Essay Competition

Bored? Time on your hands? Under 25? Can we challenge you to an essay competition?

“It’s not fair!” Do you or other young people ever say this – about their own treatment or treatment of others? People have strong sense that it is wrong to treat them differently from others. And they feel it is wrong to prevent them expressing themselves in the way they speak, the way they interact with others, and to prevent them achieving their full potential as individuals and as members of society. These are among their rights as human beings.

An important aspect of the Constitution is its recognition and protection of human rights. We, at Katiba Institute, want to encourage young people to think and write about what human rights means to them. And what they think they and others can do to defend human rights.

Understanding human rights

Rights belong to all human beings, and to communities. Government must not interfere with our rights – unless there is a very good reason and there is no other way to achieve the purpose. A few examples of human rights are that everyone has the right to express their opinions, to have religious and political beliefs, to gather with other people, and to form organisations. Everyone is equal – the law must treat everyone equally and fairly. Rights for some groups are spelled out in a bit more detail: children’s right to education is explained, people with disability must not be disrespected or insulted, older people have a right to continue to take part in society.

Everyone has the right to food and water, to adequate housing and to health. Everyone has the right to a clean and healthy environment, and to decent working conditions.

We must all respect the rights of other people. This means that we all have a responsibility to avoid doing something that is against other people’s rights – it is not just a matter for government. We must not discriminate against people: treat them badly because of their skin colour, place of origin, religion, language etc. And the states’ (government bodies’) duties including protecting people’s rights against others. For example, not only should the state not interfere with our right to express our opinions by demonstrating, and not only should other people not interfere with others’ rights of expressions and protest, but the state also should protect the right to express opinions and protest. Imagine a peaceful protest march that is disputed by noisy counter-protesters. The public authorities should take steps to prevent this behaviour.

About the essay competition

The essay topics are intended to make you think about human rights, and what they mean to you and your family and friends and what you can do to protect human rights. It is all right to talk to your family and learn from others. You may get ideas from newspapers, radio and TV, and even from everyday incidents in your community. From older students who are able to do internet research, or have access to books, we hope for some research using such sources. But the first topic is more about personal experience than research.

Who can participate?

Any young person (up to 25 years old).

Topics: choose ONE of the following:

  1. Me and my friend: write about a friend of yours who is a bit different from you (maybe from a different place of origin, or religion, or someone with a disability) and how you and they try to ensure that their rights are respected.
  2. Why human rights matter: This is for any age group, but we shall expect the approach, the research and the quality of the writing to be better from older participants.
  3. How we can defend and protect rights in the time of coronavirus (COVID-19): for older participants. Think about how a serious and infectious disease like this affects people’s rights, and how the way people, and governments, react to it may also affect rights (in good and bad ways). Suggest ways in which people (without putting their own health at risk) can help to protect their own rights and those of others.
  4. “Human rights defenders” – what does this mean to me and mine? As you think and read about it, you may find that you know one or human rights defenders. Maybe you are actually a human rights defender yourself already, though you have never described yourself lie that. Discuss what human rights defenders do that is relevant to you and your family and the community where you live?

Length of the essay

  • Up to 13 years 400 or 500 words
  • 13 to 18 about 600 words
  • From 18 to 25 around 1000 to 1200 words.


  • Please write in English. This is not a test of English, but you will get credit for a clearly-written and well-organised essay.
  • Use your own words: do not copy from what other people have written (except perhaps for very short quotations, and then say who wrote the original).

Submitting your essay:

Send your essay (in WORD or PDF) by email to 

Tell us:

  • Your name (and ID card number if you have one)
  • Contact: where you live and how we can contact you ØPhone number is essential
  • Your level of education
  • One or two sentences about how you went about writing this essay, who you talked to, what research and reading you did.

What happens next? [Assessment and prizes]

Katiba Institute will organise a marking system. Your name will be concealed from markers. The top five in each age group will win a prize. The prizes may include cash prize, vouchers for books, having your essay published in a newspaper and/or on Katiba Institute platforms; a booklet of several essays; and where possible offer internship/attachment/volunteership opportunities to the authors of the best essays.

Submission deadline: 30th October 2020.


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