Even as you read this, thousands of children are incarcerated in prisons across Africa. I’ll pause to let that sink in. Thousands of children behind bars, deprived of their liberty, victims of a dysfunctional and discriminatory justice system which lets down some of the most vulnerable groups — including girls, disabled children, trafficked children and orphans.
Locking up children in prison is surely one of the most damning indictments of a modern society. Data on children in prisons is hard to come by. But the number of child prisoners is definitely in the thousands, and some statistical calculations suggest that it could be as high as 28,000. In any case, whatever the numbers, no child should be kept in prison. Incarceration hits children’s physical and mental health disproportionately hard, while torture, sexual abuse and ill-treatment by guards and other inmates is an ever-present threat. Yet across Africa children are locked up out of sight and out of mind — an invisible stain on the continent’s human rights record.
The sheer number of child prisoners — and the countless thousands more locked up in detention centres, rehabilitation units, children’s homes and other such institutions across Africa — is shocking enough. But even if they avoid detention, many children experience gender discrimination, lack of representation, physical punishment, no right of appeal and no minimum age. Inhumane practices such as corporal punishment and trial by ordeal are still considered acceptable punishments in some African countries and societies.
That’s why, this week I’m joining children’s rights campaigners, lawyers, academics, journalists, heads of state, policy-makers and law-makers at a major conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to try and find a way forward. The Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children in Africa — organised by Africa Child Policy Forum (AFPF) and Defence for Children International (DCI) — brings together some of the leading experts in the field. We all share one concern: how to ensure that all African children can get access to justice and are treated fairly by the judicial system.
It’s by no means a uniquely African problem. UNICEF estimates that worldwide, more than a million children are imprisoned at any one time. And I’m not out to “name and shame” — although there’s no avoiding the fact that some countries have a particularly poor track record. It’s a hugely complex issue, it’s not going to be solved it overnight, and it’s not all bad news. There’s been some progress in recent years — most African countries now have laws and standards to protect children in the justice system, and some have child-friendly structures such as dedicated courts and law enforcement units. Since the last conference in Kampala in 2011, there’s also been some progress around alternatives to formal criminal proceedings and new ways of training law enforcement officers.
However, many children will not encounter the judicial system through formal courts but through so-called “informal justice”. Traditional, religious, ethnic or community-based justice does have some positive features such as emphasising restitution rather than punishment, cooperation and consensus, and easier access for the rural poor and the illiterate. But I worry that some aspects of informal justice present a potential risk for children’s protection, and even in those African countries where it is recognised by the formal legal framework, it tends to be unregulated. Much more research needs to be done on informal justice systems across Africa, and how they impact on the rights and welfare of children — both to identify and build on their positive aspects, and to eliminate unfair treatment.
It is shocking that in 2018, many thousands of African children are still being let down by an unfair, inconsistent and discriminatory justice system. Even more disturbing is that very few people are even aware of the scale of the problem, which is why ACPF and others are shining a spotlight on this hidden scandal. But I’m confident that if governments implement our recommendations, access to justice for African children will be significantly improved so it comes into line with international fundamental principles and standards on child rights.
By Martin Atkin
More than 100 child rights experts, advocates, defenders, campaigners, policy-makers, lawyers and academics are calling for action to make access to justice a reality for all African children. The Call to Action came at the close of the Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children in Africa in Ethiopia. Nkatha Murungi from the Children and Law Programme, African Child Policy Forum shares more, in the interview with Africa News accessible here, on the programme.
By Dr Assefa Bequele, Executive Director, African 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.
You might have thought that, faced with such an undoubtedly tough challenge, there would be an air of pessimism hanging over the conference. And there’s no getting away from the fact that we heard some truly terrible stories of children suffering when they come into contact with the justice system. But there was a genuine feeling that change for the better can and will happen. Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen from the University of the Western Cape summed up the spirit of optimism: “We have a real chance to make a difference on the ground. I say this with hope and expectation.”
