Countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) have made great strides in protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence. Today, almost all have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Increased political will and advocacy efforts are also bearing fruits - the majority of the 21 countries in ESA now have child-friendly laws and policies in place that offer extensive immense opportunities to protect and improve the lives of children.
Necessary laws, legal systems and enforcement mechanisms, however, are still lacking in many countries to protect their children. Only a handful of countries in the region have enacted a comprehensive Children’s Act to bring their national child protection laws in line with the CRC.
One of the fundamental rights enshrined in the CRC is the right of a child’s birth to be registered immediately and for the child to acquire a name and a nationality. But to this day, more than 60 per cent all children under five years of age do not have proper birth registration in ESA.
Violence, abuse and exploitation
Children throughout the region suffer widely from different forms of violence that are often tacitly or explicitly condoned by society. These include child marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting (FMG/ C), corporal punishment, and recruitment into armed forces. Child marriage remains extremely common in ESA - where 34 per cent of women aged 20 - 24 were married before their 18th birthday. FGM/C is prevalent in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania. In Somalia, 98 per cent of women have undergone this practice.
While no specific data on violence against children in ESA are available, national studies in Kenya, Tanzania Swaziland and Zimbabwe show that between 30 and 40 percent of girls under 18 years old suffered from sexual abuse and violence.
Child labour remains an endemic problem across the African continent. This phenomenon is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, and severely compromises children’s education. ESA has the highest rate of child labour in the world, together with West and Central Africa - nearly a third of children aged 5–14 here are engaged in work.
Children affected by armed conflict
Despite notable progress in countries like Burundi and South Sudan with the demobilization of several hundred children formerly associated with the armed forces, in Somalia, children are continue to be recruited, with the majority of them aged 14 - 18 years. The total number of children being used in conflicts is not known, but the UN estimates that thousands of children and young people are affected.
The migration of children because of war is an ongoing problem in countries on the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia), as well as Yemen, Sudan, and in Southern Africa countries, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. Similarly, there is significant movement of children amongst the countries of the Great Lake Region, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan due to the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo.
UNICEF in Action
The UNICEF vision and approach is to create a protective environment, where girls and boys are free from violence and exploitation, where laws and practices minimize their vulnerability and risk factors, and where children themselves are equipped to build their own resilience.
In collaboration with the national legislatures and law enforcement agencies in all 21 countries, UNICEF has identified a series of strategic priorities to accelerate action for the protection of children. These priorities reflect an important shift from issue-oriented projects to a more systemic and integrated approach that addresses both prevention and response to the challenges. These priorities include:
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