Author: Eduardo Kapapelo
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
My father used to say ‘politics must be conducted in a country which is open, a country which has the space for deliberation and opposing views’. He added that ‘politics must be conducted in a country which is mature’. We find ourselves in challenging times, times in which the openness and maturity of our countries are being tested.
A scale we can use to test the openness and maturity of our institutions is to interrogate (i), the nature our institutions; and (ii) the quality of our institutions. In regards to their nature we can reflect on how they are structured, what they look like on paper, and how they actually function in reality. As regards quality, we can reflect on how institutions respond to stress – how they respond to the demands of the people and whether they are mature enough to understand that when individuals take to the streets in the exercise of their human rights demanding better quality of life, they are not challenging the State, but rather exercise their constitutional right to be heard.
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.