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Physical, sexual and emotional violence against children in Africa unacceptably high

A new report from the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) reveals that Africa’s children are still subjected to unacceptably high levels of physical, sexual and emotional violence across all levels of society. The African Report on Violence against Children launched yesterday at the United Nations in New York in collaboration with the African Union and the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence against Children follows the continental launch of the report on 19 September last year at the AU headquarters in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.

“The burden of creating a continent where children live and grow-up in safety principally lies on the shoulders of Africans themselves. Yet, in an increasingly globalised world where violence is taking transnational dimensions, it indeed takes
a global compact to create a world free from violence,” said Theophane Nikyema, Executive Director of ACPF, on the occasion of the launch.

Surveys undertaken in countries across Africa highlight alarming levels of violence committed on children in schools, family settings as well as children in residential care institutions.

An estimated 92 per cent of pupils interviewed in Togo, 86 per cent in Sierra
Leone, 73 per cent in Egypt, 71 per cent in Ghana, 60 per cent in Kenya, and 55 per cent in Senegal and Benin reported having experienced physical violence in schools from teachers or classmates.

Sixteen per cent of children interviewed in Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Uganda and Zambia reported that the physical punishment they experienced left scars on their body; and 60 per cent of children in Zambia, Morocco and Uganda, and nearly half of children in Mali and Ethiopia, experienced physical punishment from family members.

The report argues that violence against children in Africa must be considered within the context of broader social, cultural and economic trends, such as urbanization, deepening poverty and inequality, family fragmentation, and the persistence of traditional norms that do not always correspond to contemporary legal and human rights codes. As children grow up, their risk factors for experiencing violence outside of the home increase and older children, particularly girls, face greater incidence of violence. For children without families, including those living and working on the street and in other hazardous settings such as domestic work, those with disabilities and in residential institutions, the risks of abuse are even greater. As high as 83-90 per cent of children living and working in the street are subject to mental violence.

Children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. The report reveals that 52 per cent of children with disabilities surveyed are subject to rape and 30 per cent are forced into prostitution.

The report further reinforces that girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. In Kenya, 46 per cent of girls experience sexual violence in the community. In Sierra Leone, nearly 66 per cent of school girls reported having experienced at least one form of sexual violence

These unacceptably high levels of violence against children persist despite significant efforts on the part of governments across the continent to introduce child protection reforms. Most African states have ratified the key international and regional human rights instruments relating to children and many have put in place legislative and policy frameworks. Countries such as Burundi, Angola and Ethiopia have made efforts to incorporate violence against children within their development agendas.

Corporal punishment has been prohibited in all settings in five countries – DRC, Kenya, Tunisia, South Sudan and Togo. All African countries have criminalized rape and statutory rape, and have legal provisions criminalizing sexual violence, abuse and exploitation. Yet, despite this, reduction in the level of violence against children has been constrained by limited capacity to implement and enforce the necessary laws and policies, under-resourced and staffed social services, and deep traditional practices that remain embedded in communities. Traditional systems of punishment and sanction mean that children in Africa remain particularly vulnerable to violent practices.

“It is incumbent upon governments to put child protection at the centre of the political discourse. Child protection is as much the responsibility of politicians and finance ministers as it is of social affairs ministers,” said Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission.

The report recommends a suite of concrete proposals to address the problem of violence against children including reinforcing legal and policy frameworks at national level to establish clear mechanisms to respond to and prevent violence against children and facilitate the development of effective protection systems and building and supporting effective programs and services at national level which seek to prevent and respond to violence against children, including increasing the capacity of children themselves to enable them to become actors of their own protection and the protection of their peers.
In her message to ACPF on the occasion of the launch of the Report, Mme Sidikou Aissatou Alassane Moulaye, Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, stated that children should be nurtured, provided with safer environments – in their homes, in schools, in workplaces, across society at all levels – where they can develop, grow and mature and reach their full potential. “It is our role as members the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, she said, to ensure that African States work harder towards a continent fit for children. “

Dr Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence against Children, said on her part that “Children’s freedom from violence, in all its forms and manifestations, is indispensable for the sustainable social and economic development of African nations. Indeed, freedom from violence is critical to achieving a sustainable future for Africa in which every child can grow up healthy, resilient, well-educated, culturally sensitive and effectively protected from neglect, abuse and exploitation.”

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