Day of African Child 2013: UN expert welcomes decision to devote theme to eliminating traditional harmful practices

[14 June 2013] - 

Day of the African Child - SRSG welcomes decision to devote the theme to: “Eliminating Harmful Social and Cultural Practices Affecting Children: Our Collective Responsibility.” 

"On the commemoration of the Day of the African Child, it is imperative to express our determination to work for the protection of children from all forms of violence, including harmful practices.

I wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the African Union for the crucial attention given in this year’s celebration of the Day of the African Child to the theme: “Eliminating Harmful Social and Cultural Practices Affecting Children: Our Collective Responsibility.”

Harmful practices compromise the enjoyment of children’s rights. They hamper girls’ and boys’ development and education; they leave serious and irreversible health and psychological consequences and may even lead to disability and death, such as the maiming and killing of children with albinism for ritualistic purposes. Others are deeply rooted in gender-based discrimination, such as forced and early marriage.

For this reason, promoting the abandonment of harmful practices is a key priority for my mandate as Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children. It is also an area where a strategic partnership has been developed with the African Union and the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Despite increasing awareness of the impact of harmful practices on the enjoyment of children's rights, the legal prohibition of these practices against children is not yet a reality in many countries around the world; and across regions, law enforcement remains weak and difficult. Still too often, there are inconsistencies in legal regulations; insufficient resources for implementation; lack of public awareness; as well as weak capacity among law enforcement officials, the judiciary, and traditional leaders and judges.

To overcome these challenges and support efforts for a process of social change aiming at the abandonment of these practices, my Office, together with Plan International, and in close cooperation with African Union and the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, as well as UNICEF and other crucial allies in the African region, developed a study on the protection of children from harmful practices in plural legal systems.

The study presents strategic recommendations and called in particular for: the adoption of urgent legislative measures to safeguard the supremacy of human rights in case of conflict between national, customary and religious laws; the enactment of a legal prohibition of all harmful practices against children and its effective enforcement through accountability mechanisms to prevent impunity, and ensure redress and support to victims; the development of a universal and effective system of registration of birth, marriage and divorce as a means of preventing early and forced marriage, and other practices associated with forced and bonded labour or slavery-like practices; and the consolidation of data and research on the prevalence and root-causes of harmful practices affecting children, to inform evidence based legislation, policy and action.

We know from experience that even when all these measures are in place, real change can only happen when families, communities, traditional and religious leaders and children themselves take an active part in social change and implementation efforts.

Awareness-raising, public debates and social mobilization play an indispensable role in this process, helping to preserve practices that have a positive impact on children’s protection; and working towards the prevention and abandonment of those compromising their human rights.

Let us therefore seize the occasion of this solemn Day of the African Child to join hands and make harmful practices against children part of our distant past – in Africa and around the world!"


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