African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

What is the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child?

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (either ACERWC or the Committee), which was established in July 2001, monitors the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The Committee draws its mandate from Articles 32-46 of the Charter.

The Committee reports to the Assembly of Heads of State and the African Union (AU) every two years. It must also consider any communications it has received about violations of children’s rights under Article 44 of the Charter to the AU.

What is the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child?

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child spells out the rights that African States must ensure for children living in their jurisdiction. It is the main instrument of the African human rights system for promoting and protecting child rights.

The Charter, which was adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) in July 1990, entered into force in November 1999. The Charter was the first regional treaty to address child rights.

The Charter is divided into two parts of four chapters. Part one deals with the rights, freedoms and duties of the child and has 31 articles. Part two deals with States’ obligations to adopt legislative and other measures to implement the provisions of the Charter, and has 18 articles.

The African Charter was created partly to complement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), but also because African countries were under-represented in the drafting process of the CRC, and many felt another treaty was needed to address the specific realities of children in Africa.

What is the difference between the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child?

The two treaties make many similar provisions and have the same over-arching principles of non-discrimination, participation, the best interests of the child, and survival and development.

Some of the other issues that African States wanted the Charter to include were: children living under apartheid, harmful practices against girls (such as female genital mutilation - FGM), internal conflicts and displacement, the definition of a child, the rights of children of imprisoned mothers, poor and unsanitary living conditions, the African conception of communities’ responsibilities and duties, weak enforcement and monitoring mechanisms, the role of the family in adoption and fostering, and the duties and responsibilities of the child towards the family and community.

What does the Committee do?

The role of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is to promote and protect the rights spelled out in the African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Its main functions are to:

  • collect information
  • interpret provisions of the Charter; monitor the implementation of the Charter
  • give recommendations to governments for working with children’s rights organisations
  • consider individual complaints about violations of children’s rights
  • investigate measures adopted by States to implement the Charter by carrying out missions, collecting information, and questioning States (see Article 45 of the Charter); and,
  • choose the theme of the Day of the African Child, which is held every year on 16 June to commemorate those killed in the Soweto uprisings in South Africa. See CRIN's information sheet on previous Days of the African Child

Although the Committee cannot bring cases to the African Court on Human and Peoples' rights, it can request advisory opinions from the Court on legal issues relating to human rights instruments.

When does the Committee meet?

The Committee meets twice a year in ordinary sessions of no more than two weeks. It held its first session in July 2001. The chairperson can also convene extraordinary sessions at the request of the Committee or of a State Party to the Charter.

Sessions generally take place at the Headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but can be held elsewhere at the Committee’s request.

Who are the experts?

The Committee is formed of 11 experts who serve in an individual capacity and are elected for a term of five years by the Executive Council. They are appointed by the Assembly of Heads of States and Government of the African Union. In contrast to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Committee Experts may not be re-elected. See the list of current Committee experts.

A fact sheet on the election process to the ACERWC has been compiled by the Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Forum for the ACERWC to inform civil society organisations about the nomination process, flesh out specific criteria for potential members, and inspire civil society participation.

Although CSOs cannot nominate candidates, they can influence the selection process by:

  • Identifying qualified candidates and lobbying them to serve on the Committee.
  • Seeking support for the proposed candidates from government officials working on children's issues or within the Ministry, responsible for monitoring the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
  • Sending a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with clear, convincing arguments as to why this person would be a good candidate.
  • Lobbying the government to ensure the nomination process is truly transparent and that State Parties select candidates on merit rather than for political considerations.
  • Lobbying the government to nominate competent and credible candidates.

The process of selecting candidates will vary from State to State. Members are elected by the Executive Council (comprised of the foreign ministers of AU Member States), by secret ballot in a meeting held prior to the AU Summit. Their decision is then passed to the AU Assembly for final approval and adoption.

What types of investigations can the Committee undertake?

The Committee is empowered to undertake two types of investigations under Article 45 of the Charter:

  1. On issues arising from the Charter based on allegations of violations of child rights.
  2. On measures taken by States Parties to implement the Charter.
Who would carry out the investigations?

The Committee could set up sub-committees or working groups to carry out the investigation. The Committee can designate a Special Rapporteur among its members or independent experts to accompany sub-committees, working groups and Special Rapporteurs on their missions.

