The African Child has the right to be a child

By: Bill Graham Osei Akomea[1]

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Every child has the right to be a child. Yes, some children are denied such a right. Childhood should be enjoyable. “Childhood is entitled to special care and assistance” so states the preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A child who enjoys his/her childhood does not only stand the chance of becoming a better adult but also passes this treatment to his/her offspring.

On the streets of most cities in Africa, we see children selling all kinds of items exposing them to car accidents and related forms of danger. Some children are breadwinners of their family instead of their parents or guardians. In my home country Ghana, exploitative child labor is still a canker we have to deal with. Children are unlawfully used in fishing, farming, mining, and other hazardous labor. Shamefully, some parents ‘sell’ their children into slavery to these heartless ‘masters’ who use these children for harmful and dangerous activities.

Child marriage is still prevalent in most African countries[2]. Girls of school-going age are forced into early marriages. Others are sexually abused. Child traffickers force children into prostitution. Some Step parents and baby sitters are not left out in this canker. Some children suffer maltreatment in the name of being wrongly accused as witches and wizards. Day in and out children are forced to live like adults.

The situation is very alarming and needs much and immediate effort in curbing it from all stakeholders because about 40% of Africa’s population is under 15 years according to an African Union report[3]. The future of Africa will therefore be in shambles if this canker continues.

Legislation

The continent has all the needed laws and legislation to curb this social canker. There is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which most African countries are signatories to and have domesticated into national laws), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child as well as various national legislations. Ghana has The Children’s Act, 1998, Act 560, Kenya has the Children Act, №8 of 2001, South Africa has The Children’s Act, Act 38 of 2005 (As Amended), Just to mention but a few.

Pursuant to these national laws each African country has relevant state bodies and institutions charged with the responsibility of ensuring the welfare of children.

The problem, therefore, is not the lack of relevant laws and legislations but enforcement of the laws.

Solutions

Governments should show greater commitment towards ensuring the welfare of children. If we truly believe that children are the future, then all policies should take the welfare of children into consideration.

State institutions/bodies responsible for promoting the welfare of children and enforcing children’s rights should be properly equipped to carry out their duties. These institutions must revise their strategies, where necessary, towards the fight against child abuse. There should be publicity of punishment meted out to perpetrators of child abuse to serve as a deterrent to others. Our courts and adjudicating bodies must interpret child protection laws to the letter and hand out the harshest punishments (in accordance with the law) to these perpetrators, irrespective of who they might be.

Conscious efforts must be taken to clear out street-children engaged in unlawful hawking and other business activities. Parents must be continuously educated that it is their duty/responsibility to take care of their children. They are the breadwinners, not their children!

We must all be citizens but not spectators. Every citizen must do their very best to report all cases of child abuse. Everyone should get involved in this fight.

Every child of school-going age must be in school. To this end, conscious efforts should be made to make basic education free in all countries across the continent. Refusal to ensure wards go to school must be an offense punishable under national laws and parents and wards must be sanctioned accordingly.

It is not enough to have all these fantastic and extensive child protection laws. Their enforcement must be seen to be taking place. Yes, we must see it! Until we prioritize the promotion of children's welfare, and until children are allowed to live as children, the future of the continent will be in crisis.

[1] The writer is a lawyer and the founder and Board Chairman of Plight of the Child International. He can be reached at info@plightofthechild.com

[2] See www.girlsnotbrides.org/region/sub-saharan-africa/

[3] African Union, ‘State of Africa’s Population 2017’ available at https://au.int/sites/default/files/newsevents/workingdocuments/32187-wd-state_of_africas_population_-_sa19093_-e.pfd

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