Protecting children’s rights should top our agenda
The world recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The convention is an international law which sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of race, religion or ability.
Over the years, the CRC has played a key role in improving the lives of children. Nearly all governments have pledged to protect and promote those rights, making the convention one of the most universally-accepted treaties in history.
Thanks to CRC, all children, have a right to be free from neglect, discrimination and violence.
In adherence to this convention, most African governments have made laudable efforts to ensure all children’s rights are respected. Different legislative, policy and programmatic initiatives to protect children are in place.
While notable progress has been made in the past three decades, challenges remain in different parts of the continent, particularly for deprived and vulnerable children.
To date, cases abound of children living in extreme poverty, child trafficking, child labour, child sexual exploitation, child soldiers, child marriages and other horrid stories of violation of children rights.
Worse still, our young ones continue to face physical, sexual, emotional and other forms of abuse especially in places presumed safe for them—such as at home and school. Violence against children is often perpetrated by people closest to them, who ideally should be protecting them.
A recent survey of 5,500 children, aged 10 to 12 in 15 countries across five continents by ChildFund Alliance and titled Small Voices, Big Dreams, revealed that children are living in fear of violence.
The study indicated that more than 40 per cent of child respondents said they do not feel sufficiently protected from violence, with 80 per cent citing physical violence, sexual abuse and participation in war or organised crime as examples of violence against them.
Respondents also cited the Internet and social media as the most unsafe places for children, followed by streets and public transport.
The findings are very disturbing! Exposure to violence is painful. Such traumatic childhood experiences can be linked to different problems in a person’s adult life, including low education, health challenges and poor social skills. Violence against children inhibits their growth and development. It robs children of happiness, dignity and a future.
No kind of violence against children is justifiable. Good news, however, is that all violence against children is preventable. There is need to address the underlying causes and adopt a multi-disciplinary approach that will steer us in the right direction towards protecting their rights.
For example, ChildFund, which operates in nine African countries, has adopted a proactive and holistic approach that not only focuses on dealing with the perpetrators, but also on establishing vibrant community-based child protection mechanisms. This entails establishing strong community networks and linking them with statutory child protection systems.
It is necessary to empower children and caregivers with the information and skills they need to prevent and respond to violence. Children have human rights and they should be empowered to claim them. They should no longer be silenced but instead encouraged to participate meaningfully in decisions that concern them.
As we reflect on the gains made over the past 30 years in achievement of the CRC, let us not forget that protecting children is everyone’s responsibility. —The writer is Africa Regional Director, ChildFund International