09 |  Crossing Continents

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