Continental report is the ranking of friendly African governments towards girls

There are about more than 308 million girls under 18 years on the African continent. While the African Union legal and policy framework does refer – spotlessly – to the rights, interests and needs of girls; continental bodies and national governments can and should do more to protect, provide for, and ensure the full participation of girls in society.

Not only do governments have legal obligations to protect the lives and well-being of girls, but they also have economic benefits. It is argued, for example, that every dollar invested in a girl’s education, health care and nutrition is accumulated in several benefits for society in general.

Failure to invest in girls has socioeconomic consequences for several generations. It also increases the number of girls growing up in poverty.

A new, comprehensive flagship report shows how friendly African governments are towards girls and the extent to which they are fulfilling their legal obligations. The Afrikaans report on child welfare (2020), launched by the African Child Policy Forum, analyze the status of girls on the continent using the Girl-Friendly Index.

The report builds on previous work aimed at promoting state accountability towards children, and especially girls. It is important that girls’ opinions are prominent – because they share concerns, fears, wishes and legitimate demands.

As underlined in the To get girls equal report, a detailed report that evaluates the status of girls and the law in Africa, many girls run the risk of sexual exploitation, harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, and their school leaving.

Girls are exposed to extreme violence and kidnappings. Kidnappings of girls and attacks on schools in Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria, for example, have led to school closures.

As shown in the African Report on Child Welling, girls occupy a unique, vulnerable position in African society. Social norms, practices and attitudes harm the life, survival and development of girls.

That needs to change.

African governments must adopt laws, policies and other measures to protect girls from the risks they pose based on their age and gender. Girl-friendly management respects, protects and fulfills girls’ rights and ensures gender equality among children. This is done through laws, policies and the allocation of resources to ensure positive outcomes for girls.

The index for girl friendliness

The Girl Friendliness Index, as set out in the report, is a rights-based statistical tool and conceptual framework anchored on three pillars of child rights: protection, provision and participation. Generally, the countries that achieve the highest marks as friendly towards girls are Mauritius, Tunisia, South Africa, Seychelles, Algeria, Cabo Verde and Namibia.

The index describes how the laws and policies in African countries protect the rights and interests of girls. The protection dimension deals with the legal, policy and programmatic frameworks that governments in Africa have established or must adopt to protect the rights and interests of girls.

Governments, for example, need to criminalize the abuse, exploitation and trafficking of girls. Overall, African countries have made significant progress with this. But there are still big gaps. If their rights are violated, girls should also be able to access justice and seek remedies. Rwanda, Togo, Namibia, South Africa and Mauritius were at the forefront of providing solid legal and policy frameworks and institutional enforcement mechanisms.

Protecting the interests and rights of girls requires governments to commit budgets to ensure access to education, sanitation, sexual and reproductive health, and other services that are critical to their development. This is where the precautionary pillar comes into play. The report found that girls in many African states do not have access to adequate health care, including sexual and reproductive health services; they do not have access to nutritious food, education and other basic services.

In terms of spending on girls’ education, the report found that Eswatini, Tunisia, Lesotho and Mozambique performed relatively well in line with each country’s budget allocation. Although these countries can be classified as poor, there is a commendable trend in spending on girl education.

Tunisia has a high ranking in the supply index as one of the best investors in social protection programs, education and health services for the benefit of girls.

The participation of girls is a fundamental law and a core principle of child rights legislation. So girls should be allowed to take part in government – especially in formulating laws, policies and programs that affect them. However, the participation of girls was qualified; it is in line with the developing abilities (age and maturity) of the child concerned.

Governments need to create effective, safe and inclusive forms of participation for girls. Creating opportunities for girls to express their views, as suggested in the report, empowers them to express themselves, increases their protection, increases the quality and effectiveness of the program, and contributes to increased state accountability .

What to do

African governments are expected to harmonize their laws and policies in accordance with international and regional legal norms, frameworks and standards; thus providing justifiable grounds to enforce the rights of girls.

Governments should also start, among other things, programs that build on the skills and abilities of girls to participate in the management of their communities. It will address social and cultural barriers that prevent girls from participating in matters concerning them.

The progress that African states are making with girl-friendliness is commendable, yet unequal. Therefore, it is crucial for policy makers at all levels to learn, consider and strive for the lessons learned from highly regarded countries towards girls, and to strive to use best practices to the benefit of girls across Africa.

Rongedzayi Fambasayi, Doctoral Researcher: Faculty of Law, North-West University

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