Tanzanian Diary – The Responsibility to Grow

Published February 22, 2012 – by Lisa Jordan

Kicking off the first ever conference for young kids in Tanzania on Monday night the Honourable Sofia Minyambi Simba, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children stood up in the opening press conference and immediately began to quote General Comment #7. For those of you who may be reading this and are not steeped in early childhood lore, General Comment #7 pertains to the Child Rights Convention ratified by Tanzania in 2008.

The purpose of a general comment is to explain and help governments comply with the various sections of the Convention. For many years Bernard van Leer spearheaded and financed the effort to create a general comment (#7) on early childhood for the Convention. A copy sits on my desk at work.

I have a healthy dose of scepticism when it comes to international conventions. I am never really sure that they actually matter in children’s lives. Having a body of international law is important to remind governments of their responsibility to protect citizens.

However, beyond the Nordic countries that seem to get everything right, do these efforts make a difference? Yet here was the Minister, line by line laying out the responsibilities her government has to Tanzania’s youngest citizens with two other ministers nodding in agreement. It was deeply impressive. In the general battle that goes on in my head between sceptic and optimist, the optimist won.

I can only say that it got better from there. After our opening statements out came the first question from a reporter who was keen to stress the fact that children have responsibilities and those are far more important than their rights. I watched all three Ministers more or less take a deep breath and begin patiently and persistently to argue the case for children’s rights.

The government is unified in its commitment to children’s rights and is not afraid to stress them over and over again, in a cultural context where respect for authority and hierarchy are also highly valued. I closed the conference with the note that at Van Leer we believe that the young child has only one responsibility – and that is to grow.

By Lisa Jordan, Executive Director