By Prodige Kabunga
Today we mark the African Human Rights Day. In honor of this day, perhaps it is good to celebrate some of the achievements towards child rights and child protection in the continent, but also remind ourselves of the grave violations being committed and that are now routine to many African children.
Much progress has been made on health and education in Africa. Mortality rates for children under 5 years of age have declined by over 50% in 25 years, and enormous progress have been made in access to basic education, increasing from 63 million to 152 million students. Though this progress has been made, there are recurring threats and challenges faced by Africa’s children including challenges to their survival and wellbeing.
While armed conflicts are taking place all over the world, the African continent seems to be a strong backdrop to long-lasting conflicts such as civil wars, inter-country wars and other forms of armed violence, including terrorist attacks. Owing to several variables, children living in such circumstances are the most vulnerable victims. Currently, over 150 million African children live in conflict areas and are therefore more likely to be killed, separated from their families, kidnapped, trafficked, sexually abused, and exploited, maimed, and/or recruited by armed forces/groups. Consequently, these children are less likely to attend school or to meet their basic health care, clean water, and sanitation needs.
For instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict verified 3,831 grave violations, affecting 3,796 children: 249 sexual violence, 3, 107 recruitments and use of children, 135 killing and maiming of children, 30 attacks against schools and hospitals, 305 abductions of children and 5 incidents of children denied of humanitarian access. Similarly, in Somalia, the Office verified 3,709 grave violations against 2,959 children of which 1,495 child recruitment and use, 1,158 abductions and 227 sexual violence. This trend is also evident in Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, and South Sudan.
Though protection of children in the context of armed conflicts and other situations of violence is enshrined in various bodies of laws at national, regional, and international level, it is evident that the reality is completely different as many African governments are unwilling or unable to protect and respect the rights of children – and human rights generally.
In addition to this, many children in Africa, like many others from other regions, now face a new risk of an even further decline in their rights because of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, in Somalia, various child protection agencies, including DCI-Somalia have reported an increase in physical and sexual violence against children. Research by Human Rights Watch in Malawi, South Sudan, and Tanzania shows that widespread school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risks of child marriage and pregnancies. During a recent online child led conversation organised by Defence for Children International, Paul, a young advocate from Ghana, noted the fact that in his country as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, various types of abuse like offline and online sexual violence, child marriage, domestic violence, and FGM, have overwhelmingly impacted adolescent girls and boys. Similarly, Miatta (15) from Liberia noted the increase in sexual violence against girls in closed doors by close relatives.
On this day, DCI-Africa calls on African governments to widely use and to widely respect the African Children’s Charter as it is a tool with the ability to foster positive change in the everyday lives of children in Africa. We therefore join UNICEF liaison Office to the AU and recommend the following as mitigative measures to the listed challenges to ACRWC/AU State Parties:
- Ratify the Charter and remove all reservations
- Increase reporting synergies between the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Children’s Charter
- Create a coordinated national policy, financing, and legal response to support child rights
- Involve all society in the creation of solutions to challenges to child rights challenges in Africa
Happy African Human Rights Day!