Contributing for a protective environment for every child
Guinea-Bissau Situation Analysis shows progress in child protection area during the last decade, with a rapid decline in child marriage and a reduction of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) practices, more effective prevention and response to cases of violence against children, and also an improved legal framework and strengthened coordination. However, there is a strong need to reinforce positive social norms, to enforce policies and to establish a protection system that protect children and women from violence, abuse and exploitation in a sustainable manner.
Today, however, the practice of FGM/C (45% among women aged 15-49) and child marriage (37 per cent of women aged 15-49) persist, with important regional differences. Currently, 16 per cent of all girls below five undergo the practice. No data exists that allow for trend analysis of FGM/C prevalence for girls below five years.
Although legal and policy improvements were seen on FGM/C, domestic violence and sexual reproductive health, child marriage legislation is still not totally harmonized with CRC and CEDAW.
The country has no state shelters for children victims of violence and the limited assistance and care is provided by religious organization and NGOs. However, the limited social workforce (around 100 social assistants) is making efforts to provide coordinated responses to cases. Around 800 children are in residential care. Regulatory instruments for alternative care, particularly shelters, orphanages and host families are in place since 2017. Major challenges continue the lack of state capacity to promote and ensure its implementation.
Bissau-Guinean talibés children (koranic students) are victims of trafficking, exploitation and abuse, engaged in forced begging and agricultural work and live in precarious conditions. A lack of quality schools in Guinea-Bissau and socio-cultural factors are among the reasons why parents send their children abroad. Studies conducted in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau estimated that 120,000 talibés children in Senegal were from Guinea-Bissau. Although Guinea-Bissau is not in mainstream tourism routes, there is enough evidence, as well as CSO reports, implicating involvement of tourists in sexual exploitation and abuse (particularly in the bijagos archipelago), resulting in total impunity of perpetrators.
Justice for Children (J4C) in Guinea-Bissau remains a critical issue: legislation is outdated and its implementation is weak. Case management of children who are in contact with the law needs to be better defined and coordinated.
Due to the weak civil registration system, the number of children whose births are registered remains very low (24 per cent). Quality of registration services, distance to the service point, lack of parents’ identity cards continue to be major obstacles to birth registration. State CP services are not decentralized in the country regions – they are centered in Bissau and few towns of the country.
Despite continued political and institutional instability, UNICEF contribution to strengthen the country child protection system is high. Along with key development partners, UNICEF assists the government in the elaboration of a national child protection policy and child protection code (which aims at harmonizing national legislation with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other child rights legal instruments). Also, support was provided for the development of alternative care measures and the approval of administrative procedures and regulations for foster families and residential care.
FGM/C and child marriage abandonment
The year 2018 was the first year of the 3rd phase of the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme to end FGM/C. During the past two years, community sessions to address FGM/C and other violations of girls’ rights resulted in 77 communities declaring the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage (about 33 000 people). The programme has now achieved 96 per cent of the Country Programme Document target, with a total of 288 communities declaring publicly. In addition, UNICEF continued to strengthen girls’ competencies through life skills and literacy programmes, targeting 500 girls and women, as agents of social norms change.
Violence against children
Violence against children, particularly sexual abuse, physical violence, as well as child marriage continues high in the country. UNICEF has contributed to ensure improvements on referral and case management, so that children are reached by appropriate legal, social and health services. Since 2016 an increased number of cases were followed-up by child protection services (976) although only 107 cases went to court.
Jointly with IOM and UNODC, UNICEF conducted advocacy for the protection of children on the move. Since 2016, around 298 talibés children victim of exploitation in Senegal were assisted by UNICEF benefiting from psychosocial support and family reintegration and accessing to a birth certificate (115 children so far). Also, as a result of the work of the border police forces 728, children were intercepted, crossing the borders in irregular situation and efforts were done to improve referral and coordination on case management.
UNICEF assisted the government to integrate birth registration services in health and education facilities and to increase the civil registration system capacity. Result from a strong interoperability with the health system, a total of 15 additional birth registration centres were opened covering more than 30,000 children under seven (2017-2018). Birth registration services within immunization campaigns are also being implemented. Furthermore, CSOs, CBOs, community radios, traditional leaders’ awareness raising and UNICEF support, contributed to community outreach birth registration, targeting 11,000 vulnerable children, mainly from remote zones where State services do not exist.
In addition to these efforts, the RapidPro technology for birth registration and data collection was introduced in the child protection programme. It is an open source platform tested with government partners to collect routine birth registration data and monitoring the number of boys and girls from different age groups registered throughout the country.