There are over 400 million children living in the African continent, furthermore, Africa is home to the youngest population in the world.20th November is a day recognised globally as World Children Day and is a day dedicated to promoting the right of children. The theme for 2021 for example is “Investing in our future means investing in our children. “Children in Africa continue to suffer from a myriad of challenges, these is despite regional and global documents that protect and promote the rights of children.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) says that death sentence shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons who are below the age of 18 years and for pregnant women, the ICCPR further says that in a remand , juvenile ought to be separated from adults .The Covenant further recognises that children have a right to non-discrimination, name and nationality and to protection by the family .The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) calls upon governments to provide special measures to protect children from economic and social exploitation. Examples include work that can negatively affects a child’s health, morals or pose a danger to the child’s life .
The United Nations Minimum Rules on Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules) provides for acceptable standards for administration of juvenile justice .This includes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the child be informed promptly about the charge, to have the mater determined without delay, the right to legal representation and assistance , diversion as an alternative to court proceedings and enhancement of a child’s dignity at all times and rehabilitation and reintegration of the child back into society. The United Nation’s Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Riyadh Guidelines) urges states to come up with programmes that prevent juveniles from engaging in delinquency .For example empowerment of the family socially and economically so that children do not drop out of school, educational curricular that enhances moral wellbeing of children and community based initiatives that nurture talents and steer children from crime.
According to United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child categorises children’s rights into survival rights ( inherent right to life –Art.6), rights to access health and medical services (Article 24) , Right to the highest standards of living including access to nutritious food, clean and safe drinking water and appropriate clothing ( Art. 25).Development rights have to do with intellectual, physical , moral and emotional development and include Right to Freed and compulsory education (Art.28) , Right to rest, play , leisure and recreation (Art. 31), parental love and care (Art. 5, 7, 9 and 19 ).Protection rights are contained in Article 34 – protection from sexual exploitation, economic exploitation (Art.32) , discrimination (Art.2) , armed conflict and hostilities(Art.38) , and harmful cultural practices (Art. 24) among other forms of protection. The rights to participate is recognised through Art. 12 on right to form and air views, Art.13 on right to expression, Art.31 on right to participate in cultural and artistic activities as well as the right to association contained in Art.15.
Many children in Africa do not get to enjoy their rights as contained in the international conventions, regional documents as well as national constitutions. The reasons vary from parental irresponsibility, conflicts and wars, poverty and discrimination , the effects of climate change among other challenges.
Family breakup and divorce affects the mental health of children. Many times when families split children are left feeling abandoned , many go through court processes to determine who gets custody of the children , some are forced to adapt to new lifestyles while others are forced to go back to the village .Loss of incomes in the family also affect children because some have to drop out of school if the breadwinner losses a job or becomes incapacitated. A random chat with children , you will find out that some dropped out of school and became house helps in order to supplement family incomes. This is also contributing to intra and inter-country human trafficking.When employed young as domestic servants , children go through a lot of exploitation from low pay , overwork, vulnerability to sexual exploitation and developmental challenges and are unable to negotiate with their employer because of their capacity. Sometimes family members lie that they will take for example an orphaned child to school only to turn this child into a house help, majority of those who suffer from this are girls. When a family member gets sick , more often it is the girl child who gets withdrawn from school to come and take up care roles. Covid 19 has also contributed to the suffering of children in Africa , from loss of sources of incomes among parents which has directly affected children to cases of defilement and violence on children for example teenage pregnancies.
Teenage pregnancy is another hurdle that many children in Africa grapple with and this burden including blame is always either transferred to mothers or grandparents to become caregivers as the teenage mothers are often unable to provide the much needed care for their young children. Wars and conflict spell darkness for an African child. Various countries in the continent have experienced conflicts or are undergoing conflict .For example South Sudan- Africa’s youngest nation has had conflict leading to death , loss of property and rising numbers of refugees, other examples include Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo among others. These conflicts have lifelong scars on children as some watch their family members being killed , others have to flee across dangerous terrains towards safety.
Recruitment of children to be soldiers goes contrary to rights of children as contained in many constitutions in Africa as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child( ACRWC),however there are countries where children have been recruited to become child soldiers and participate in wars and some end up being captured as prisoners of war, while others mostly females get abducted to become “brides” to soldiers during war , a phenomenon that negatively affects normal life of the affected children including their reintegration back into society. This has happened in countries such as Sierra Leone and Northern Uganda.
Child marriage is another occurrence common in Africa that interferes the enjoyment of rights by children. For example among the Samburu community in Kenya, beading process prepared girls for a future of marriage . According to the beading tradition the Morans are allowed to have a temporary marital relationship with a very young girl from the same clan as the warrior. Morans buy beads for the girl and the objective of the beading is to prepare the young girls for marriage in the future.With beading comes unwanted pregnancies.Furthermore , young girls are forced to get married to people three or four times older than them , for examplehe case of a 12 year old who was married off to a 51 year old man and had to be rescued from early marriage.
There is also the element of maslah where cases are settled by elders at the local level. , some of these cases are rape and defilement .During the negotiation to settle a case through the traditional leaders, nobody cares about the survivor of the violation and this is a scar the affected person(s) have to live with for the rest of their lives. Other times families get bribed and in some cases threatened to let go of a case involving a child.
Parental irresponsibility also contributes to violation of rights of the child. There are various reasons for parental irresponsibility towards their children. Some parents neglect their children to revenge on their other partner , others neglect children because of poverty, while some children suffer neglect because they do not have parents or guardians for example street children who scavenge for food in many cities across Africa , others are neglected because of loss of biological parents and guardians mandated to take care of them are not taking good care of them. Furthermore, some children suffer neglect because they are under the care of elderly grandmothers and grandfathers who due to frailness and age cannot provide the much needed care , support and attention to these young ones. Children also suffer in the hands of relatives. For example in Kenya , there has been numerous reported cases of children being defiled by their relatives. For example a 70 year old defiling a 5 year old girl and in some cases , these children get infected by Sexually Transmitted Diseases(STIs) including HIV.There also parts of Africa where myths abound that sexual intercourse with a child cures HIV and this has fuelled defilement of children. Other examples include parents who refuse to take their children to school because their religion does not allows it, while others refuse to take their children to hospitals because of religious beliefs.
Young boys suffer from economic exploitation across different parts of Africa .For example in some countries children carry out mining activities .This is more so during illegal mining activities. This puts children at risk of injuries and death in case the mines cave in or oxygen supplies in the mines is interfered with leading to .Reported cases of children engaged in mining activities include cases in Tanzania as reported by Human Rights Watch, children’s engagement in mining activities is also echoed by the International Labour Organisation(ILO) which reports that there are 1 million children engaged in mining and quarrying in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe working in artisanal small-scale mining and quarrying. The reasons unscrupulous people use children in mining and quarrying is because of the children’s small bodies which can get into tunnels easily during the mining process.
Child abuse is a phenomenon affecting millions of children in Africa but is something that is often subtle and portrayed as “discipline”. Sometimes the so called discipline is very severe that it leaves children with scars , both physical and emotional. These punishments take place at home and within institutions such as schools and children’s homes. Examples of signs and symptoms of physical abuse among children include whip or cane scars, burns, bit marks , bleeding and bruises, fractures and dislocations.Other times children get sent home for fees, some miss exams in the process. When children are abused and neglected, they exhibit various signs and symptoms. These include aggressive or violent behaviour, some bow to peer pressure and start abusing drugs, others run away from home , especially if the home is violent or the parents keep fighting.
Children are the future, they are vulnerable and therefore must be protected at all costs.
 Moran is a Maasai word for warrior