Hon. Molahlehi Letlotlo, Minister of Social Development, Kingdom of Lesotho
Africa24 Media: Can you tell us what you think of the event so far, and how do you think an event like this could effectively influence policies for children’s rights in Africa?
Hon. Molahlehi Letlotlo: I have loved the proceedings of the conference up to this point. The stories regarding the types, forms, and causes of violence pertaining to the African child that have been shared by different speakers here, one can relate to them. Back home we are in the process of a number of reforms regarding the enactment of laws and review of our policies and all programs that are going to address effectively the protection of rights and the welfare of children. So I think that what one has learnt here is very informative and is going to go a long way to helping us shape our laws and policies. With the different interventions and strategies employed by different countries, I think everyone will go home enriched, and in a better position to deal with the problems in their different countries.
Africa24 Media: In countries like Lesotho what role do you think communities should play to support effective policies?
Hon. Molahlehi Letlotlo: As I indicated during my presentation we are taking everybody on board from the legislators, to the law enforcement agencies, to traditional leaders, to local government representatives, to the religious institutions as well as the broader civil society organisations. And we are saying we have a great problem protecting our children and we need everybody to understand.
We have also introduced what we call Children’s Parliament where children view their concerns and are taught to know their rights.
We are also going a step further to say we want to influence the curricula in our institutions of learning so that everybody who in the future will become a servant of the Ministry of Social Development would be familiar with all the issues around not only children but all the vulnerable groups that we are mandated to serve.
So there is a broader approach to addressing the problems that face our society. And we hope that by this we are going to achieve a lot. And as I also indicated, we are also going to be holding a forum, dialogues at different levels so that we are not leaving anybody behind. We are going to take everybody on board to say we have to address this problem and very sincerely so.
Africa24 Media: When you say that you are teaching children their rights, how are you doing that?
Hon. Molahlehi Letlotlo: We are working with private partners, private organisations like SOS Children's Village and World Vision. They take children and train them on their rights. And they really do assemble at a place that is organised like a parliamentary setting and we have them debating on on what government is not doing to address their issues and what society is not doing to address their issues. And we have found that to be very effective indeed.
Africa24 Media: Thank you.
Imam Ousman Jah, High Court judge, Amirul Hajj, Republic of The Gambia
Africa 24 Media: In your presentation at the Seventh IPCS, you have discussed the rates of FGM which were initially high in the Gambia. What has been people’s response to the recent ban on FGM declared by the President?
Imam Ousman Jah: I want to begin by emphasizing that FGM was not practiced by all tribes in the Gambia: it was limited to two tribes. Efforts were made in the past by the organization called GAMCOTRAP to try to eradicate FGM without success.
FGM was also a controversial issue between the religious leaders, especially Imams. Some are supporting Female Genital Mutilation or we call it Female Circumcision and others do not. They saw the practice as something optional you could do if you wanted to, and not do if you didn’t. Until His Excellency the President took the decision to ban it in the year 2016.
It is well known that, in the Gambia, we have a very active judiciary and a very strong political will. When any decision is taken by the Judiciary or by the Executive, it will be very difficult to see anybody violate it. So I am sure that since FGM or female circumcision was banned in the Gambia through legislation, nobody practices it.
Africa 24 Media: What have been the challenges so far when it comes to changing the mind set of Islam on FGM?
Imam Ousman Jah: Some ulemas (Islamic scholars) may have difficulty understanding certain religious texts. Concerning female circumcision, we have a text from the Prophet Muhammed (SAW): when he migrated to Medina he found some practicing it [FGM]. He said “if you want to continue doing it, cut very slight or very little”. He directed them to the way they must do it. But he did not ban it, he did not forbid it, he did not stop them completely from doing it. That’s why some of the Islamic scholars understood that circumcision is lawful in Sharia. I can say that nearly the majority of Islamic scholars believe that female circumcision is lawful.
But there are different opinions. Myself I am among those who believe that such an issue should be referred to expert opinions. If doctors, for example, give evidence that it’s harmful, then from the Islamic stand point it should be stopped immediately, because no man has the right to harm himself. It is haram in Islam to harm yourself. So this is the controversy on the issue.