Despite having so many views represented in the conference, our Call to Action was drafted and agreed unanimously. It’s series of specific and realistic measures which will make a huge difference to those children who have been let down by the justice system, and which will do much to bring Africa into line with international principles and standards of children’s rights. The Call to Action makes it clear that African Governments, the African Union, UN agencies, civil society organisations, NGOs, academics, multilateral and development agencies must all play their part and will be held to account if they don’t: “There is an imperative on all of us to act now, as the future of our continent depends on ensuring justice for our children today!”
Calling for action is one thing, delivering it is another. It won’t be easy, but I am heartened by what has happened since the previous conference, held in Kampala in 2011. As the Call to Action notes, “African countries are making strides towards improved access to justice for children in Africa. The path of progress is marked by, among other things, law and policy reform processes at the national level which recognise the rights of children in the justice system, as well as progressive growth in services that give effect to the laws.” Over the course of the conference we heard encouraging reports which prove progress is possible. For example, many African countries now have laws and standards to protect children in the justice system, and some have child-friendly structures such as dedicated child courts and law enforcement units. Elsewhere, some states are testing the use of new technology so that appearing in court is less scary, and others report a significant drop in the number of children being detained. Another speaker noted a welcome shift in attitude in recent years towards violence against women and girls: “It is a global phenomenon, but awareness that it is fundamentally wrong is growing.”
Despite this progress, however, the scale of the problem remains daunting. One of the major challenges we face is that we simply don’t know exactly what we are dealing with. Reliable data is scarce, and much evidence is anecdotal. How many children are deprived of their liberty? How many are subjected to corporal and other inhumane punishments? How many pass through the largely unregulated informal justice system? As my colleague Alex Kamarotos from Defence for Children International put it: “The first challenge is to identify the numbers, because you can’t deal with the problem if you don’t know how big it is.”
You might think it would be fairly straightforward to find out, for example, how many children are locked up in prison at any one time, but estimates vary wildly. Even the much-quoted UNICEF figure of more than a million children in prison worldwide is out of date. As Professor Manfred Nowak, Independent Expert at the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty noted, the true figure is almost certainly much higher. In any case, whatever the numbers, no child should be kept in prison. Detention should only ever be used as a last resort, and then only for the shortest possible time.
The UN Global Study is hugely important because, for the first time, we will have an accurate picture of how many children are incarcerated or detained in prisons, detention centres, refugee and migrant camps, rehabilitation units or other institutions. On the third day of our conference we looked at how Africa can both feed into the global study and learn from it. Children are deprived of their liberty for many different reasons, including when they come into conflict with the law, when they are caught up in armed conflicts or national security clampdowns, or as migrants and refugees. It’s important to remember we are dealing not with statistics but with individual, vulnerable children. Karabo Ozah from the Center for Law at the University of Pretoria spoke for us all when she said “It’s my hope this study leads to seeing children as children. They may be migrants, child soldiers, criminals, refugees, orphans or victims of trafficking. But first and foremost they are children.”
On World Women's Day 2018, Light for the World is delighted to announce the launch of Her Abilities, the first global award honouring women with disabilities who achieved greatness in their life or field of work.
Inspired by being awarded The Spirit of Helen Keller Award today and The RightLivelihood Award in 2017, Light for the World advisor Yetnebersh Nigussieannounces a new recognition this International Women’s Day. Yetnebersh was inspired by winning both awards and wants to give back to the disability community by celebrating other women with disabilities who have achieved amazing things.
Yetnebersh, Light for the World's Inclusion Advisor, said about Her Abilities: “After winning the Right Livelihood Award last year, and The Spirit of Helen Keller Award this year, I was proud and overwhelmed by the recognition I received."
"Now we are launching Her Abilities to give something back to a community who are so often sidelined or made invisible by society – women with disabilities. There are so many inspiring and strong women with disabilities out there who achieve greatness every day. Her Abilities will shine a spotlight on their extraordinary achievements and, in turn – I hope, inspire a brand new generation of women with disabilities.”
