Author: Dr Assefa Bequele
Executive Director, Africa Child Policy Forum (ACPF)
We’re often told that actions speak louder than words, and it’s true we won’t change lives by simply talking about the problems. But I also think that you can’t make a real impact unless you’ve thoroughly debated and agreed what needs to be done. Words first, then actions.
I was reminded of this at the Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children, held recently in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. More than two hundred child rights experts, politicians, lawyers and civil society activists came together to try and find a way forward for the thousands of children across Africa who are denied access to justice. It’s easy for the cynics to dismiss such conferences as talking shops – fine words and discussions, but little in the way of concrete action. And if we had simply presented and debated the issues, there could have been some truth in that
Section 30 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia states, “All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right- (a) basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all; (b) secondary education, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.”
It is without doubt that the Gambia has been working toward this constitutional provision and has registered a significant gain in the area of education. The enabling environment has been created to make this fundamental right realistic by acceding and ratifying enormous international conventions such as the African Charter on Human and People Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discriminations Against Women, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child to name just a few; and there are also domestic legal frameworks in addition to the Constitution such as the Children Act 2005 and Women Act 2010 all geared toward promoting right to education among others.
Notwithstanding of the government of The Gambia active role in promotion of children’s rights to education which is translated into the promulgation of the above named laws and building adequate schools in all the four corners of the country. There is yet a huge gap or disparity that needs to be addressed. Children with disabilities in The Gambia are confronted with challenges such as discrimination and marginalisation both in formal and informal institutions. It is therefore urgent to draw the attention of the government into the plight of these children as they equally have right to education as enshrined in the supreme law of the land and the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
International Youth Day: 12 August 2014
Blurred lines come to mind when defining the word “youth” in Eritrea.
There are multiple global ranges afforded to the term “youth”; the United Nations (UN) declares a range of 15 to 24 years old, and the African Youth Charter settles for 15 to 35 years of age. One common definition is to observe youth as a transitional phase from dependent childhood to independent adulthood, a time when parental guidance and experience are equipping children with the tools to construct an independent adult self.
When interviewing young people who left Eritrea, it troubles me that I cannot capture that moment, that space reserved for such transition. I asked 18 year old Hermon* when she first recalled hearing about the compulsory national service introduced in 1995, which systematically recruits people from the ages of 18 to serve their country. Her response was:
I knew what national service was when I was eight years old because there was a round-up [known as giffa] and they took my mother during the night.
By the time Hermon was 12 years old, her mother came to her at night and asked if she would be prepared to “take a long and difficult trip”. She agreed, not knowing that what lay ahead was three days and nights of travel to arrive in Khartoum, Sudan and live for four-years as a member of a nameless, faceless and poor refugee mob. Hermon did not comprehend the risk she and her mother took: the risk of being detained for desertion or the risk of becoming victims of the ‘shoot to kill’ policy at the borders. At 12 years, she could not have possibly understood but saw the fear in her mother’s eyes, who arranged this journey for her daughter so she would never have to go to Sawa or any other military training camp.
Realising the right to health for children with HIV/AIDS in Botswana: Policy based approach v rights based approachPosted: 13 August, 2013
Botswana faces significant challenges on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to the third Botswana AIDS Impact Survey (BAIS III) which took place in 2008, 17.6% of Batswana were living with HIV/AIDS. The survey revealed that about 18 000 children below the age of 19 were HIV positive.
Strong political commitment at national level has however resulted in impressive scale up in HIV treatment for children under the Prevention of Mother-to-child Transmission programme. Children are currently treated in about 33 centres issuing antiretroviral drugs. However, Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence provides a more in-depth pediatric content. There are also community-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Child Line, Mpule Kwelagobe Centre, SOS Children’s Home and Paolo Zanichelli Children’s Centre that are currently providing specialised services to vulnerable children. It is however important to point out that, in Botswana, the needs of HIV/AIDS affected children are not provided for in a comprehensive National legal framework. Care and treatment for children with HIV is currently addressed in overall HIV policy guidelines.
Inclusive education advocates for educational systems with an approach that serves the needs of all learners while identifying and overcoming barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from being included in the educational system. Lesotho has a high literacy rate of 87%. In spite of this commendable figure, about 40% of children with disabilities (CWDs) between the ages of 5 and 10 do not attend primary school while 23% of children with disabilities between ages 10 and 20 do not attend high school. These figures are significantly higher when compared to children without disabilities in the same age groups.
The Constitution of Lesotho recognises education as a directive principle of state policy under Chapter 3 of the Constitution and not as a justiciable right. However, the Child Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 and the Education Act of 2010 expressly affirm the right of children with disabilities to education. In addition, Section 4(2)(b) of the Education Act imposes an obligation on duty bearers to ensure that children with disabilities are included in the educational system. The right to education is also protected under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This provision also places an obligation on state parties not to exclude children with disabilities from free and compulsory primary education, and that the inclusion is complemented by accessibility, reasonable accommodation, and effective individualised support aimed at maximising academic and social development. Lesotho ratified the CRPD in 2008 and adopted a free universal primary education in 2001 as a means of achieving education for all. Lesotho has a National Disability Policy of 2011, the Education Sector Strategic Plan 2005-2015, and the Special Education Unit all geared towards achieving inclusive education for people with disabilities. The legal implication of these laws and policies is that the government of Lesotho has obligations under international and domestic law to ensure that children with disabilities are not excluded from the general educational system and that children with disabilities can learn on an equal basis with abled children. However, children with disabilities still do not attend primary school. There is a huge gap between the legal framework and the practical implementation of inclusive education in Lesotho.
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.
Regulating the sentencing of young offenders convicted of serious crimes: Case law from South Africa and the United States of AmericaPosted: 26 July, 2012
Is it constitutional to sentence young offenders according to laws providing for mandatory or minimum sentences? This was the central question raised and answered in two important judgments from the highest courts in South Africa and the United States of America.
On 25 June 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the sentencing of youths convicted of murder to mandatory life terms (without the possibility of parole) was in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court had before it two cases involving men who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole when they were both 14 years old. In both cases the courts sentencing them did not have the discretion in law to impose different punishments, as State law directed they “die in prison”.