Child Rights: Making Children’s Voices Heard

politics child rights CSOs
Wednesday, 7 November, 2012 - 10:28

South Africa should create an environment which is conducive for the promotion and protection of the rights of children

Identifying mechanisms of strengthening the child rights movements in Southern Africa, discussing child rights advocacy strategies to put child rights issues on the political agenda, influencing policy change, and the Post-2015 Agenda were some of the reasons behind the hosting of the 2nd Southern Africa Conference on Children’s Rights from 1-2 November 2012 in Johannesburg.

Hosted by Save the Children, in partnership with the Child Rights Network for Southern Africa (CRNSA), the SADC Council of NGOs, the Pan African Parliament and Supertron, under the theme ‘Building Child Rights Movements in Southern Africa’, the conference was also aimed at providing children an opportunity to express their views on issues affecting them, and to publically launch CRNSA. The latter stressed the need to work with relevant stakeholders from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region to develop a strategic plan to ensure that children’s voices are taken into consideration when political decisions are made.

Remember Miamingi, from Sudan’s Institute for Human Rights, Good Governance and Development, explained how civil society organisations (CSOs) could use the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights on the Rights of a Child. Miamingi stated that while the current era is described as ‘Africa’s moment’, it has never been a ‘moment for children’. He argued that instead of viewing children as ‘mini human beings’ who should be granted ‘mini-rights’, African countries should do more to recognise them as full citizens. According to Warren Binford, a Fulbright Scholar and visiting Professor of Law, despite the continent’s economic disparities, the continent is becoming a leader in the fight for children’s rights. She further challenged civil society to use the existing conventions in situations where children’s rights are violated.

CRNSA’s main concern is that even though children’s constitute the majority in most African countries, they remain voiceless especially when political decisions are taken. CRNSA chairperson, Musavengane Chibwana, stressed the need for the network to insist on bringing children on board when engaging SADC and the African Union on issues that affect them. He also emphasised the need for the SADC region to have a Children’s Protocol to ensure that member states commit to protect the rights of children. In addition, the organisation is of the view that national budgets in the region should be children-friendly and that should be captured in the protocol. CRNSA’s approach is to work closely with all stakeholders in order to make this a reality.

The SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC-CNGO), the lead membership-based apex body of NGOs operating in all SADC countries, urged delegates to first identify issues that are already in the minds of people about children, before attempting to convince politicians to put children’s issues on the agenda. SADC-CNGO executive director, Boichoko Ditlhake, advised CRNSA to understand the different organs within SADC and all the existing instruments when advocating for the rights of children. He also urged NGOs to understand the regional perspectives on the rights of children.

The themes of the various commissions at the conference included using media as an advocacy tool, post-2015 (United Nations Millennium Development Goals) and the child rights agenda, ways to put child rights on the political agenda in SADC, and civil engagement with the AU Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

- Butjwana Seokoma is information manager at SANGONeT.

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