MORE STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE TO ELIMINATE HARMFUL PRACTICES AFFECTING CHILDREN IN KENYA
By Ms Yvonne Arunga
Country Director, Save the Children Kenya & Madagascar
In 1991, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union took a bold decision to dedicate the 16th of June, as the day of the African child. The day commemorates the events of 16th June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa, where thousands of students took to the streets to demonstrate against the poor quality of education they received under the apartheid regime. The demonstrations were violently quelled resulting to several deaths and injuries.
The selected theme for 2022 is “Eliminating harmful practices affecting children: progress on policy and practice since 2013”.This is a follow-up to the 2013 theme which was “Eliminating harmful social and cultural practices affecting children: our collective responsibility”. Granted, African Governments are expected to reflect on what has been done to effectively eliminate harmful practices affecting children in Africa by evaluating the attendant policies, programmes and legislation, it is also an opportunity to make fresh commitments and investments that will contribute towards eliminating harmful practices involving children. The Day of the African Child is also an opportunity for leaders to make fresh commitments and investments that will contribute towards eliminating harmful practices involving children.
The theme was set by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), an institutional mechanism, that is charged with the responsibility of monitoring the implementation of child rights on the continent.
According to the Committee of Experts, ‘Harmful practices’ is a collective term for many different forms of abuse which all share a similar characteristic and are seen as acceptable practices within sections of society. They include: child marriage, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, (FGM) corporal punishment under the guise of discipline and/ or reasonable chastisement, child labour among others.
The Committee of Experts while considering Kenya’s State Party report on the implementation of child rights in 2020 noted an emergence of harmful practices, including medicalization of FGM, girls cutting themselves and increased cross-border FGM. On corporal punishment, whereas the country has made significant steps by expressly outlawing the practice under article 29 of the Constitution, it is however disturbing that every so often the debate on the re-introduction of the practice comes out ostensibly as a panacea to the issue of rising indiscipline cases among children.
Kenya has made substantive progress towards eliminating harmful practices, with the adoption of numerous policies and legislation including the Children Act, the Prohibition of FGM Act, the Marriage Act and most importantly, the Constitution of Kenya 2010. In 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta committed to end FGM by 2022, noting further that the country will eliminate all forms of gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030 through the strengthening of coordination mechanisms and by addressing cultural norms that propagate these practices.
It is imperative for the Government to conduct a national assessment on harmful practices affecting children, aimed at providing details regarding the acts considered harmful, the extent to which such practices affect children and possible measures to be taken to eliminate such practices.
Parliament should prioritize the ongoing review of the Children Bill 2021 with a view of coming up with a comprehensive legislation that will address harmful practices including the emerging practices. At the sub-national level, County Governments should consider developing county-specific policy frameworks, besides allocating resources to child-sensitive sectors. To achieve this, it is inevitable for county governments to bolster their resource envelopes by boosting their own source revenues to augment remittances from the national exchequer.
In collaboration with community and religious leaders, the government should undertake continuous sensitization on the negative impact of harmful practices on children and further work with neighboring countries to prevent some of the cross-border harmful practices including child marriages, child trafficking, FGM among others.
The implementation of the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) should equip citizens with the requisite skills to address harmful practices besides addressing education wastage by investing in creative pedagogies. Finally, the Government should consider increasing investment in social protection programmes, and in particular the universal child benefit grant as a means of addressing key drivers of harmful practices.
This article was first published on pg 34 of the Daily Nation and pg 9 of The East African on 16th and 18th of June, 2022 respectively.