On, 27th June 2017, Ugandans took Iganga district by storm in celebration of the Day of the African Child. The AU designated day is continentally observed on June 16th every year.
The day of African Child has been celebrated on June 16th every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by OAU. In 1991, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the then OAU instituted the Day of the African Child (DAC) for the first time in memory of the 16th June 1976 Soweto student uprising in South Africa. About ten thousand black school children marched in a column more than half a mile long, protesting the poor quality of education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young unarmed students were shot dead by police officials of the apartheid government back then, the most famous being Hector Pieterson. The two weeks protest that followed left hundreds of people killed and thousands others injured. The footages in the 1992 Sarafina film by Whoopi Goldberg (black American star) are a portrayal of the bad blood caused by the minority white regime.
On June every year, governments, NGOs, international organisations and other stakeholders gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the face of full realisation of the rights of children in continental Africa. The OAU and its successor the AU, have used the DAC to remember the fallen children, celebrate children in Africa as well as to inspire a sober reflection and action towards addressing the plethora of challenges that children in Africa face daily.
Africa through the African Union is assessing the effectiveness of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development for Children and how it is set to accelerate protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for the most vulnerable global citizens. While as a Country our theme this year is “Accelerating Protection, Empowerment and Equal Opportunities for Children in Uganda by 2030”. This theme is closely linked to the AU theme, albeit with specific focus on the context of Uganda and our vision of the 2030 Agenda. The theme chosen returns to the roots of the movement back then in 1976 whence Soweto school children demanded equal opportunities.
The general aim of the 2017 DAC commemoration is to harmonise SDGs and the African Children’s Charter, with the need to take stalk of the progress made on child related programs in the country and cause more action on both state and non-state actors in the promotion of child welfare.
In Uganda, the event will be commemorated as a reminder to adult stakeholders that children are change agents in their own right and therefore platforms must be created to allow them space to express their views and opinions.
A child means a person under the age of eighteen as fortified in Article1 of UNCRC, Article 2 of ACRWC, Article 257 (1) (c) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda as Amended and S.2 of the Children Act cap 59 are very instructive.
The perception of who a child is varies depending on community and tribal heritage, when children take on roles and responsibilities of adults, say child marriages and parentage, working children, child headed households. Girls may also be perceived as adults at an earlier age than boys of the same age because of girls fast physical maturation. However the legal definition overrides communal perceptions. Religions world over believe in the sanctity of human life, Article 22 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provides for right to life of unborn child except as authorised by law. A child develops in a series of interacting systems, usually portrayed as a series of concentric circles; with the Microsystems being closest to the child, which comprise their everyday settings and relationships in home, school and community, Protection of the child at all these levels is paramount.
Promoting empowerment and equal opportunity for all children is cross-cutting theme running through several SDGs, and it intersects with all Charter protected children’s rights. The foundation for promoting empowerment and pursuing equal opportunity is the right to non-discrimination as fortified in Article 3 of the African Children Charter, and is one of the core principles of all children’s rights. Ensuring empowerment and equal opportunity requires targeting all social and economic groups in order to ensure that no child is left behind, with a particular focus on prioritizing the rights and needs of the poorest and most marginalized.
As a government body charged with redressing societal imbalances and promoting equal opportunities for all, the commission happily joins other Ugandans in the celebrations and views children as critical in governance. The future of Uganda will depend largely on the rising new generation and time has never been better to invest in young people. Government is cognisant of that fact, which is why several legal, policy, programmatic and institutional frameworks have been developed to ensure child participation. As a result a number of chid interventions by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Parliament of Uganda, the Human Rights Commission, Treaty Monitoring Mechanisms and the NGO Board are major mechanisms for ensuring that child protection actors and institutions discharge their mandates effectively.
Agenda 2030 envisions for children, ‘a world which invests in its children and in which every child grows up free from violence and exploitation’ with a particular focus on those in most vulnerable situations.
However, in Uganda, many children are considered vulnerable due to ineffective enforceability of the recommendations of key treaty monitoring bodies, limited public awareness, unclear child protection standards for measuring performance, limited involvement of children and weak coordination and quality assurance mechanisms for CSOs interventions.
Most of the weakness and gaps in the functionality of the child protection system in Uganda are attributed to inadequate public resourcing of child protection structures, institutions and programmes. The failure of the sector to package and communicate child protection services in a manner that makes them amenable to increased public financing.
Pursuant to Section 14 (1) (2) (3) (4) of the EOC Act 2007, ensuring efficient and effective implementation of Children related interventions is part of the EOC mandate. It is EOC’s responsibility to promote children in planning and monitoring children specific interventions as well as carry out research, identify gaps and challenges inhibiting the success of such programmes. To this end the commission conducts audits and studies on the state of equal opportunities in Uganda – focusing on all sectors and spheres of life. Particular studies have been carried out to among others assess Early Child Development Policy, health, early education and ensuring inclusive (UPE) and equitable quality education with undue regard to ability of children.
Other means of delivering on the mandate include working in partnership with key actors, government stakeholders on children matters, CSOs and private sector. Intensive media campaigns; sensitisation and training workshops; symposia and dialogues; research and sector audits; as well as dispensing justice through the EOC tribunal pursuant to S. 15 of the EOC Act cap 2, 2007.
The commission has strong conviction that effective participation, Comprehensive and sustainable protection of our children, empowerment and promoting equity and equality in line with the 17 SDGs and 2030 Agenda can successfully be pursued and accomplished with inclusive and effective partnerships between various stakeholders coming together not only to mobilize all available resources for their accomplishment, but also to jointly implement, monitor, research and evaluate the outcomes so as to galvanise efforts towards real, measurable and timely achievement of the SDGs.
Ensuring compliance with international and regional frameworks for the attainment of children’s rights, some of which Uganda has ratified, Policies and national action plans advocacy to guide child protection interventions and responses are all key.
EOC is committed to working with all stakeholders in redressing issues of marginalisation and discrimination against children, promote, realise a just and fair society wherein all persons have equal opportunity to participate and benefit in all political, economic social and cultural spheres of life. Every stakeholder, from international, national, LGs, community, parents and other care givers, CSOs, PWDs organisations, private sector should in jointure promote children’s rights and provide a fitting environment for children.