Zambia: Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) has called on African member states to conduct a national study or assessment on harmful practices affecting children on the continent.

In a concept note preceding the hosting of the Day of the African Child which falls on June 16 every year and was globally commemorated last

Thursday, ACERWC said the study or assessment should provide details regarding the acts considered harmful in the respective countries, their legislative and institutional framework in place or the absence of it.

The theme for the Day of the African Child 2022 was; “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice Since 2013.”

ACERWC, which was established under Articles 32 and 33 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, selected this theme for the commemoration of the Day of the African Child in 2022.

The commemoration of this day is mainly meant to recall the 1976 uprising in Soweto when high school students in South Africa started protesting against apartheid inspired education resulted in the public killing of unarmed young protesters by police.

Celebrating the Day of the African Child presents an opportunity to take stock of what has been done with regards to the adoption of policies and practices, and reflect on what more needs to be done to effectively eliminate harmful practices affecting children in Africa.

The committee decided that the theme of the Day of the African Child this year should focus on harmful practices due to the high prevalence of those practices in Africa.

The prevalence of harmful cultural practices continues to violate the rights of children across the continent.

The harmful practices hinder children from fully enjoying their fundamental rights as enshrined in the African Children’s Charter.

Such practices force children to experience immediate physical and mental consequences besides causing a negative impact on Agenda 2040, which aims at fostering an Africa fit for children.

The harmful practices include “all behaviour, attitudes and/or practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women and girls, such as their right to life, health, dignity, education and physical integrity.”

They practices include – amongst other forms of abuse – child and forced marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), breast flattening, hate crimes, child abuse linked to faith or beliefs and so-called honour based abuse.

Harmful practices are persistent practices and behaviours that are grounded on discrimination based on sex, gender, age and other grounds, as well as multiple and/or intersecting forms of discrimination that often involve violence and cause physical and/or psychological harm or suffering.

Harmful traditional practices are particular forms of violence against women and girls, which are given relevance as a result of tradition, culture, religion, or superstition by some community members.

Harmful practices refer to behaviours and practices which are harmful to people’s physical and mental health.

A variety of harmful practices exist, including FGM, child and forced marriage, virginity testing and related practices, extreme dietary restrictions, including during pregnancy (force-feeding, food taboos), binding, scarring, branding/infliction of tribal marks and corporal punishment.

They also include stoning, violent initiation rites, widowhood practices, accusations of witchcraft, infanticide, incest and body modifications that are performed for beauty or marriageability of girls and women.

Agenda 2040, under its Aspiration 7, indicates that harmful practices, such as breast ironing, FGM, or cutting, and child marriage, have to be ended.

Harmful child labour practices and child trafficking for forced labour have to be eliminated and no child has to be subjected to corporal punishment.

ACERWC says the study should also establish whether legislation prohibiting all forms of harmful practices are in place, including new and emerging manifestations, supported by detailed legal provisions on counselling, reporting, investigation and prosecution of incidents of violence against children.

Additionally, the study should highlight the status of implementation of the various normative frameworks (both national and international), whether mechanisms are in place for children to get redress in cases where they are affected by harmful practices and the role of traditional and religious institutions.

Member states should launch public information and awareness campaigns for the abolition of harmful practices affecting children.

Such campaigns should initiate collective discussions involving the communities concerned, and undertake capacity building of professionals working with and for children.

ACERWC further recommends that member states should take measures to review all national legislation or practice providing justification for, or allowing consent to, harmful practices against children including on grounds of culture, tradition, honour, or religion.

Member states should also identify and engage children who are in a particular vulnerable situation to be affected by harmful practices.

Such children may include girls, children with disabilities or albinism, children on the move, children in a street situation and those living in rural areas, etc.

In countries where FGM is practiced, member states should adopt legislation abolishing the practice, sensitize and train healthcare workers to refrain from conducting medicalised forms of FGM and educate the community.

ACERWC further urges countries where child marriage is practiced, to ensure that their legislation is in line with the African Children’s Charter.

Such countries should set the minimum age of marriage at 18, facilitate awareness raising regarding child marriage by engaging with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), grassroots organisations, traditional and religious leaders and the private sector, including the media.

Member states should also ensure that corporal punishment is prohibited in all settings, including as a form of discipline or punishment in schools, institutions and the criminal justice system.

Additionally, the member states should ensure that all forms of harmful labour practices are prohibited.

They should strengthen their support scheme for families to enable them adequately protect their children by enhancing their economic capacity.

The ACERWC member states should enact and enforce the legal prohibition of all forms of harmful practices at the national and sub-national levels and adequately sanction or criminalise harmful practices.

They should address the root causes of harmful practices, implement durable solutions that will prevent, protect and assist children who are at risk or victims of harmful practices.

They should also provide timely reports to ACERWC on the status of all forms of harmful practices by indicating the challenges and obstacles faced in addressing the harmful practices.

The member states should strengthen partnership, collaboration and engagements with relevant stakeholders such as Regional Economic Communities (RECs), United Nations (UN) agencies, and other key actors in addressing harmful practices.

From the above, it is clear that harmful practices rob children, especially girls, of their childhood, deny them the chance to determine their future and threaten the well-being of individuals, families and societies.

Harmful practices also cause physical and emotional abuse. All forms of harmful practices are likely to cause harm and suffering.

Harmful practices have negative consequences on children and they are likely to cause physical, psychological, economic, social harm and violence and limitations on children’s capacity to participate fully in society or develop and reach their full potential.

Harmful practices also affect the child’s physical and mental health in the short and longer-term, impair their ability to learn and socialise and impact their transition to adulthood with adverse consequences later in life.

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