Monday, December 17, 2007

In the best interests of the child: harmonising laws in Eastern and Southern Africa

Source: Eldis (www.eldis.org)

Article: In the best interests of the child: harmonising laws in Eastern and Southern Africa

The following are excerpts from the aforementioned article:

Harmonising child rights laws in Eastern and Southern Africa
Authors: ; African Child Policy Forum; UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional
Publisher: African Child Policy Forum, 2007
Full text of document

This report reviews and analyses how far 19 Eastern and Southern African countries have gone in harmonising and implementing the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC, or 'the African Charter').

The report gives an overview of states' performance in all the general principles of the CRC and the African Charter. Issues addressed range from whether states have an overarching definition of a child to looking at provisions protecting children from violence and exploitation, and children's participation. It shows the progress that is underway, but also identifies the gaps that remain between aspiration and practice. This report identifies specific issues that need immediate attention and recommendations that need to be considered in order to address the gaps and challenges.

Findings from the report include:

* despite important steps, children's rights are still not prioritised in Eastern and Southern Africa. Large numbers of countries have become party to the CRC and the African Charter, but child-centred bills have been pending for significant periods in some signatory countries, including Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and South Africa

* there is a complex patchwork of existing legislation relating to child rights across Eastern and Southern Africa which poses a significant barrier to the effective harmonisation of laws and legal protection of children. However, nine out of the nineteen countries surveyed have undertaken comprehensive reviews of their legal systems

* there is a need for clarity on the definition of a child

* discrimination against groups of children still exists under the law, particularly on grounds of parentage, as well as sex, ethnicity and disability

* the majority of the countries surveyed do not have adequate registration systems, including registration of birth, and in Ethiopia there is no formal birth registration system at all. This has consequences for many children's rights, such as their legal identity and proof of lineage

* while there has been progress in developing appropriate measures for children, there are still significant gaps in dealing with children in the criminal justice system

* children's participation is generally low in the countries studied, and that there is a need for change in cultural and societal attitudes towards children, as well as legal and policy developments

In conclusion the CRC and the African Charter are bringing about a paradigm shift in understanding and attitudes towards child rights. The challenge is to translate the provisions in the charters into concrete improvements in children's day-to-day lives. Specific issues that need immediate attention by the countries in this review include:

* harmonising the definition of a child

* ensuring that the guiding principle in child-related laws and policies is 'the best interests of the child'

* implementing appropriate justice systems for children, including raising the age of criminal responsibility and using child-focused procedures and systems for children in conflict with the law, and child victims and witnesses

* guaranteeing legal protection for children against violence, abuse and exploitation, including sanctions for corporal punishment in any setting

* providing free, compulsory and high quality primary education for all

The countries covered by the report are Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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*Note the abovementioned excerpts are direct quotes from the article and thus all credit and references should be afforded to the authors/sources.

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