Africa 24 Media: What are your thoughts on the conference so far, especially with regards to FGM discussions? Do you think you have achieved something through the exchanges with the other African countries?
Imam Ousman Jah: Yes, I have definitely benefited a lot from this conference. There are certain topics that I had never ever heard about, like the bad practices against children who live with albinism for example. We don’t have that issue in our country. We have albinos in our country but they have the same rights as others. They live normal lives. In West African countries in general, they don’t have this problem. Some countries have ministers who have albinism. In Mali, the minister for religious affairs is an Albino.
So this is new to me to hear that some societies in Africa have such bad practices against some elements of our society.
Africa24 Media: Thank you.
Dr Najat Maalla M'jid, Member, International Board of Trustees, ACPF; Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography (2008-2014)
Africa24 Media: What do you think about the event so far, do you think an event like this can influence effective policies for child rights in Africa?
Dr Najat Maalla M'jid: Regarding this conference, I want to remind you that I am a board member of ACPF, the organiser of this event. I think an event like this is very important because it makes possible to raise awareness about extreme forms of violence and crimes that are still invisible and hidden. This is one point. The other point is also to allow some kind of sharing practices among various actors from states, from NGOs, from civil society organisations and so on. Another point is to provide knowledge and evidence-based information regarding specific crimes like those against children with disabilities, with albinism, witchcraft-related violence and so on; they are invisible and we have no information regarding them. Lastly the most important one is to remind governments that they made a commitment and that they are accountable on this commitment.
Africa24 Media: What more do you think needs to be done to protect the rights and well-being of children beyond the talks in this conference?
Dr Najat Maalla M'jid: I agree with you, we have many commitments, many slogans, many conferences, and also many plans of action and I really think we need to stop speaking and start acting in a concrete way. And to establish child protection systems, which means child-sensitive justice, legal frameworks protecting children, social norms protecting children, access for all to education of high quality, access to health, access to leisure, and also seeing children as actors, empowering them, having the freedom of expression, having access to information, and also participating by providing their views and opinions. These constitute child protection systems.
And to this end, I think what is important is to stop building iterative plans of action without assessment and without a budget. I think we need to have a strong national child protection policy under the chief of the government with dedicated budgets and with clear responsibilities of the many actors who are involved and to have indicators and to have accountability mechanisms.
Another point that is important is to make sure of not only having a wonderful document but of how it is translated at the local level so that all children without discrimination have easy access to this child protection mechanism.
Africa24 Media: When you talk about this reaching the local level, what role do you think individuals in communities should play?
Dr Najat Maalla M'jid: I think communities have an important role to play in all places, and they could have a better and stronger role, but they also need to be strengthened. And when I speak about strengthening it’s not only fighting poverty, because poverty becomes an excuse for many governments to do nothing. I think it’s important to empower communities, to provide education, to fight ignorance and also to promote positive social norms and stop speaking about some “culture” that allows some harmful practices. Because we need to highlight at the same time what is positive in our tradition and our culture and at the same time to implement a strong justice that puts these criminals in jail and effectively protects children.
Africa24 Media: Is there anything you would like to add that you feel you have left out?
Dr Najat Maalla M'jid: What is important regarding the Conference and regarding ACPF is that we are a pan-African organisation, and even though we are in one continent, we are various in background, various in identities. And I think it is important and very useful to highlight these good promising practices and to share them. And I think it is also important to put in place accountability mechanisms easily accessible to children, to communities and stop speaking about poverty and culture as an excuse for doing nothing.
Africa24 Media: Thank you.
Ms Vicky Ntetema, Executive Director, Under the Same Sun, Tanzania
Africa24 Media: Could you please introduce yourself and your organization to us?
