In 2016, Health Alert worked with the Children Forum Network, Africa Youth and Children’s Network, National Commission for Children, Local Councils, Save the Children and Government Ministries (Health and Sanitation; Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Issues; Finance and Economic Development) to enable excluded children in vulnerable communities to participate in the budget process, both at district and national level.
What was your strategy and who did you engage with?
We worked through the Children Forum Network and the African Youth and Children’s Network to reach out to young people who had been previously excluded from decision making. Together we identified 1,200 adolescents and youths, aged 15-22 years, in communities across four districts in Sierra Leone (Western Rural, Western Urban, Kailahun and Pujehun).
First, we facilitated meetings between young people and the Local Council, where young people voiced their concerns about high infant and maternal mortality, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, child cruelty and early initiation to secret societies. By bringing policy makers face to face with the challenges faced by young people, this helped the government - through Local Councils and relevant Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) - to develop their budgets based on citizens’ priorities.
Health Alert also brought 50 of these young people to participate in the budget discussion/hearing with the Ministry of Finance and MDAs at national level, after which they were taken to Parliament to present their position paper and recommendations for their concerns raised during the budget discussion. Members of Parliament (MPs) appreciated hearing the challenges that young people are facing. It showed that young people are aware, conscious and articulate.
What was the result?
Parliament looked into the concerns raised and empowered the National Commission for Children and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Issues to deliver their full mandates. The Ministry of Finance called the 2017 budget a ‘child-centred budget’, meaning activities should be prioritised around children.
Also, the MPs committed themselves to follow-up as part of their oversight functions with the MDAs (Min. of Health, Min. of Social Welfare and Min. of Education to ensure that these recommendations are factored in their budget and were fully implemented.
Why was this campaign successful?
The campaign was successful because it used existing structures to reach out to children, such as the Children Forum Network, the African and Children Forum Network and the Children Commission. It was also able to give reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that focus on children and emphasise the importance of child participation.
At what point did you realise that your campaign was being heard?
The campaign originally focused on four districts, but there were calls by other children from other districts to reach out to their vulnerable communities too. We raised voices of children everywhere through radio, television and social media.
Who was your greatest ally?
The Children Forum Network, African Youth and Children’s Network and the Government, particularly the National Commission on Children and the Ministries we worked with.
What did you learn that you might apply next time?
There’s a perception in Sierra Leone that children below 18 years old can’t think for themselves. But this is wrong. We realised how sophisticated and strong their first-hand experiences were. Young people’s voices are stronger when they speak for themselves.
What do enjoy most about your role as a budget advocate?
Helping the government understand where budget priorities should be, based on citizens’ experiences and the evidence. The Ministry of Finance and the government appreciate that.
What is your least favourite part of your work?
Balancing the expectations of politicians and our people. You need to be tough!
What skills are most important for a budget advocate?
You need to do your background research; analyse the issues and evidence before you start. You also need to be tactful to balance government and community priorities. You also need to know how to engage the media.
Top tip for working with the media?
Make sure you stay on topic in interviews. You must satisfy media’s concerns without deviating from your priorities/key message. The media also want training on how to report on health issues.
What advice would you give to a young health budget advocate?
1. Advocacy is not easy. Do your research well so you are familiar with the issue and not discredited.
2. Make sure your advocacy priorities reflect the needs of the people, not your own challenges. Don’t be personal.
3. Stay neutral.
Activist or influencer?
Both. The result of my activism is to influence policy, people and decision making.
Thank you to Save the Children, the Children Forum Network, National Commission for Children, African Youth and Children Network (AYCN), and the Government of Sierra Leone, particularly the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, and Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Children’s Issues.