The Committee will prepare a preliminary mission report on the situation of child rights in the country, and a final report in which it will make recommendations to the State party concerned. The recommendations will also be sent to other public and private institutions responsible for monitoring and implementing child rights.

Will these investigations be followed up?

The Committee invites a State to submit a written reply, with information on measures taken to follow up recommendations made by the Committee after the mission. It could request additional information on measures taken by the State party from other institutions and civil society organisations. It could also ask the State to include information about measures it has taken to follow-up recommendations in its next report to the Committee.

How does the State reporting process work?

States should submit their initial reports about the measures they have adopted to implement the provisions of the African Charter, two years after they have ratified the Charter, and every three years thereafter. The Committee began examining State Party reports in May 2008. Rapporteurs are appointed to examine each country’s report. Visit the AU website for access to State reports and Committee recommendations.

How can civil society organisations participate?

The Civil Society Forum on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which is now held prior to every session of the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, supports the work of the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and provides a strong platform for children’s rights information and advocacy in the region. Read more about the Civil Society Forum's work.

Does the Committee examine individual complaints?

Article 44 of the Charter empowers the Committee to consider individual communications alleging a violation of any of the rights enshrined in the Charter. However, States can make reservations on the extent of the Committee’s powers.

The Committee’s guidelines state that "where a child is capable of expressing his or her opinions, they should be heard by a Committee member." Children may bring complaints under universal human rights treaties if their State is not a party to the African Charter. However, a communication may be presented on behalf of a victim without his consent if the author is able to prove that the complaint has been brought in the supreme interest of the child.

Communications are sent to all Committee members three months prior to each ordinary session.

The Committee may set up a working group to meet before its sessions to consider whether a communication will be accepted. The working group then appoints a rapporteur. The Committee, working group or rapporteur brings the communication to the attention of the State concerned and requests an explanation or written statement within six months. The Committee may also request the presence of the person or group submitting the communication, and the State party concerned for more information, clarification or observations.

Search CRIN’s legal database for details of complaints, and the Committee’s website for more on the complaints procedure.

Provisional measures - possible complaints outcome

While the Committee is considering a communication, it can ask the State concerned to take certain measures to prevent any harm to the child mentioned in the communication, or other children who could be victims of similar violations.

No such requests for provisional measures have yet been made, but examples of provisional measures requested in by other regional human rights mechanisms can be found on the Inter-American Commission and the Council of Europe pages.

How does the Committee deal with particular issues of concern?

The African Committee currently has one child-specific special mechanism. The Special rapporteur on child marriage is empowered to monitor this issue in the region, and conduct fact-finding missions on alleged violations. Complaints involving other breaches of children’s rights may be addressed to the African Commission's special mechanisms.

The future of the African Committee

Once the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights comes into force, the African Committee will be eligible to submit cases to to this new unified Court (you can find more information on this future Court here). Moreover, article 36 introduces new concepts with regard to representation of parties before the Court. It provides that:

“The African Commission, the African Committee of Experts [...] shall be represented by any person they choose for that purpose.”

This opens the door for the Committee to hire legal counsel or law professors, or to be represented by their own staff members.

Useful contacts and links:

African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Commission of the African Union, African Union Headquarters
P.O. Box 3243, Roosvelt Street (Old Airport Area), W21K19, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: (251) 1 51 35 22 | Fax: (251) 1 53 57 16
Email: [email protected]

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
Kairaba Avenue, P.O. Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia
Tel: (220) 4392 962 | Fax: (220) 4390 764
Email [email protected]

African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect
Komo Lane, Off Wood Avenue, P.O. Box 1768, 00200, City Square, Kenya
Tel: (254) 020 3873990 / 3876502 / 3861086 | Fax: (254) 020 3876502
Email: [email protected]

African Child Policy Forum
P.O. Box 1179, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: (251) 11 6628192 / 96 / 97 / 99 | Fax: (251) 011 6628200
Email: [email protected]  

The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa
Brusubi Layout 949, Coastal Highway, P.O. Box 1896, Banjul, The Gambia
Tel: (220) 996 22 80 / 775 12 00 / 775 12 01 | Fax: (220) 449 41 78
Email: [email protected]

Save the Children Sweden (Eastern and Central African Region)
P.O. Box 19423, 202KNH, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: (254) 20 2711 282 | Fax: (254) 20 2711 280
Email: [email protected]