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In Ethiopia, Universal Ratification Campaign targets protecting all African children

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Mwangi
At the meeting (from left): UNICEF Director of Policy and Practice Richard Morgan, UNICEF Representative to the African Union and UNECA Akila Belembaogo, Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union Zachary Muburi-Muita and OHCHR Regional Representative Musa Gassama.

By Anthony Mwangi

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 8 June 2011 – About 50 high level participants from Ethiopia, the African Union Commission, UN agencies, international organizations and civil society attended the African Universal Ratification Campaign at the end of May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Making commitments

The half-day event was designed to follow up on the ratifications of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC); the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children; Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC); and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC).

At the meeting, Tunisia expressed an interest in engaging in the ratification process of the ACRWC. The campaign also heard commitments from Guinea and Niger to seek authority to sign the OPAC and OPSC on behalf of their governments.

Of the 53 African Union Member States, the OPAC has been ratified by 33 States, the OPSC by 37 States and the ACRWC by 46 States. These treaties lay the foundation for the safeguarding of children’s rights in Africa.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Mwangi
Thandiwe Mthethwa of the African Union Commission makes a presentation on challenges and measures required to accelerate ratification of African Union treaties at the Universal Ratification Campaign meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“I am confident that this unique occasion will be seized to advance the process of ratification of these child rights treaties and to consolidate the protection of children from all forms of violence,” said Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, in a written message delivered at the event on her behalf.

The African Universal Ratification Campaign was jointly organised by UNICEF and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In her message, Ms. Pais added that the real indicator of success remained in making a tangible difference for the millions of children year after year, in particular those whose stories remain invisible or marked by stigma and marginalization.

Ratification challenges

An African Union study on the causes of slow ratification of treaties has identified as main factors the long and cumbersome legal and constitutional procedures, and differences in constitutional approaches. The African Union has now introduced initiatives to speed up the process of signature and ratification.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Mwangi
Participants at the African Universal Ratification Campaign meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. About 50 high level delegates attended.

In an effort to encourage involvement, bilateral meetings were held prior to the half-day campaign between Akila Belembaogo, UNICEF Representative to the African Union and UNECA, and ambassadors from African Union Member States that had not ratified the three treaties.

The ambassadors were candid about the obstacles and limitations to ratifications, noting that there were political considerations, lack of follow up, and limited knowledge on the ratification process.

Though some African countries were witnessing a period of internal strife, conflict or transition, the meeting’s participants emphasized the importance of continuous sensitization of national authorities on the need to sign and ratify the three child protection legal instruments, as well as the involvement of all stakeholders through national and international cooperation.

“The OPAC, which demands the protection of children under the age of 18 from recruitment and the impact of armed conflicts, recognizes that children associated with armed forces are being deprived of their basic rights,” said Musa Gassama, OHCHR Regional Representative.

Moving forward

An inter-agency core group comprising UNICEF, OHCHR, UNECA, UN Women, UN Refugee Agency, International Labour Organization, Save the Children and the African Union Commission was set up to implement the meeting recommendations. The African Universal Ratification Campaign is aiming for the universal ratification of the OPAC and OPSC by February 2012, the year of the 10th anniversary of their entry into force.



Related links

Universal ratification of Optional Protocols on child rights within reach

Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict

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