Strengthening children’s rights in Africa: Some lessons from the new Children’s Act of AngolaPosted: 4 June, 2013
On 22 August 2012, Angola enacted a new Children’s Act, adding to the number of African countries (including South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho, and many others) which reviewed their legislation focusing on children’s rights. Angolan law, like many other recent African legislation on children, is comprehensive and detailed in multiple aspects of children’s rights. Some of its features are common in other similar instruments in the region. For instance, it protects children’s civil and political rights and their socio-economic rights. The right to life, the right to health and the right to basic education, amongst others are protected. In addition, the law entrenches the four principles forming the core of international and regional treaties dealing with children’s rights (the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) included), including the principles of non-discrimination (Article 2 of the CRC and Article 3 of the ACRWC), best interest of the child (Article 3 of the CRC and Article 4 of the ACRWC), the right to life survival and development (Article of the 6 CRC and Article 5 of the ACRWC), and the right of the child to participate (Article 12 CRC and Article 7 of the ACRWC). These principles are also part and parcel of other modern African child legislation.
A detailed account of the similarities between the Angolan Children’s Act and other instruments falls beyond the objectives of this contribution. However, I would like to highlight some of the major contributions (amongst others not discussed here) as a result of the Act, in efforts to advance children’s rights.
Firstly, the law under analysis embraces a list of eleven commitments between the Angolan government and civil society for the realisation of children’s rights. The first four commitments relate to all children under five years of age, and speak to life-expectancy, food and nutritional security, birth registration and early childhood education. Commitment five deals with primary education and commitment six speaks to juvenile justice. A notable development under the new law is the concomitant inclusion of measurable goals and time frames to achieve these commitments. For example, by 2015, the level of literacy among children must rise to 90% and gender disparities in schools must drop to less than 80%. Similarly, in this same period, infant mortality must be reduced to less than 50%. The incorporation of these goals has the effect of catalysing political action, including resource mobilisation for the realisation of children’s rights. Other areas of concern, where goals and time frames are prescribed, include addressing HIV/AIDS (commitment seven), violence against children (commitment eight), child participation and dissemination of children’s rights through the media (commitment ten), and making provisions for sports and culture, as well as making investments for children through budgetary allocation (commitment eleven). Although other African focussing on children’s rights include similar goals, they do no prescribe clear time frames for achieving them. In my opinion, this is a drawback which hampers the realisation of children’s rights in the region.
Secondly, Angolan law places significant weight on ensuring that there are resources (in the state budget) to fulfil the interests of children. Children’s legislation in other African countries are less expressive of the dimensional relationship between children’s rights and the resources needed for their realisation. Often African law makers omit and miss out on this critical aspect. This leaves ample space for governments in these countries to decide whether or not to allocate funds to fulfil children’s rights.
However, Article 56 of the Act unequivocally provides that:
[B]odies of the central administration of the state are required to:
b) include, in their respective sectoral action plans, a chapter with specific activities budgeted for children, and particularly for early childhood;
c) ensure the incorporation of activities based on this Act in their respective budgets;
d) identify and disseminate budget allocations and expenses on services for children, and especially for early childhood.
Moreover, Article 57 of the Act commands bodies of local administration of the state to:
a) submit to the plenary sessions of the Provincial and Municipal Children’s Councils details pertaining to programmes, projects, actions plans and the respective budgets relating to children which are meant for local implementation, as well as the expected results and the outcomes,; and
b) promote public-private partnership policies with private institutions and civil society organizations.
As can be seen, the provisions mentioned above place clear legal obligations on the Angolan government to ensure that children’s rights are reflected in the country’s budget, showing its strong commitment to advance these rights. The incorporation of such binding commitments for children’s rights in domestic law must be commended for the ultimate effect they have on promoting these rights and for acting as stringent legislative tools to check the powers of the executive on matters concerning the advancement of the interests of children.
In light of the above developments, we are left to think that, in the future, child law reform in Africa must follow the Angolan pathway as the examples above affirm themselves as significant milestones in domestic efforts to advance children’s rights. They are good practice examples, which may contribute partly to fill the some of the gaps which continue obstructing the realisation of these rights in our continent.
About the Author
Aquinaldo Mandlate holds a LLD from the University of the Western Cape, LLM from the University of Pretoria and Licenciatura em Direito from Universidade Católica de Moçambique. He is a lawyer registered with the Mozambican Bar and has worked in several areas of law including corporate, investment, tax, banking, intellectual property rights and real estate. He has a strong inclination for promoting good governance and the rule of law and he is very passionate about public international law. Amongst many other writings, Aquinaldo has compiled the first ever comprehensive comparative law study focusing on the implementation of children’s rights in Angola and Mozambique.