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Is West Africa ready for children’s Ombudsmen?

BAMAKO, 23 June 2009 - This is the question being posed in Bamako by experts as they meet to encourage the development of Ombudsmen for children in a region noted for high rates of child mortality and serious rights abuse.

The idea for countries to have a Children’s Ombudsman is gaining popularity in the world. Such offices encourage the fullest possible implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, support collective lobbying for children’s rights and promote the development of effective independent offices for children.

All countries in West Africa have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which marks its twentieth anniversary this year. But the region faces immense challenges and children often bear the consequences of early death, lack of education, trafficking and even, in some instances, conscription into armed groups. Independent Ombudsmen in countries would work to try to make sure that policies affecting children put their interests first.

The meeting in Bamako jointly organized by UNCEF and l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) will include high level human rights actors and government representatives from three Francophone countries (Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali) and will be addressed by the Ombudsman from Mauritius, Shirin Aumeeruddy Cziffra, one of only two such officials in Africa. Representatives of Ombudsman Offices from different countries in Europe and Canada are also attending.

“The early acceptance of the Convention in West Africa was an important first step,” said Joachim Theis, the Regional Child Protection Adviser for UNICEF.  “Establishing independent Ombudsmen would be a major leap forward in safeguarding children and putting them at the centre of the policy agenda.”

About the meeting
The purpose of the Seminar on the Creation of Independent Institution to promote the Right’s of Children and Human Rights, which is taking place in Bamako, Mali on 22-23rd June 2009, is to discuss and identify the most appropriate strategies to develop independent human rights institutions in Francophone Africa at national and sub-regional level, sharing different national experiences and taking into consideration the results of a research conducted by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre in Florence Italy, on different institutional models.

The meeting is also the occasion to debate and create a common perception of the great opportunities and challenges existing in Francophone Africa to establish independent human rights institutions for children."

About the Ombuds for Children
Ombuds, also referred to in different settings as Défenseurs des Enfants, Child Advocates, Child Commissioners, are independent public institutions at national and local level. Their role is to independently monitor, protect and promote the actions of Governments, Parliaments, civil society, media and the private sector for and with children.

Ombuds institutions are in regular contact with children, bring their voices to decision makers, and are constantly attentive to children’s best interests. An increasing number of countries across the world’s regions look to these institutions for support in fulfilling their commitments to children.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:
Ismail Maiga, UNICEF Mali
Tel + 223 20 20 1383 / 86, Mobile +223 76 40 91 01
E-mail: imaiga@unicef.org

Gaelle Bausson, UNICEF Regional Office for West And Central Africa, Dakar
Tel + 221 33 869 76 42, Mobile + 221 77 450 5816
E-mail: gbausson@unicef.org

Patrizia Faustini, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence Italy
Tel + 39 055 20 33 253
E-mail: pfaustini@unicef.org




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