Why champion for children's human rights?: Their lives matter!

This article will analyze many child protection violations plaguing the West and Central Africa region from an international human rights law framework. The primary catalyst that piqued my interest in this topic was the broad coverage of attacks and abductions of school-age children by various armed militia groups occurring throughout the region.




I am self-enrolled in an online course entitled "Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children" through the online learning platform Future Learn. I am enjoying this course so far. I am acquiring a trove of knowledge on various topics under international human rights and child protection.


All children are inherently entitled to a constellation of human rights enshrined in an extensive range of human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR), the International Covenants on the Civil/Political Rights, and the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and so forth. Almost all the United Nations’ member states ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty in 1989, except the United States. Four central tenets underpin the CRC treaty. They are participation, prevention, protection, and the provision of assistance to families to enable them to fulfill their fundamental needs and to realize their potential to become full-fledged adults in the future.



Early/forced marriage and (FGM/C) are two prime examples of traditional harmful practices that fall under the umbrella category of conventional harmful practices that affect girls and women. The International Covenant on the Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the UNCRC treaty underscore these cultural practices as violations of children's overall health and well-being. And yet, all of these human rights treaties do not align with reality because millions of children worldwide continue to have their rights violated through various categories of abuse, violence, and exploitation despite these human rights instruments' existence. The World Health Organization (WHO) argues that any sort of cultural ritual that inflicts severe pain and suffering for individuals is morally unacceptable and should not be practiced under cultural traditions' distorted guise. Additionally, the WHO posited that culture, in all its dimensions, is not rigid by any means; it is subject to continuous adaptation and growth. Behavior modification is an example of a method used to educate and inform people of the negative short and long-term ramifications of harmful cultural practices, namely female genital mutilation/cutting. There has been a consensus that FGM/C is not a medically sound practice and does serve any valuable purpose.




There has been comprehensive coverage of school abductions and attacks in the West and Central Africa regions. Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso are the troubled hotspots of violent activity by armed military groups and overall instability. In late February, nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted and kidnapped by armed assailants in the Zamfara area in Jangebe, located in northwestern Nigeria. The abduction of these schoolgirls occurred at the Government Girls Secondary School located in Nigeria's Zamfara region. Another school abduction took place at another secondary school called the Government Science College for Boys located in the Niger state in Kagara. This unfortunate outcome is that 27 schoolboys were abducted from the school premises in an attack by a military assailant group. Lastly, an explosion occurred in Zamfara, the Magami area of Nigeria, in which a total of 7 children sadly perished in the crossfire of a blast. In Nigeria, armed militia groups are heavily concentrated in the Northwestern, North Central, and Northern regions. The infamous extremist group, Boko Haram, perform their military operations in the northeast area of the country.


Niger is another country in the West and Central Africa region that has been a hotspot for armed attacks by armed gangs and instability. UNICEF released a news media statement stating that there have been a few armed military groups in the Tillabery region in Western Niger. The first armed military attack occurred in the towns of Davey-dey and Sinegogar in which a total of 58 civilians died, and out of this total, six children died ranging the ages of 11-17 years old. The second armed attack transpired in the towns of Tchamo-Bongou and Zaroumdareye, in which a total of 100 civilians have died. Out of those 100 individuals, there were 17 children below the age of 16 years old.


The Central Sahel region has been experiencing intractable armed conflict for nearly two years, starting from November 2019. According to the UNICEF Advocacy brief, the armed conflict and instability have propelled 1.5 million people to be displaced, encompassing refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to armed conflict. A second point I would like to highlight is the pervasive school closure issue that has directly impacted millions of children. At the onset of fighting, 8 million children have been out of school. Moreover, an up-to-date estimate number of schools that the conflict has impacted is about 3300. The armed conflict has directly affected approximately 650,000 children and 16,000 school teachers.




When children are deprived of education and learning opportunities due to violence and instability, this can snowball into other problems a majority of them may endure depending on a range of factors, such as gender, age, socioeconomic status, and so forth. According to the UNICEF West and Central Africa regional website, the most ubiquitous forms of child rights violations that children endure are abductions, killings, exploitation, recruitment by armed militia groups, along traditional harmful practices, such as child marriage. In the region alone, I came across an unsettling statistic that nearly 60% of adolescent girls before 18 years old. A second statistic I read was that about 15% of women/adolescent girls become married before 15. The latter statistic has remained at a relatively stable level for some years. Still, child marriage is a human rights violation and should raise heightened levels of concern to all of us. Girls and women are highly susceptible to entering into child marriage in any given adverse circumstance, but the likelihood of it occurring is hugely heightened during a period of armed conflict and instability.




I want readers to gain some critical takeaways from this article. The first takeaway is the West and Central Africa region alone has a high population rate of adolescents. Adolescents between the ages of 10-19 years old comprise 23% of the entire population. Demographers have made predictions that by the year 2030, there will be a 32% increase rate of adolescents. One hundred twenty-four million adolescents live in the WCA region as of 2019; this number will be 164 million in 2030. This crucial trend is critical for readers to understand because adolescents represent 23% of the entire WCA region's current population. They are at a vital juncture in their development in which their economic potential in the workforce is boundless. The sky is the limit for them! It would behoove all social actors to create a gender-inclusive society for all through a constellation of laws, policies, interventions, and programs that involve every sector. In my opinion, a gender-inclusive community will create peace and harmony for the present and future generations. And, of course, achieving gender inclusivity for everyone aligns with the practice of sustainable development. A second key takeaway I would like my readers to obtain is children's human rights continue to be undermined and violated worldwide.




The WCA region has a prevalence rate of 30% of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). Burkina Faso (76%), Mali (83%), Gambia (75%), Sierra Leone (86%), and Guinea (97%) are the countries with the highest FGM/C prevalence rates. The HIV/AIDS epidemic disproportionately impacts the adolescent population in the WCA region, with a prevalence rate of 20%. 58% out of 340,000 adolescents infected with the disease comprised girls alone between the ages of 10-19, which would total 197,200. Intimate partner violence (IPV) of all-encompassing forms affects nearly 25% of adolescent girls in the entire WCA region. The countries with the highest IPV prevalence rates, in no order, are Cameroon (45%), the Democratic Republic of Congo (45%), Liberia (46%), and Gabon (47%). A final human rights issue occurring in the WCA region I would like to underscore is child marriage. Girls and women living in the WCA region have a higher likelihood of marrying or being in a union before adulthood. About 40% of young women become married before they reach 18, compared to 15% of young women married before 15. The latter statistic is not significantly different compared to other African regions. Nonetheless, child marriage infringes on children's right to relish the joys of childhood.


Sources

Bisin, S., & Fatratra Andriamasinoro, L. (2021, March 17). Statement by UNICEF Regional Director Marie-Pierre Poirier on the attack in western Niger. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://www.unicef.org/wca/press-releases/statement-unicef-regional-director-marie-pierre-poirier-attack-western-niger

Health and Human Rights, F. F. (Ed.). (2014, April 28). How is Children’s Health a Human Rights Issue? https://www.hhrguide.org/2014/03/16/how-is-childrens-health-a-human-rights-issue

Owoicho, A. (2021, February 26). Condemnation over new attack on Nigeria School, 'more Than 300' GIRLS missing | | UN NEWS. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/02/1085822

Regional Offices, UNICEF. (2019, October). Adolescent girls in West and Central Africa Data Brief. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://data.unicef.org/resources/adolescents-girls-in-west-and-central-africa-data-brief/

UNICEF. (2020, January 01). Crisis in the Central Sahel Advocacy Brief. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://www.unicef.org/reports/central-sahel-advocacy-brief-2020

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