Reflecting on Child Protection policies in Africa

By Constance Ndeleko

Africa is going through its most dynamic growth period in recent times. The continent has achieved growth rates above 6% for most of the past decade, making Africa one of the fastest-growing regions in the world today.

Children in Africa make half of the continent’s overall population whereby protecting and promoting their rights, wellbeing and development is paramount for the future.

Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child asserts a child’s right to protection ‘from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has care of the child.’

There are four articles in the convention known as the “General Principles” that help to interpret all the other articles and play a fundamental role in realizing all the rights in the Convention for all children. They are:

  • Non-discrimination (article 2)
  • Best interest of the child (article 3)
  • Right to life survival and development (article 6)
  • Right to be heard (article 12)

The Convention also comprises additional number of agreements exceptional to children rights which are optional for countries – they are called “Optional Protocols”. They include:

The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict-This requires governments to increase the minimum age that children can join the armed forces from 15 years and to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in armed conflict.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography-This provides detailed requirements for governments to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. It also protects children from being sold for non-sexual purposes, such as other forms of forced labor, illegal adoption and organ donation.

The Optional Protocol on a communications procedure-This allows children to submit a complaint to the United Nations when their rights have been violated and their own country’s legal system were not able to offer a solution.

There has been a growing interest in applying the systems approach to strengthening child protection efforts. Guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the systems approach shifts attention to a larger systemic framework that includes legal and policy contexts, institutional capacity, community contexts, planning, budgeting and monitoring and evaluation subsystems. This approach differs from child protection efforts that focus on single thematic issues, such as HIV/AIDS, disability, child trafficking, street children, child labor, emergencies and institutionalization. These single-issue approaches often result in a fragmented and unsustainable child protection response. (Child protection system in sub-Saharan Africa). Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have initiated some degree of child protection system strengthening work that reflects the local realities and complexities of the formal and informal actors.

The achievement of Africa’s Agenda 2063 with its vision to ‘build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, an Africa driven and managed by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena’ is incumbent on a plethora of variables. One of them is an enabling environment for progress to take place. Certainly conflict, violence and insecurity impede progress and causes developmental regression. Further, it is uncontested that conflict situations pave way for the most egregious child rights violations and abuses. To the continent’s dismay, the intensity of violence in Africa, in recent times, has been driven largely by the prevalence of small arms and light weapons (SALWs) from foreign suppliers, arms manufactured by African governments and those made by local artisans. The disconcerting reality is that despite the untold suffering and loss of every kind, conflicts are not relenting, with each of the five regions plagued by one nature of conflict or another. Seeds that these conflicts are leaving will be harvested by the children through excruciating pain. (AU Child protection)

A challenge in the child protection sector is managing multiple partners and interests, which, though essential, can sometimes make it hard to reach the agreement required to put plans and actions into operation.

As child protection system strengthening is not a priority imposed on countries but rather a demand driven process, the degree of political will is an indicator of the availability of a political space for a paradigm shift in child protection programming.

While countries have made significant progress to strengthen and build child protection systems, there remain a number of challenges in the process of developing formal national strategies. First, although significant effort has been made to support systems mapping and assessments, less support and guidance has been developed to date to support post-mapping work.

Child welfare committees and networks are other mechanisms that a number of countries are using to better achieve a link between the formal and informal systems and address equity and access.

Community protection responses are the first line of protection for children. Research and anecdotal information has clearly indicated that many of the problems with children can be, and often times are, resolved between families within communities. Although this may not always have the best outcome for children, there are endogenous practices that have positive outcomes for children and families. And in cases where they may be harmful or norms may be exclusive, they can more realistically be shaped when there is full engagement and mutual respect at the ground level.

Systems strengthening work means that leaders and practitioners take a holistic view of interventions. They are able to discern that an intervention aimed at one element of the system requires aligned interventions in other areas, increasingly the likelihood of long-term success while strengthening the system and leveraging scarce resources more carefully.

Child protection involves more than keeping children safe; it is a whole communal role and responsibility towards a child’s wellbeing and development.

Image: Courtesy

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