“Disabled women are often forgotten, even in diversity discussions. That’s why our award is aimed at women with disabilities only. We want to put them in the spotlight. We want to give them a platform. We want them to feel recognised and celebrated. We want them to feel and most importantly be included!”
Her Abilities Award Categories
Her Abilities will award the achievements of women with disabilities globally from the following three categories.
Health & Education
Women with disabilities from the health or education sector, e.g. teachers, teaching assistants, school directors, university professors, doctors, surgeons, nurses
Women with disabilities from the advocacy and rights sector, who advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and inclusion. They could be working at NGOs or charities; at government organisations or in government; or simply in their local communities to achieve vital change.
Arts & Sports
Women with disabilities from the arts and sports sector, e.g. artists, actors, writers, poets, Paralympians, runners, swimmers, etc.
Nominations start on the 2 July 2018 on www.her-abilities-award.org and anyone will be able nominate. The nominees have to be women with disabilities with outstanding achievements in any of the three categories.
Viewpoint by Assefa Bequele and Alex Kamarotos*
ADDIS ABABA (IDN) – Let us begin with the positive. Unlike some years back, children are now very much on the political and public agenda in Africa. Every politician loves to talk about them, and the African Union has adopted a charter to protect them and a mechanism to hold governments accountable for the fulfilment of their rights. Even so, the reality on the ground is sombre and sobering.
Take children in prisons. We do not have reliable data but the number of child prisoners in Africa is definitely in the thousands, and some statistical calculations suggest that it could be as high as 28,000.
They are victims of a dysfunctional and discriminatory justice system which lets down some of the most vulnerable groups, including girls, children with disabilities, children victims of traffic and orphans. Countless more are deprived of their liberty in detention centres, rehabilitation units or other such institutions.
Locking up thousands of children in prison is surely one of the most challenging human rights violations of modern societies. Detention disproportionally affects children’s physical and mental health disproportionately hard, while torture, sexual abuse and ill-treatment by guards and other inmates is an ever-present threat.
Against this background, children’s rights defenders, campaigners, lawyers, academics, journalists, ministers, policy-makers and law-makers are gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children in Africa.
The conference will be informed by a report entitled “Spotlighting the invisible: Access to Justice for Children in Africa”. This report shines light on this invisible issue, reveals how children across the continent are denied access to justice, and paints a distressing picture of discrimination, inadequate funding, poor training, unaccountable traditional justice systems and slow progress on children’s rights.
Even if they avoid detention, many children experience gender discrimination, lack of legal support and representation and physical punishment among others. Especially at risk are children with disabilities, children accused of witchcraft, street children, child victims of sexual abuse, children with albinism, children in rural areas, refugees, migrant and asylum-seeking children, trafficked children and orphans.
Unacceptable practices such as corporal punishment and trial by ordeal are still widespread, even in those countries where they are illegal.
Many children will not encounter the judicial system through formal courts but through the “informal justice” system. Traditional, religious, ethnic or community-based justice does have some positive features such as emphasising cooperation, consensus and restitution rather than punishment. It is generally easier to access for the rural poor and the illiterate.
But informal justice – even in those African countries where it is recognised by the formal legal framework – tends to be unregulated. We need to identify and build on their positive aspects while eliminating the unfair treatment associated with them. We need to ensure that these informal justice systems respect and apply the same international standards as the formal justice systems.
This issue of justice for children is by no means a uniquely African problem. UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Agency, estimates that worldwide, more than a million children are deprived of their liberty at any one time.
Nor is it all bad news. Since the last conference on this subject in Kampala in 2011, most African countries have adopted laws and standards to protect children in the justice system, and some have child-friendly structures such as dedicated courts and law enforcement units. There has also been some progress around alternatives to formal criminal proceedings and new ways of training law enforcement officers.
