On roads everywhere, we are calling for greater protection for our children

This page in:
Zoleka Mandela speaks at a Road
Safety Week event at the World
Bank on Monday, May 4.
It is unacceptable that around the world, the number one threat that our children and young people face is road traffic injury.

Too often, the world overlooks this issue. But four years ago, for one moment, the world did not ignore a tragedy on the road. My family was thrust into the spotlight when we suffered the loss of my precious daughter, Zenani.

For a brief moment, barely a day, the world’s attention was on my family during our nightmare. Yet too often, when young lives are lost on the roads, the world turns a blind eye.

As I stand here today, right now in my thoughts are the 500 families who have suffered the loss of a child in just the last 24 hours. Those feeling the same suffocating pain as my own family has done. Parents losing that which they hold most precious. The world will barely notice this suffering. And worse, there will be no action to prevent the 500 tragedies of tomorrow, and each day after that.

I’m speaking today because I want to say that we can no longer sit here and ignore this crisis. Collectively we are failing. And we are being failed by our leaders. We must change this. We must demand action.

With the Save Kids Lives campaign that we have launched for UN Global Road Safety Week, we have witnessed a movement growing around the world. Families, communities and civil society joining together demanding greater protection on the roads, particularly for their children.

Everywhere, people are joining together, calling for action. This is a crisis for us all. Worldwide, children are put in harms’ way. They are not given the protection they need.

On the highways back home in South Africa, on the streets in India and school buses in Brazil – on the roads everywhere – we are calling for greater protection for our children.

We know exactly what’s needed. We have all the answers: safe crossings to school, footpaths, seatbelts and helmets, action to tackle speeding and drink driving. The solutions are right there in front of our eyes.

It gives new meaning to the phrase ‘painfully obvious’:  there is too much pain. And the answers are so obvious.

As the ‘Safe to Learn’ report launched by the FIA Foundation and UNICEF outlines, the measures to keep children safe on the roads can be implemented in all countries, no matter what the level of income.

The examples are out there. The World Bank and partners are supporting some life-saving projects. The work being done in countries like Argentina and India is vital, it is making such a difference to so many lives.

So there is hope and it shows what can be done. But we need to see much more work like this, many more countries stepping forward to take action with support from the international community. And this must become a priority in the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. This is the message of the Save Kids Lives campaign. Action can and must be taken. Save Kids Lives is a campaign for our children, and led by our children.

It is our children who have been failed. But it is our children who are giving us the answers with this campaign. In their own voices, children around the world have been telling us what they need. I saw this with my own eyes when I went to the project we are running with our partners in South Africa’s Western Cape.

The answers came from the children at the Sivile Primary where we have been working.

It is a scene familiar to anyone who has been on a road in a developing country. You see them, little ones no more than six years old standing by the roadside with their brothers and sisters. The traffic on the Jeff Masemola highway bears down on them at more than 80 kilometers an hour. They have nowhere to cross safely, so they run. For their lives. In fact the kids themselves have had to cut a hole in the fence to get to school – there’s no safe pathway provided for them.

These children have told us very, very clearly. They are scared and they want to get to their classes safely. Surely we have a duty to help them get an education?

When I met the children of Sivile Primary and saw both the fear and the hope in their eyes, I thought about what my grandfather, Nelson Mandela would say.

Years ago, he was asked to contribute to a report by the World Health Organization, and in it, he called for a much stronger focus on protecting children. My grandfather said: 'We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.' As usual, we can learn a lot by listening to what my grandfather has said. Make no mistake, what we see on our roads every day is violence. It is the violence of our unsafe system that has trucks travelling at 80 kilometers an hour bearing down on six year olds. It is the violence committed by adults – by all of us and our leaders – on children.

I know that the spirit of my grandfather, Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is with us when we work to protect the children of Sivile School as they try to reach their classes. It is with us here today. And it will be with us when we call for the protection of children worldwide with the Save Kids Lives campaign. All children, everywhere have a right to be kept safe on the roads.

Growing up in Africa, I have witnessed the incredible pace of change and the tremendous benefits that development has brought to us all.

But I have seen the costs, and I have experienced tragedy. In places like Sivile, I have also seen how easily this can be put right to everyone’s advantage. All of us here I know are committed to bringing the global epidemic of road deaths to an end. So here today I make a plea on behalf of my family and all the other families worldwide who have suffered – let us redouble our efforts and let us Save Kids Lives. 

Editor's note: this blog entry is taken from Zoleka Mandela's speech as written for delivery at a Road Safety Week event at the World Bank on Monday, May 4.


Zoleka Mandela

Global Road Safety Activist

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