The problems affecting the youths take centre-stage in most public forums involving traditional leaders, non-governmental organisations and government officials. These problems include lack of access to education; poor parenting, early marriages and sexual abuse for girls, child labour and domestic violence which make many children in the country fail to enjoy their childhood.
The downside of such forums is the absence of the people affected, the youths themselves. This is the reason why Plan Malawi in partnership with Youth Net and Counseling [Yoneco] have taken an innovative way of bringing these issues to the public through the individuals affected, the youth themselves. The youth must understand their problems and learn to demand their rights from their leaders.
Plan Malawi and Yoneco have introduced child parliament in Machinga which is integrated with the youth Parliament recognised by government and current running with national representatives, as a means to help strengthen child protection systems.
Plan Malawi's Community Development Cordinator for Child protection and Participation project in Machinga Alfred Chiwanga says his organisation emphasises on strengthening child protection structures from village to the district level to ensure child rights are protected.
"We have initiated various forums where parents and the children themselves meet and discuss their problems. This is a way of ensuring that the voices of the children are heard, that way we hope parents can change their way of doing things" says Chiwanga.
Chiwanga says Plan Malawi did a research which noted that the absence of strong structures at all levels weakens the fight against abuses children face in the country.
"We help build strong structures at community, area and district levels and work with existing staff to ensure the children get protected," says Chiwanga.
Yoneco's Project officer Richard Nkhonjera based at Ntaja office says Machinga is one of the district with high cases of child abuse cases and the child project aims to eliminate such cases.
"Yoneco has been working in Machinga district in the field of child protection in our two traditional areas of Ngokwe and Kawinga as our implementation areas. We realised children need empowering as well apart from targeting parents," says Nkhonjera adding that the problems facing children in Machinga are real and that changing mindset is not easy.
"Parents find it difficult to raise their children and in some cases they are eager to see children especially girls fend for themselves. The young girl then will hook up with an older man as long he is able to provide for her needs, soap, food and clothes. This is the trend and girls go into early marriages" says Nkhonjera.
Nkhonjera says they promote reproductive health issues among the girls and women. However Yoneco realised empowering the youth may prove effective and the idea of a youth parliament was initiated.
Police Officer responsible for Youth and Child Protection in Machinga Rebecca Kalawa says the problems children face include outright violence such as sexual molestation and defilement, in most cases involving relatives like uncles and cousins or neighbours.
"They are people they know and trust as such some cases do not come out" she says.
However Kalawa is optimistic that the the launch of the child protection project by Plan Malawi and Yoneco, parents or neighbours have been sensitisised to report any cases of sexual molestation and defilement.
"We prosecute a lot of cases on child abuse, it is now clear that people are reporting such cases" she adds.
Plan Malawi and Yoneco recently mobilised pupils in primary secondary in all constituencies of Machinga in ten education zones to a long day session of youth parliament held at Liwonde attended by officials from the district council.
During the long day forum of child and youth Parliament the young parliamentarians took to task number officials on some of the worrisome cases of child abuses in the district.
Child and youth parliamentarians among other issues asked the judiciary and police to explain on the issue of a negligent driver who overrun and killed six children who were coming from an open day at Ntaja trading centre and yet is still a free man in the society.
According to the child parliamentarians, the driver had no valid driving license and they were surprised that he was still free.
A representative of the judiciary explained that all procedures in the case were followed and that the driver was coveted of the offence and ordered to pay fines.
The child parliamentarians said they had expected a stiffer punishment other than the compensation of K25,000 paid to the bereaved families. They argued that such little fines do not deter other offenders from committing serious offences.
The district education manager Ernest Chumachao was also on spot over the deployment of primary school teachers in community day secondary schools. Chumachawo admitted that the district has a problem of secondary school teachers and it was indeed deploying primary school teachers as a temporary measure.
He also attributed the challenge to lack of conducive working environment for teachers as most of the schools don't have teacher's houses and electricity.
The district education officials also taken them to task over the lack of learning materials and teachers in most of the schools.
The issues of child trafficking through Nayuchi border which expose children to hard labour and other forms of abuse were also queried by the children parliamentarians.
Children wanted to know why subsidised cotton seeds are sold, others have not yet received and those who have benefited are not the vulnerable groups.
The speaker for the Children and youth parliament Andrew Phiri, 12, a form two student at Mbejere Community secondary said he found the forum an eye opener.
"It is good that we have had this opportunity to interact with government officials .They now know our problems and we hope this will continue;' he said.
The Media and Advocacy officer for Yoneco Charles Banda says such forums will continue because they give the children a chance to express their feelings against abuses.
"The children have made their point and now what remains is for the officials to take note and help the children enjoy their rights" he says.
The forum was organized by Yoneco with funding from Plan Malawi and its aim was to promote interaction between officials and children in the district.