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An unusual partnership helps tackle child malnutrition in Darfur

UNICEF Representative, Nils Kastberg, addresses the meeting in Nyala
© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Ingram
UNICEF Representative, Nils Kastberg, addresses the meeting in Nyala

by Nils Kastberg, UNICEF

Khartoum, October 23, 2011: The children of South Darfur had something to celebrate earlier this month. Not so much the welcome sight of rain filling the dried up riverbeds around Nyala, nor even the victory of the local al Marikh football team in their match against Al Marikh El Fasher.

Rather it was the sight of the Wali, Mr Abdul Hamid Musa Kasha, signing a new State Child Act before an audience of invited guest sthat included the champion promoter of child rights in Sudan, Federal Minister of Social Security, Amira Elfadil, the Secretary General of the National Council of Child Welfare, Gamar Habani, and 13 of the 15 State Ministers of Social Development..

By taking this very important step, South Darfur became the seventh Sudanese state to commit itself legally to respect the rights of its children. Once ratified by the State assembly, this important legal instrument will bring South Darfur into line with a set of global standards and norms in terms of how Sudanese children can be better protected and the challenges they face be better addressed.

By signing and ratifying the Child Rights Act, the State government will take actions needed to prevent children being exploited, or subjected to violence, or forced to undergo harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The authorities will also engage to end child marriage as well as child recruitment, with penalties introduced against the perpetrators.

In some important respects the South Darfur Child Act is more protective than the Federal act passed in 2010. This is a tribute to the extensive efforts of Sudanese child rights activists and authorities who advocated for its passage into law.

Judging by her comments, Federal Minister Amira el Fadil, was in no doubt about the importance of the occasion in Nyala.  State legislators, she said, should not merely endorse the Child Act but "place it in their hearts and minds."

So what does this mean for the coming generation of Sudanese children, those who are now being born into this new post-separation Sudan?

Above all, it demonstrates that a commitment to the full implementation of child rights is spreading steadily through the country. It will surely be only be a matter of time before every state has set in place the legislative framework to ensure not only that the children entering adulthood eighteen years from now will be immeasurably better off than previous generations, but that the prospects for Sudan’s development as a prosperous, peaceful nation will be enormously strengthened.  

There are, of course, many planks to this “floor” of child rights that must be hammered into place, starting with universal birth registration. It’s from this simple step, recording the details of every baby born in the country, that all other child rights flow.

Then we need to ensure that these newly-registered babies survive through infancy and into childhood, that they receive the nutrition, clean water and protection against disease that are their fundamental right. Currently, some 10 per cent of Sudanese children die before they reach their first birthday. That’s a terrible statistic which we can and must change.

Next we must make sure that these children start primary school on time. At present, some 28 per cent do not. Then we have the children who get enrolled in primary school but leave it before they complete the required eight years of class. At the moment less than 10 per cent of children manage to last through to secondary school. For a country aspiring to raise its level of economic development to that of its more prosperous neighbours, that’s far too few.

And then, to ensure the other basic minimum requirements for our children are firmly in place, we need to create the protective environment to deter those who would employ them in hazardous settings, or otherwise put them in harm’s way.

Thanks to the measures taken by South Darfur and other States, we know there is an increasing political will to establish a basic foundation of child rights, even in the most challenging environment.

For our part as UNICEF, we hope that by early next year, we will have a programme of cooperation in place with each and every state, providing their leaders with an X-ray  of the conditions faced by children, of what needs to be done to put things right, and together measuring the progress.

The generation of Sudanese children born today will be 18 years old in 2030. As all States go in the direction shown by South Darfur, we will be strengthening the hopes of those who have a vision of a totally different Sudan in 2030, one in which peace prevails, and respect for children’s rights and their protection is the central and superior goal of all Sudanese.

 

 
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