Children around the world recently had the opportunity to vote for their favorite child hero for 2011. After a “Global Vote” of 3.2 million children, Murhabazi Namegabe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was announced as the winner of the 2011 World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child “for his dangerous struggle to free children forced to be child soldiers or sex slaves.”
Murhabazi, a Bukavu native, has dedicated his life to the promotion of children’s rights in his home country. His organization Bureau pour le Volontariat au Service de l’Enfance et de la Santé, or BVES, reports having freed 4,000 child soldiers in Congo to date and reaching some 60,000 children with its services. Murhabazi himself often negotiates with rebel groups to have child soldiers released into his care.
By directly interacting with armed groups, Murhabazi frequently puts his own life in danger for the rights of children. Despite death threats, imprisonment, and assault, he continues the work of BVES because he says he has a responsibility toward the vulnerable children they have taken care of. “The children trust me. I cannot let them down. Every day I’m prepared to die for them,” he said.
Beyond the issue of safety, there are many other complex challenges that BVES faces once child soldiers are released. Murhabazi explained for the World’s Children’s Prize magazine, The Globe:
Every time a child soldier is freed it’s like a major victory. But negotiating with armed groups is not easy. They threaten to kill us when we ask them to release the children. Then it’s difficult to handle the children, because they have been so exploited and damaged by adults. And in the end it can be difficult to get their families, neighbours, villages and schools to accept the children when it’s time for them to return to their homes.
BVES currently operates 35 children’s homes to help reintegrate child soldiers, girls subjected to sexual violence, unaccompanied refugee children, and street children into society. These homes provide children with a safe place where they receive food and clothing, and have access to education, healthcare, and therapy. Most of the children eventually return to their families.
"It is a great pleasure to be recognized by the children of the world for the work we do … to protect children from war in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Murhabazi. He will receive his award during a prize ceremony today in Sweden, along with the two World Children’s Honorary Award winners: Cecilia Flore-Oebanda from the Philippines who works against child labor and trafficking, and Monira Rahman from Bangladesh who works with victims of acid attacks. Queen Silvia of Sweden will present the three awards, totaling $100,000.