Statement by Chairperson of the African Union Commission on Day of the African Child

The following statement was given today, the Day of the African Child by Professor Alpha Omar Konare, Chairperson of the African Union Commission:

“Today, 16th June 2006, we are celebrating the Day of the African Child, in onformity with the decision taken by our Heads of State and Government calling on all Member States to observe 16 June as the Day of the African Child (DAC) in commemoration of the massacre of innocent children in Soweto by the then racist regime of South Africa in 1976. Indeed, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the massacre and we salute the young people of South Africa in particular those who gave up their lives for freedom. This year’s theme of the DAC is “ Right to Protection: Stop Violence Against Children”.

We are all aware that children are the most vulnerable in all political, social, economic and cultural spheres on the continent. Moreover, they are victims of all sorts of violence perpetrated against them. The violence can take many forms and can be categorised as: physical, sexual, emotional, and economic. While all types of violence have adverse effect on a child’s upbringing and development, there are some harmful practices which affect girls the most.

One of those is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Cutting. I would like to emphasise that FGM is a harmful traditional practice against girls and women. In the 21st Century when the rest of the world is involved in innovations, advancement in science and technology, discoveries and research, Africa still has deeply entrenched beliefs and traditions, some of which have negative impacts not only on girls and women but on our societies.

The practice of FGM is indeed a violation of the human rights and dignity of girls and women. Sometimes it is much easier to change laws, policies and decisions than to change attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and practices.

The African Union has been very gravely concerned about the social and psychological effects of FGM in Africa and its impacts on the health status of girls. It has been cooperating with other partners to curb these harmful practices.

Various legal and policy frameworks for the protection of the rights and welfare of children and violence against women have been adopted. I would like to mention the two most important ones: the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child strongly condemns child abuse and harmful traditional and cultural practices. The African Union has, therefore, put these issues high on its agenda and advocates for the elimination of harmful traditional practices, combating violence against children and women, protection of children and women against diseases, in particular, HIV and AIDS; and participation of women in politics and development of peacebuilding.

Indeed these legal frameworks and Protocols need to be ratified by Member States and incorporated in their national laws. It is also incumbent on Member States to implement the provisions of these legal instruments as, in the final analysis, it is within our Member States that these harmful practices are performed and the rights of children and women violated.

On this occasion, therefore, the African Union would like to call on Member States to put an end to this practice of Female Genital Mutilation. We should take a moment to reflect on the traumatic experience of women and girls who have gone through this atrocity of the FGM. We need to mobilise our communities, religious leaders, traditional leaders, women and men, through education and information to change their mindset and involve them in combating FGM. We should convince each other that girls and women have values and rights and can contribute meaningfully to the development of our countries.

I want to make a strong appeal to you that, on this Day of the African Child, each one of you should voice your strong concern about the harmful practice of FGM and make a solemn commitment to eliminate the practice and help the millions of children who continue to be victims of such devastating practices. I am convinced that in our common effort and endeavour we will be able to eradicate FGM and free our girls and women from this ordeal.”

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