However, much more needs to be done. We cannot wait for tomorrow. We have to urgently implement existing laws and policies. We must ensure that the needs of vulnerable groups of children accessing to justice are addressed, and that traditional and religious systems deliver justice that protects all children with no exception. We have to act now!
The future of the African continent is dependent on the full realisation of the rights and wellbeing of our children. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 May 2018]
* Assefa Bequele and Alex Kamarotos, respectively Executive Directors of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) and Defence for Children International (DCI), offered this viewpoint to IDN.
Spotlighting the Invisible: The Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children is jointly organised by ACPF and DCI and is being held at the United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC) in Addis Ababa from May 8-10, 2018. It can be followed on @AfriChildForum and @DCIsecretariat using #ChildJusticeAfrica. More information can be found at https://www.childjusticeinafrica.info/
*IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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First Lady Auxilia Mnangagwa is consulting legal experts to help come up with legislation to protect female tertiary students from sexual harassment at colleges and the workplace while on industrial attachment. "Sexual harassment at colleges and during student attachment must be nipped in the bud and perpetrators of such violence brought to book," she said.
"I will also seek guidance from the legal fraternity on how policies and legislation that protect female students on college campuses and industrial attachment can be put in place and enforced so that sexual harassment is curbed."
The First Lady was officiating at a two-day SAYWHAT Web for Life female students’ conference in Harare yesterday.
Mrs Mnangagwa said she had recently met female lawyers who agreed to establish a desk at her offices at Zimbabwe House to deal with matters affecting women.
Students attending the conference bemoaned the high cost of sanitary wear, gender-based violence - especially sexual harassment, lack of information and education materials on sexual reproductive health for females especially those who are visually impaired among others.
The students also complained of shortage of cervical cancer screening facilities and information on family planning and contraceptives.
The First Lady said she was in the process of setting up an entity to make washable pads and would also engage relevant authorities to ensure easy and cheap accessibility of sanitary wear.
"I am sewing sanitary wear that does not come with health problems and I am doing it myself. I want to see if it comes out well but I have started, it is a good product which is washable, durable, you don't buy pads every month. I am going to invite you to show you what I have done," she said.
"I commit to do my best and consult with the relevant Government departments and other stakeholders to ensure that the provision of sanitary wear is subsidised and easily accessible in institutions and that the environment of learning is conducive for female students.
"I will also do my best to ensure that sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and awareness is increased and standardised in tertiary institutions, that our college hospitals and clinics are equipped with trained competent service providers to provide youth friendly services, that there is disability mainstreaming within the colleges."
She further promised to take the students' grievances to the Government so that they would be addressed.
Speaking at the same occasion, Women and Youth Affairs Minister Sithembiso Nyoni said she was concerned by incidences of HIV and STIs among young women in Zimbabwe, particularly in tertiary institutions.
She added that some students were driven by poverty to engage in sexual activities with older men.
"President Mnangagwa set up this ministry and has mandated us to protect you, therefore you have a ministry where you can run to. As the minister responsible for women and girls empowerment in all sectors, my ministry is seized with implementing programmes to raise awareness and help curb infections in young women," she said.
"The ministry is partnering with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Office of the First Lady in implementing the programmes."
SAYWHAT board chairperson Mrs. Judith Mungofa and the principal of Belvedere Technical Teachers' College, Mrs. Juliana Mbofana, thanked the First Lady for her commitment and support of the girl child in Zimbabwe.
By Tendai Rupapa
Source: The Herald
2 October 2017 - ‘Natural birth’ is the only option for many women here, and though dedicated midwives do their best, the risk of infection – and sepsis – is high.
2 October 2017 - Kinshasa - For the past few weeks, Central African Republic (CAR) cities such as Zemio have evolved from battlefields for rival rebel groups to ghost towns.
29 September 2017 - A report finds significant improvement is being made in human rights in Somalia, but it notes huge challenges to continued progress, compounded by conflict, drought and poverty, remain to be overcome.
Selection of documentaries on key Child Rights issues in Africa from various sources.