Experts Call on the African Union to Promote the Rights and Welfare of the Child
In its report to the African Union during the organization’s Malabo Summit, the Committee highlighted that children especially girls in Africa are discriminated against and in many communities on the continent, girls face physical, sexual, and psychological violence, and unequal access to resources. Particularly, it was shown that in times of conflict and crisis girls are specific targets of violence and discrimination. The Committee emphasized that discrimination and violence against girls in Africa is one of the most pressing challenges faced today.
The Committee called on various stakeholders to address challenges faced by girls whilst outlining the measures they should take to ensure that discrimination is the concern of all. Stakeholders must provide a conducive environment for legal changes, and promote a focus on child protection issues. issues. A direct focus on advocacy, research, litigation and support for victims across Africa is key in effecting this change.
In addition, the Committee called on States to ratify all relevant regional child rights and international humanitarian instruments. They asked for full harmonization of national laws with relevant standards, and to criminalize and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all forms of violence and discrimination committed against girls. Simultaneously they should take all appropriate measures to prevent violations from occurring.
It also called on the African Union to endorse this declaration and to establish conceptual clarity around what constitutes violence and discrimination against children. Furthermore, they asked the African Union to undertake a periodic review of the progress made in its implementation.
The Committee also highlighted the thorny issue of child marriage and its prevalence across in Africa. They pledged to support the ‘AU Campaign on Ending Child Marriage in Africa’ which was launched last May.
They called on African Countries to see child marriage as a policy priority and to support policy action to address the rights of children and promote common standards on adoption and implementation of legal instruments of change at regional and national levels.
According to UNFPA child marriage continues to affect millions of girls every year in Africa. It has a resultant secondary outcome of huge increases in maternal and child mortality, obstetric fistula, premature births, sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV), incidence of cervical cancer, and domestic violence. Girls continue to be married as children in Africa, with more than five and a half million women who are today in their 20s married before they reached their 15th birthday.
African countries were urged to ratify all the relevant international child rights instruments and fully harmonise laws and policies with international and regional child rights standards. States are encouraged to put in place mechanisms that operationalize existing legislation relating to child marriage and the rights of children; including development of national action plans and provision of legal aid for enforcement of the rights of children to be free from child marriage.
Furthermore, States were urged to develop and implement transformative social policies that include communities and traditional and religious leaders as central stakeholders. Also, to implement policies that recognize children and child-led initiatives as key players in mitigating child marriage and its damaging effects.
Recently, the Committee also developed and adopted a strategy to ‘Promote and Protect the Rights of Children with Disabilities in Africa’. The strategy aims protect rights so that children with disabilities fully enjoy the same fundamental freedoms as all children. The dignity of the child must be ensured and their self-reliance and active participation in the community must be promoted. The strategy recommends that Member States adopt a three-fold approach to developing a medium term strategy. This approach should consisting of a development stage, implementation strategy and monitoring and evaluation process which should all receive due attention in the respect of protecting and fulfilling the rights of children with disabilities.
Seven countries are yet to ratify the Africa Charter on the ‘Rights and Welfare of the Child’ - an important tool for advancing children’s rights. While building on the same basic principles as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the AU Children’s Charter highlights issues of special importance in the African context.
Wurie Bah is a Communications and Advocacy Expert at the Department of Social Affairs, Africa Union Commission.