UNICEF convenes a high-level round table on harmful traditional practices
Cotonou, Benin, 11 June 2013 - On the eve of the celebration of the Day of the African Child, UNICEF held a high level roundtable discussion on harmful socio cultural practices detrimental to the health and development of girls and boys in Benin.
Participants exchanged views on a wide array of harmful practices deeply entrenched into Benin’s social fabric and belief systems Ritual infanticide, “child witches”, forced and early marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting nutritional taboos and working children or "vidomégon" are amongst those ringing loud alarm bells.
The roundtable kick-started with the screening of a documentary, on infanticide in northern Benin produced by the Franciscans. The film displayed a gruelling portrait describing how boys and girls born abnormally, or with birth defects, are screened before they can take their first breath. They must be systematically eliminated when they show intricate codes and signs that categorised them as “child witches”. Among other things, they may be born breech, present the foot at birth, grow their first teeth from the upper jaw or come to life by caesarean intervention.
A multi-disciplinary panel focused on children accused of being witches. Pr. Albert Tévoédjrè, Ombudsman, stated "In Africa, children are our wealth. Unfortunately, they are sacrificed for our own selfish interests…"It is time to initiate an inter-religious dialogue that addresses common causes.”
Diene Keita, Representative of UNFPA showed different forms of violence affecting girls such as early and forced marriage, female circumcision and female genital mutilation/cutting. She spoke of their adverse consequences including physical, emotional and psychological traumas and concluded by reminding the audience that there are 12,000 fistulas presently recorded in Benin. According to Ms Keita, the "lack of respect for fundamental rights is the root cause of the vulnerability of girls."
Magistrate, Marie Gisèle Zinkpè, recalled the existing legal framework in Benin. But, as Dr. Anne Vincent, UNICEF Representative, pointed out: "the problem of impunity remains an obstacle to the realization of the rights of the child".
Participants considered ways and means to eradicate these practices including social and behavioural change interventions to encourage communities to talk about these deeply entrenched practices and beliefs, ensure reporting and punishment of offenders, inter-religious dialogue and action, media advocacy, civil engagement with civil society and child protection actors and institutions.
The meeting was attended by representatives from USAID, the French Embassy, line ministries, social workers and non-governmental organizations active in child protection, and local religious chiefs.