The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is impressed with the way Malawians are responding to a program aimed at protecting children. According to UNICEF, 83,270 people in the country have joined the program called U-report in which they report through SMS issues that are affecting children and other people in their areas. The U-report program which started in Uganda in 2011 was an agreement by 40 countries as a way of protecting children’s rights and Malawi launched its program in March, 2018.
U-Report Malawi, a free mobile-based tool for community participation, designed to address issues that young people care about. The new service, which is free on both Airtel and TNM, includes regular opinion polls sent by SMS. Anyone can join U-Report by texting JOIN to 1177.
U-Report uses simple Short Message Service (SMS) messages and social media to reach communities around the country and provides an opportunity for community members to share their opinions and drive positive change. U-Report relies on volunteer community members, mostly young people, serving as U-Reporters to provide information through conducting polls on issues that affect their communities. It is also an important tool for sharing information through message alerts.
In an interview with SMASH, UNICEF Program Manager Charlie Hartono Lie said the program which is mostly targeting the youth is bearing fruits since people have realized that it motivates and gives ideas. Lie added that many people in the country are also taking part in the program since it includes topics that are helpful to the public at large.“U-report is for everyone including Members of Parliament, artists, students and many more. We chose this system to provide assistance to people on issues that affect their daily lives such as the issue of poor hygiene, early marriages and availability of social services to ensure that people report these things to us through SMS and we have been consulting the ministry responsible on such areas,” he said. He made it clear that the program is not involved in any way with politics but on issues that requires emergency reaction at a particular time. On challenges, the program manager pointed out low SMS blast respondent rate and SMS technical issues as among the issues that are hindering them from reaching 60 percent of female and 40 percent of male respondents.
U-Report was first launched in Uganda in 2011. Opinion polls and alerts are sent out to U-Reporters via SMS text messaging and real-time response information is collected. Polling will be conducted on issues such as access to education, health services and safe water, ending child marriage, HIV and AIDS, and violence against children. Registration and participation in polls is anonymous.
The data collected can be disaggregated by age, gender and location. Results and ideas are shared back with the community, media and Government, to inform decision making. Further information on the subjects polled is also shared with U-Reporters. All poll results will be made publicly available on the U-Report Malawi website www.ureport.mw
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.