16 June 2011: UNICEF calls on African governments to protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse
LUSAKA, Zambia, 16 June 2011 – Thousands of children in Africa are experiencing violence, exploitation, and abuse on a daily basis. The situation is especially stark for children living and working on the streets.
On the occasion of the 21st annual Day of the African Child, UNICEF calls on governments to strengthen support systems, which provide the basis for a more protective environment in families and communities to keep children safe and strengthen families through the provision of basic social, health, and education services.
“These children have already been forced from the protection of their homes, only to be subjected to even greater risks on the streets,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “On the Day of the African Child – and every day – we must do all we can to address the reasons why so many children are separated from their families, and invest in new efforts to protect them, no matter where they live.”
Widespread poverty, conflicts, HIV and AIDS, and climate change as well as violence in the home are forcing more and more children to leave their homes to live and work on the streets, exposed to harm and exploitation. Many others end up in less visible exploitative situations, working in households, on farms, in mines, or even in armed groups.
In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 50 million children have lost one or both parents, almost 15 million of them due to AIDS. Some of them are forced to grow up on their own, with limited or no support from adult caretakers. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of child labour in the world with more than one-third of children aged 5–14 being engaged in the hardest forms of labour.
“The issue of children working and living on the streets in African towns and cities is only the visible face of large-scale violations of rights,” said Agnès Kabore Ouattara, Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. “It is a consequence of socio-economic factors such as poverty, demographic explosion, rural-urban migration, political crises, as well as inter-personal problems such as violence and rejection at home in dysfunctional families.”
These challenges reinforce the need to strengthen the role of families and communities in promoting and protecting the wellbeing of children. As a consequence, governments, with support from partners, need to invest adequate resources in the disadvantaged rural or provincial communities, to reduce disparities between regions and income groups as well as to fight discrimination based on sex, age, ethnicity amongst other factors.
Over the past years, a number of African countries have achieved important gains in the implementation of the child rights framework. Many countries have introduced social protection mechanisms including cash transfers, which play a key role in supporting vulnerable families and preventing children from leaving their homes to secure some income on the street or in other exploitative labour conditions.
“In Zambia, we are working with the Government and cooperating partners to strengthen the capacity of vulnerable households to provide for their children by providing cash transfers and child grants. These measures provide economic empowerment to families and are a means to prevent children from living and working on the streets,” said Dr. Iyorlumun J. Uhaa, UNICEF Zambia Representative.
UNICEF Zambia is also supporting implementation of the new Gender Based Violence Act including raising awareness, strengthening law enforcement, and building community resilience to violence. UNICEF is working to support the Government to address trafficking of children through raising awareness and improving services for responding to child victims of trafficking. UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Home Affairs to increase birth registration coverage.
UNICEF is collaborating with governments throughout the continent to create a protective environment by both fostering social welfare programmes and engaging in advocacy efforts to protect children from exploitation and abuse.
Note for the editor
The Day of the African Child commemorates a 1976 march in Soweto South Africa, when thousands of African school children took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand were injured. To honour the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity. The Day also draws attention to the lives of African children today.
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