InfoHub: Thank you Mr Carlos Medina Laudolino for doing this interview with us. You are the executive secretary of the Association of Friends of Children (AMIC), you represent the National Coalition of Child Rights Organisations (CODEDIC) and you are the focal person of the AfricaWide Movement in Guinea -Bissau.
Tell us more about the role of civil society in Guinea-Bissau - especially with regard to the promotion and protection of the rights and wellbeing of the child? What is the complementarity - if any - between government efforts and support provided by local and international civil society organisations?
Laudolino Carlos Medina: Civil society has always played a very important role in the promotion and defence of children’s rights in Guinea-Bissau. The development of civil society is very recent in Africa and is almost in an embryonic phase in Guinea-Bissau. But I have been fortunate enough to belong to an organisation created over 30 years ago in 1984, by the former single party of the country. With the multi-party system, the organisation changed into a non-political NGO whose primary mission is the promotion and defence of children's rights. The organisation has been at the core of each movement for the promotion and defence of children's rights in Guinea-Bissau. Hence upon ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, it has been contributing to a massive dissemination of children's rights at national level. Throughout the country, conferences and debates were organised. NGOs in Guinea-Bissau contributed to the creation of youth structures, children's parliaments in particular. The first children’s parliament of Guinea-Bissau was created by AMIC, which is a member organisation of CODEDIC. It organised the first four children’s parliaments and helped in creating the association of children and young workers. This organisation has been playing a very important role in the overall monitoring of all commitments made by the Guinea-Bissau State regarding the rights of the child. By the way, first with AMIC and then with the creation of the CODEDIC, we have prepared reports (initial report, alternative periodic report of NGOs). We also played a very important role in advocating for the ratification of other important instruments for the protection of the rights of the child, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Children on child pornography1 and on the Involvement of children in armed conflict2 . This is still a challenge because Guinea-Bissau has not yet ratified the 3rd Protocol; it represents one of our objectives in terms of advocacy because we think it is a very important Protocol on communication and complaints procedures.
I cannot conceive the realisation of children's rights in Guinea-Bissau without the contribution of the civil society, especially in view of the cyclical conflicts that this country has experienced over the last decade. When it comes to education for example, we have faced successive strikes of teachers hindering the adequate operation of schools. The Civil society helped organise communities and provide solutions for children’s education by establishing community schools or schools based on the principles of participatory management in which parents make modest financial contributions. Just to tell you how important the role of civil society is in this whole process of advocacy and general monitoring of the commitments made by the Guinea-Bissauan state regarding children's rights.
InfoHub: By what means does your coalition listen to the voices of children? What is the level of participation of children on issues that affect them? How much consideration is given to their views?
Laudolino Carlos Medina: By setting up the first children's parliament in the 80’s-90’s, and then legalising the Association of Working Children and Youths, we learned a lot from our partners in the sub region, particularly ENDA Jeunesse Action, an organisation which has a lot of expertise in working with children. It was a difficult task in the beginnings, but with time and by taking many trainings on how to listen to children, today we put children at the centre of every process we have. Thus, some children under guidance came up with the slogan "everything that is done for us without us, is against us." This becomes more than just a slogan, but a principle by which we stand. As you can witness it in this room, we now have youth leaders that have gone through children's parliament structures. We have in this room a young man who was part of a children's parliament, was member of a youth association and is now working in the office of the President of the Republic as his adviser on all matters related to Youth. So these young people are now considered as key players. You have seen how the President of the Children's Parliament speaks, she says all she has to say to defend the rights of the child without any fears. She is a fully accomplished person. All this was the result of the whole process we started years ago and we are now seeing the results. The Children's Parliament of Guinea-Bissau is a representative structure at national level. In this room, we have representatives of children’s parliaments of the regions. They are key leaders. For example 3 weeks ago, the president of the National People's Assembly was visiting the Gabu region. The president of the region's children's parliament took the floor to present her grievances on children’s rights. Yesterday we heard a child-parliamentarian explain the risks that these children take when they advocate and speak for other children. He even went on to request immunity to ensure their safety in their fight for the promotion and defence of children's rights.
Today, these organisations have become essential. Children are our partners. They have become not only subjects of rights, but also, the key players and protagonists of their rights.
InfoHub: The Government of Guinea-Bissau has ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child but has, to date, not submitted any report to its Committee; what can your Coalition do to help enforce the Charter?
Laudolino Carlos Medina: We already are in the advocacy process to bring the Guinea-Bissauan State to prepare and submit its report. To this end, in November of last year, the CODEDIC facilitated a joint mission of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Union of West African Coalitions for Children (UCOA). In Guinea-Bissau, they met with various state organs, including the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Cohesion and the Ministry of tutelage; they met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Legal Department and our technical and financial partners, including UNICEF and Plan. They also met with the National Commission for Human Rights as well as civil society organisations. So this was an advocacy mission so that Guinea-Bissau can meet its engagements to prepare and submit its report on the Charter. The mission left the country by setting a deadline for the submission of a report by Guinea-Bissau. Our report is expected by June of this year 2015, December at the latest, and we are following up on the whole process. We have continued the advocacy work after the departure of Committee to raise the awareness of our authorities. On this occasion, we have organised on the 10-11 of February a meeting of key players in the field of childhood on the monitoring of international commitments made by the Government of Guinea-Bissau, particularly the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC). Regarding the CRC, there are concluding observations and recommendations that people do not know. They have to be widely disseminated so that we can better track the implementation of these instruments. So in regards to the African Charter, we have this deadline for the submission of reports. It was an awareness session but also a reminder. We are following-up on the process with key state actors, we are aware that the African Committee of Experts has already sent a note verbale. We followed up on the note verbale and realised that the legal department had not received it by email because of a problem. We immediately notified the Committee of this issue and the Committee sent us a confirmation. They met with a high level delegation of Guinea-Bissau in Addis Ababa, they handed the note verbale here in Guinea-Bissau. At the same time, we have met with the president of the Human Rights Commission in Guinea-Bissau who wrote a letter to the Minister of Women, Children and Social Cohesion and also to the Minister of Justice to share with them the concern over the preparation and submission of the report on the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. So you see, we have not been idle. I also believe that one action plan will come out of this Forum on how to support the State so that it is able to submit its report within a reasonable timeframe.
InfoHub: What results do you expect from this National Dialogue? How can your Coalition support the action plan developed at the end of the working sessions?
Laudolino Carlos Medina: One of the results I expect is that we come out of this forum with a uniform level of understanding of the major problems, the major constraints to accountability towards children at the national level. Since yesterday, four3 major themes have emerged and have provoked much discussions. We noted the many gaps and limits that prevail. I hope that in this Forum we will be able to identify concrete priority actions that can support the Bissauan government to make significant steps forward towards accountability to children. This really is the biggest result that I expect and our organisation is committed to following-up on the action plan and contribute, as much as possible, to its implementation.
InfoHub: Thank you Mr Laudolino Carlos Medina for doing this interview with the InfoHub!
1Ed: Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
2Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
3The 4 themes are: institutional capacity, advocacy and communication, coordination, policy and legislation