Child Rights Advocates Call on Africa to Strengthen Child Protection Systems
ADDIS ABABA, 6 November 2013 – Thirteen agencies working in Africa have issued a Joint Statement calling on African governments to strengthen their child protection systems to secure the right of children to a life free from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect in both emergency and non-emergency settings.
The Statement stresses that fulfillment of this right to protection will directly contribute to the achievement of national socio-economic development and poverty reduction agendas in Africa. The agencies, which include UNICEF, as well as networks of NGOs, are to deliver their recommendations during the 22nd Session of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, on 6 November 2013, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“When children are protected from violence, exploitation, and abuse, they are more likely to attend school and to improve their academic performance,” said Théophane Nikyèma, Executive Director, The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), speaking on behalf of the agencies. “They are also less likely to experience health problems. This agenda is an important contributor to the development of human capital in Africa.”
Over 400 million children live in sub-Saharan Africa, almost half of the total population. Although data on child protection issues is limited, the risks of violence, abuse and exploitation are significant. A growing number of country studies show very high prevalence rates of physical and sexual violence, and associations between violence and a range of physical, reproductive and mental health problems. Almost 40 percent of girls are married by age 18, and approximately 60 percent of children are not registered at birth. Female genital mutilation/cutting is practiced in some 29 countries in Africa, with prevalence rates of 80 percent or more in some of those countries.
In addition, many children also face justice systems that are poorly equipped to support children, whether they are in conflict with the law, victims, witnesses, or in need of care and protection. Evidence also indicates children with disabilities face violence, abuse and stigma while ethnic, linguistic, religious and other divides can also increase the risks to children.
In the Statement’s Call to Action, the agencies argue that effective child protection depends on appropriate policies, legislation and regulations, as well as structures and implementation that depend on social acceptance and funding. Actions are needed to strengthen effective promotion, prevention and response to violence, abuse and exploitation, and high quality evidence and data are needed to improve decision-making on child protection.
“We are all seeking positive outcomes for children,” added Théophane Nikyèma, Executive Director, The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF). “Experience shows that improved social services and laws that speak to real threats bring benefits to communities as a whole. No one wants to live in places where children are degraded and harmed, and coordinated and resourced efforts can make a real difference in the future of African nations.”
There has been increasing momentum in sub-Saharan Africa on the child protection systems agenda. Nearly half the countries have completed or launched exercises to map and assess their child protection systems, allowing them to describe those systems and specify priority areas of engagement and investment. Some countries, including Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania, have begun the process of redefining their child protection systems through development of new policy frameworks, tapping into existing practices and resources and forging links between the informal and formal parts of the system, thereby making the system in its entirety more sustainable, effective, and ‘fit’ for the country context.
Sub-national coordination mechanisms built around child protection committees or the equivalent, are rolling out in countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Human resource gap analyses have been conducted in some countries to inform the strengthening of the social service workforce serving the most vulnerable communities.
The Statement’s Call to Action endorses strengthening protection systems that are integrated, child-centered, and guided by the best interests of the child. In the past, interventions often focused on a single issue or risk to children, but experience shows that an individual child can be confronted by multiple needs, violations and severity. Accordingly, the agencies call for holistic approaches that acknowledge the complexity of children’s problems and the need for a multi-disciplinary response. Child protection systems should be sensitive to context and environment; take full account of the child’s role in the system; and create better coordination, engagement, and capacity of a wide range of actors, from children, youth and families, to traditional and faith leaders, to government, civil society and the private sector.
After the Committee meeting, the agencies plan to continue to promote the Statement’s Call to Action before individual governments, Regional Economic Communities, UN agencies, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and representatives from civil society organisations, academia, and the private sector.
Note to editors:
'Strengthening Child Protection Systems in Sub- Saharan Africa; A Call to Action' is a joint document produced by African Child Policy Forum; African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect; Environnement et Développement du Tiers-monde; International Social Service; Mouvement Africain des Enfants et Jeunes Travailleurs; Plan International; Regional Inter-agency Task Team on Children and AIDS; Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative; Save the Children; SOS Children’s Villages International; Terre des hommes; UNICEF; and World Vision..
The systems approach, agencies are calling for, is guided in Africa by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), the African Youth Charter (AYC), and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Women’s Protocol). The approach is in full alignment with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and other international conventions, instruments and standards.
The ACRWC specifically addresses children’s right to protection related to child labour, child abuse and torture, juvenile justice, parental care and protection, harmful social and cultural practices, separation from parents and adoption, sexual exploitation, and the sale, trafficking and abduction of children.
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