STATEMENT ON OBSERVANCE OF THE DAY OF THE AFRICAN CHILD
The National Gender and Equality Commission joins Kenya and the African continent at large in commemorating the Day of the African Child (DAC), which is marked every year on the 16th day of June. This is a day celebrated in honour and remembrance of the children killed and injured when thousands of ‘black’ school children in South Africa took to the streets on June 16, 1976, to protest against the inferior quality of their education. The day is therefore observed as a celebration of the African child and calls for serious introspection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges facing children across the continent.
The theme for DAC this year (2021) is ’30 years after the adoption of the Charter: Accelerate implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children”. The theme demands an inward analysis of the progress in child rights in Africa and Kenya in particular for the last 30 years since the adoption of The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) in 1990 and the institution of DAC in 1991 by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU).
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) is guided by ten (10) aspirations which include having child-friendly national legislative, policy and institutional frameworks, registration of every birth, child survival, child participation, access to good nutrition and education, protection against violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse and a child-friendly justice system. The process of achieving the ten (10) aspirations requires that Kenya fulfils its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Kenya has made significant progress in the achievement of the 10 aspirations through the development and promotion of legislation that advances the rights of the Kenyan child. Article 53 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, stipulates the rights of a child and places emphasis on the principle of the ‘best interest of the child’. Other enacted laws that address the protection of various children’s rights include the Children’s Act 2001, the Sexual Offences Act 2006, the Borstal Institutions Act 2009, the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act 2010, the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act 2015, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011, just to mention a few. Kenya has also put in place policies and action plans to advance the rights of the child. These include among others, the National Plan of Action against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, the National Plan of Action for Children in Kenya, Guidelines for Alternative Care, and the National Family Promotion and Protection Policy.
The Commission commends the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for spearheading efforts aimed at domesticating and implementing these instruments through the development of policy documents and initiation of various pieces of legislation.
Kenya has established national machinery responsible for promoting the rights and welfare of children. The National Council for Children Services and the Department of Children Services are mandated to formulate policies, regulate, coordinate and advise the government on all matters relating to children. Independent bodies such as the National Gender and Equality Commission have been established to coordinate, audit, facilitate and advise the government on all matters related to special interest groups including issues of children. To further prevent abuse and promote and protect children’s rights, the government has put up structures such as the National Administration of Justice Special Taskforce on children’s affairs; Child Protection Units (CPUs) in police stations, and Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, and a children’s division and anti-FGM unit at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions just to mention a few.
Reporting of cases of child abuse has been enhanced through the establishment of the national toll-free childline (116) and in some counties, dedicated hotlines. The Judiciary has gazetted magistrates appointed to serve in children’s courts and child interpreters recruited for the courts to ensure that children understand and can communicate with the court.
The full implementation of the foregoing child-centred legislation, policies and structures are expected to fulfil all fundamental rights of the child. The country, however, continues to experience and grapple with increased reports of violence, harm, exploitation, neglect, trafficking and abuse of children. A report by the National Crime Research Centre, 2020 shows a 205.6 percent increase in the total number of cases of violations of children’s rights between 2017 and 2019. The report indicates that defilement, child neglect, child custody and child abandonment are the most common forms of violations facing children in Kenya.
A national consultative meeting convened by the National Gender and Equality Commission in July 2020 found that pressures from COVID-19 containment measures contributed to an increase in the number of children forced to engage in labour to support their families. Such actions often contribute to a child’s vulnerability including sexual violation. This meeting noted that online child abuse is an increasingly emerging phenomenon in rural Kenya. Further, the extent of participation of children on issues that affect them is less documented.
The commemoration of this day, therefore, invites conversations and discussions among children, policymakers, the academia and organizations working on children’s rights on the challenges that affect children, and strategies of overcoming them, identification of opportunities for enhanced promotion of the total well-being of children, and by large combined efforts towards accelerating the implementation of the Africa Agenda 2060.
The Commission however notes with concern that some of the existing laws and policies are not harmonized and in many cases are contradictory. The Children’s Act (2001) for instance is yet to be harmonized to reflect the spirit and letter of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. The more Parliament procrastinates on the amendment process of this and other Statutes passed before the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010, the more Kenyan children continue to suffer. We, therefore, call on Parliament to protect and safeguard the rights and welfare of children by passing the necessary legislation as soon as possible. In addition, the Commission calls on families and communities to take their central role in the protection and promoting of the rights of children.
The Commission, being the principal organ of the State mandated to ensur compliance with all treaties and conventions ratified by Kenya relating to issues of equality and freedom from discrimination and relating to special interest groups including minorities and marginalized persons, women, persons with disabilities, and children affirms its position in supporting all actors in children issues to ‘ensure a Kenya and Africa that is fit for its children’. The Commission remains committed to supporting Kenya fulfil its obligations to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) through monitoring the implementation and compliance of the State with the ten aspirations of the Charter.
Dr. Joyce M. Mutinda (PhD)