Ms Vicky Ntetema: My name is Vicky Ntetema, I work for the organisation called Under the Same Sun which promotes the rights and wellbeing of persons with Albinism in Tanzania through advocacy and education. Under the Same Sun was founded in 2008 by Peter Ash, a Canadian national who has albinism. After hearing the report from the BBC that persons with albinism in Tanzania are being killed for their body parts for witchcraft purposes, he came to Tanzania in October 2008 and met several people including politicians, ministers, the Vice-President of Tanzania, the Tanzanian Albinism Society and other organisations to find out what can be done in order to first highlight the plight of persons with albinism in Tanzania but also to find solutions to these problems.
And so Under the Same Sun started in Tanzania in February 2009. Its education program has got 320 grantees from kindergarten to university level. The aim of educating or sponsoring these grantees is to help persons with albinism who are poor and not educated but keen to go to school. And also because a lot of persons with albinism are not educated due to their low vision. And some of these 320 grantees are already in employment since 2010 when we started the program. Now, we have about 86 people who have been employed and others continue their education from one level to another.
Africa24 Media: You have brought the issue of children with albinism to international attention trough your investigative documentary in July 2008, do you feel that much has changed since?
Ms Vicky Ntetema: When I broke the story to the international community in July 2008, that was when the world found out about what was happening in Tanzania. These are crimes that were committed against persons with albinism. Then, when Under the Same Sun started with the advocacy program that is to educate the public about albinism, we now see changes happen. For example we had a very extensive program in 2012. We went to villages and regions where quite a lot of crimes were committed against persons with albinism. We see that in all those areas and villages where we had our advocacy campaign there are no more killings, no more mutilations and no more abductions. But in areas where we haven’t been, we see that there are grave robberies.
I’m glad to say that there is a lull in the atrocities, but also I have to warn you guys that sometimes people do not tell because all these atrocities are committed within the family setup. And because there is also this culture of secrecy, quite a lot of atrocities may go unreported.
Africa24 Media: And how do you think a conference like this would influence effective policy on the rights of children, especially those with albinism? You have mentioned the fact that that some of these things go unnoticed because of secrecy in the families and communities, how do you think a conference like this can help with such a situation?
Ms Vicky Ntetema: A conference like this is very crucial to organisations like Under the Same Sun because it brings very many experts and people who are experienced, maybe not in solving problems about albinism, but other violence committed against children. So when we learn about what they do, what can be done, a way forward, all the international laws, CRC articles, and also the African Charter, we learn that there are some laws that are there to defend the rights of children. For us it is very crucial because we then can take that home and say that this has to be done this way. But also remember that when we are here we have people who for the first time do hear about the plight of persons with albinism in Tanzania. So this is also a platform for advocacy, people will know what albinism is, but also the policymakers, people who are experienced in atrocities, extreme violence committed against children are now able to advise us. And for me that is very crucial. They are not advising NGOs only but they take that farther and sometimes they take people from the African Union to go and investigate. It depends on what section to go and investigate in the countries but also when they investigate, there is a research and they write a report and recommendations to the people, and mainly to the government. And if the government, was not aware that there is help according to the international laws, then at least they would be made aware and enabled to do something about it. The whole purpose of this is to help the people help the government solve problems in their own countries.
Africa24 Media: What are your last comments on witchcraft and albinism?
Ms Vicky Ntetema: Well persons with albinism are being murdered because witchdoctors are telling their clients that if they bring body parts of persons with albinism they will get rich, they will win elections, they will succeed in their businesses, in their marriages and everything they wish for. It depends on what part of the body that is needed to make a special potion according to witchdoctors. So these killings are witchcraft-related and what we have to do is to try and see if we can educate witch-doctors and traditional healers that they don’t need human organs to make people successful. They need to work hard. They need to know economics in order for their businesses to boom.
And so I’m glad to see that there are areas where witchdoctors, traditional healers and religious leaders are working in order to end violence against children. And I think we can learn a few things from them so that we can implement it in our country.
All these killings, the abductions, grave robberies, mutilations against children with albinism are witchcraft-related. It’s a pity that in the twenty-first century people in Africa still believe in witchcraft. Around the world there is stigma and discrimination against persons with albinism, but it is only in Africa where people with albinism are being murdered for their body parts for witchcraft purposes.
Africa24 Media: Thank you.