Botswana Parliament discusses the “unfinished” development agenda for children, the implementation of the Children’s Act (2009) and the role of the National Council for Children
Gaborone, Botswana, 29 March 2012 –: On the 29 March 2012, Parliamentarians were briefed on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the implementation of the Children’s Act 2009. The Assistant Minister of Local Government, Honorable Maxwell Motowane, made a presentation to update Parliament on progress made on the implementation of the Children’s Act (2009), to sensitize new members on the existence of the Act and finally, to initiate dialogue on the Act and solicit views on how best to implement the Act at all levels for the benefit of all Batswana children.
This was followed by a presentation by the Chairperson of the National Children’s Council (NCC), Reverend Councilor Mpho Moruakgomo. He spoke, in depth, about the implementation of the Act and the work of the National Children’s Council. The recommendations he made included, among other things, capacity building of all service providers to fully implement the Act, i.e. social workers, police officers, judicial officers; the establishment of a Children’s Desk at the Ombudsman’s Office in line with Observation No. 17 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; and the establishment of Children’s desks at Ministerial level.
The Chairperson also called upon Honorable Members to scale-up advocacy for children in terms of resource mobilization, programming and policy.
Presentation on the Convention on the Rights of the Child
The UNICEF Representative, Dr. Doreen Mulenga, in her presentation on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, noted that parliamentarians are in a unique position to demand accountability from government, the private sector and civil society alike.
She further highlighted that in Botswana the statistics point to an “unfinished” development agenda for children. There is a need to expedite the harmonization of all laws and regulations on children which are in conflict with the Children’s Act, 2009 to reflect the principles and provisions of the CRC. It is important to ensure that NCC structures are resourced and operational at national, district and community levels. Moreover, the Government should consider finalizing and submitting the outstanding CRC State Party Reports as a matter of urgency.
Finally, Dr. Mulenga said the government and development partner’s resources should be spent with children in mind, in a way that reduces their vulnerabilities, widens their opportunities or eases their pain or, better still, in a way that does all three. The presentations were followed by some discussions by Honorable Members of Parliament.
In their reactions to the presentations, the Honorable Members of Parliament raised issues which included: children’s rights vis-a-vis their responsibilities; lack of facilitates for children with disabilities particularly the deaf and dumb; government’s lack of support to civil society organizations involved in providing facilities to children with disabilities.
Furthermore, it was stated that there were certain communities in Botswana which were infringing on the children’s rights to education. As such, the law should enforce deterrents for parents who fail to send their children to school under the pretext that it was against their cultural beliefs. A recommendation was made for the Children Act to be translated into the Setswana language as a reader friendly version for members of the public.
The Assistant Minister of Local Government was asked why the State Party Reports on the CRC have not been submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child as per the stipulated time frame. The consultation process has been lengthy and the Ministry is committed to complete the process by August 2012.
Other issues raised included the non-availability of the children’s courts in Botswana, lawyers not trained specifically to deal with children’s issues and poor school attendance by children in Kweneng West which was attributed to the long distances traveled by children to and from school every day. This becomes more problematic during the rainy season and leads to children dropping out of school completely. Child labour was also said to be widespread in the farming areas.
In addition, one member wanted to find out whether the Children’s Act accommodated some of the cultural aspects of the San community and other tribes in the Okavango on early marriages because among these tribes the girl child gets married while she is still under the age of 18 years. Members responded that the standards in the Act apply to all citizens, and early marriage should not be condoned even for cultural reasons.
Finally, the NCC was requested to table its progress report to the next session of Parliament in July 2012.