When it comes to protecting the rights and welfare of children, Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) has made important progress over the past years. A number of countries have created child-friendly laws and policies that offer immense opportunities to safeguard and improve the lives of children and women. Public campaigns that put the spotlight on child abuse and gender-based violence have intensified. Programmes to prevent and respond to violations of children’s right to protection have multiplied and become more effective. Despite these achievements, however, many children are still subjected to violence and exploitation as well as to harmful cultural practices.
Almost all countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Somalia remains the only country in the region that has not yet become party to both these treaties. Zambia has ratified the CRC, but not the African Charter. The ratification process for the two Optional Protocols to the CRC has been much slower. Three countries, Ethiopia, Somalia and Swaziland, still have not signed or ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, while countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have not signed or ratified the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
Only seven of the 21 countries in ESA have enacted a comprehensive Children’s Act to bring their national child protection legislative framework in line with the CRC, and many countries still lack the necessary laws, legal systems and enforcement mechanisms to protect their children against violence and abuse.
Protecting children from all forms of abuse is an integral component of the CRC and the African Charter. One of the fundamental rights enshrined in the CRC is the right to be registered immediately after birth and to acquire a name and a nationality. But to this day, in Eastern and Southern Africa, more than half of all newborns do not receive proper documentation. In 2007 alone, the region had almost 10 million unregistered births.
Violence, abuse and exploitation
While no specific data on violence against children in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) are available, national studies in Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland show that between 30 and 40 percent of girls suffer from sexual abuse and violence before they are 18 years old. Each year, girls from Ethiopia, Madagascar and Kenya go to the Middle East to work as domestic workers, many of them end up in exploitative conditions.
Many forms of violence against children are tacitly or explicitly condoned by society – these include early marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), corporal punishment and domestic violence. Early marriage remains extremely common in ESA.
Within the region, 35 percent of women aged 20–24 were married or in union before their 18th birthday. FGM/C are especially prevalent in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania. An estimated 98 percent of girls and women have undergone this practice in Somalia.
Child labour remains an endemic problem across the African continent. This phenomenon is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, and it perpetuates impoverishment by severely compromising children’s education. ESA has the second highest rate of child labour in the world, after West and Central Africa – more than one-third of children aged 5–14 are engaged in work.
Children in the region are still being recruited to join armed groups. While notable progress has been made in countries like Burundi with the de-mobilization of several hundred former child soldiers, armed groups in Somalia continue to recruit of children and adolescents, with the majority of them being aged 14-18 years. The total number of children being used in the conflict is not known, but the UN estimates that thousands of children and young people are being trained in basic arms techniques.
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