During the two day Horn of Africa Consultative Forum on CSO engagement in enhancing child protection and participation held in Nairobi on the 13th and 14th of December, different member state were represented where they engaged in various issues affecting children at the Horn of Africa.
Some of the key and major issues talked about during the forum were; Children on the move, Early Child marriages, Child abuse and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Psychological support , shrinking CSO’s space, child participation and representation in the community and refugee children.
When a community doesn’t embrace its children they will burn the community to get the warmth that was not given. Everyone has to take up the responsibility to ensure they are encircled and protected from harmful practices/ socio-cultural norms and from harmful behaviors. We need to stay within for our children and not isolate them from the community.
In Somali Land FGM has and is still a big menace where at least 98% of the girls and women undergo the cut. The trauma is lifelong and they need our utmost help where we can explain and create awareness on the harmful social-cultural traditions. In this community People are very connected to their cultural practices and it’s hard to change the community behavior and perception as it is deeply embedded in to their social norms and has become part of their cultural practices.
In Somali-land different types of FGM are practiced by different communities where sunna covers about 40%of the girls from the age of 15-24 years and pharonic one being the highest according to SOFHA research (2016). One of the major challenges is that there are no clear policies/agenda to end FGM, lack of protection policies implementation, inability to reach isolated rural areas, lack of consensus among religious leaders, lack of solid limited scope of government to put practices policies and legislation to prevent FGM, lack of budget allocation and human resources specialized into FGM/CUT issues.
They Cut it for the man, protect it from the man, it is done to impress the man and we have to take charge in protecting our own by not enhancing the cut but ending it. Girls and women need to be freed from the cut. We all came in this world to enjoy our rights so let us enjoy them as girls and women, and also have men, cultures and traditions respect and care for our well-being says Mariam Dahir, Chairman of Youth Anti-FGM Network Somaliland.
With representatives from South Sudan the issues raised was on Early Child Marriage where young girls are being married off at a tender age in the community. There are several misconceptions and contributing factors to Early Child Marriage. Speaking during the two day forum, Stella Loki, National Coordinator on Child Rights Coalition in South Sudan pointed out that, In some communities child marriage is on the rise due to the practices of cattle raiding, extreme poverty, hunger, lack of water but also this is where the rich elderly men target the vulnerable people by asking for a hand in marriage of the young girls in exchange of Food and wealth.
Girls lack the power/ will to say no to early or forced marriage when told to be married, the perception is that girls get respected through marriage i.e. When they get pregnant out of wedlock then pregnancy creates an urgent basis for child marriage so as to quickly to keep the honor of the family and without that then chances of the girl to be married in the future are limited and they will not get dowry.
The limited knowledge of laws prohibiting child marriage and definition of the age of marriage, Cultural beliefs, wealth potential and status of men makes it even harder to apprehend perpetrators. It is crazy that having a sister ensures a young man is able to get married by using the sister’s dowry to pay his own and where decision to marry off girls rests solely with the men of the family. This vividly shows the position of girls and women in South Sudan, is that there’s no need to invest in the girl child since she will soon get married off and her dowry will be to these rightful owners which express their suppression.
Early marriage stands tall as a big problem in Somali-land and it is seen as a religion based issue. However, government endorsed and passed the law for marriage to be 18yrs and above but it was confrontational with the religious leaders where they say if girls get their period then they are ready to be married.
This has led to young boys getting married and dropping out of school and when life hits them hard they engage into crime and child abuse practices as they tend to run together. Teenager pregnancies has been on the rise, loss of girls dropping out of school has enhanced child labor. Under sexual offensive bill they want to report but the religion incapacitates it thus, their hands are tied on and there will be no attempt for trials in court.
During a panel discussion at the forum it is not easy to ensure existence in good practices from each country but we can try speak from outside than within. There’s need to work with local leaders at the grass root level for ease of work. Government implementation on laws on children issues need to be enhanced.
If they share the pain, dilemma, universal health care then children will be able to build resilience. Joint advocacy and multi-sector will enhance effectiveness. Working together enables and brings in stakeholder. Children need to be at the table during some decision making as it radically affect them and creates a better understanding of the problems they face . If they are consulted then the laws will be practical for implementation and institutionalization.
Building resource on data banks to help in advocacy, dissemination of information on child participation and awareness on child rights and laws, advocating for the government to prioritize children during budgeting, advocate for vital services for children will create a source of good planning in government, stake holders and partners budgeting.
Advocacy should start at the grassroots level for the community to understand implications where we identify the gatekeepers, who are the beneficiaries (men) by targeting them first. How do we sustain the gates or how do we build what has not been started? How do we sensitize the youth to have the ripple effect?
In Kenya children are moving from one place to another using trailer/tracks, Lorries which is very risky due to harsh environment and poverty. The children are exposed to a wide range of risk such as exploitation both physically and emotionally, hunger, death, diseases, forced labor, or find themselves in conflict with the law and some eventually are trafficked or smuggled within or out of Africa.
Zimbabwe children used to offer sex so they can cross boarder to South Africa. Children coming from villages to town, refugee children moving from their homes to change their lives are all exposed to child abuse activities and end up affecting their lives and some remain with permanent scars that can’t be erased and lifetime remainder.
Patrician Kwamboka, from Amref Health Africa mentioned that -A lot of children are living in the slum characterized by acute inequalities of inadequate housing , poor services provision, lack of access to health and sanitation, overcrowded spaces and limited employment opportunities, There’re at least over 65k street children in Nairobi and are most marginalized.
These children have rights that need to be protect and all stake holders have to chip in to ensure that it is done to the latter. There’s need to protect our own and understand whatever child related issue are affecting them and come up with measure and ways to curb them for the well-being of the child.
Child migration within horn of Africa has led to the development of the child abuse issues where 28 Million forced displacement (UNCIEF 2016), 12 Million refugee and asylum child seekers and about 16 Million internal displacement and this could be due to high economic reasons, educational aspiration, related to gender or cultural norms, personal motivation as well as emergencies. Natural disasters, persecution and humanitarian crises, better opportunities, escaping violence, exploitation, abuse or conflict, family separation, refugees, asylum seekers and neglect.
During the forum they recommended the following for the well-being of the child; create pull factors than push, enhance family values to reduce separation, pressing all parties to armed conflict to respect international and humanitarian law, state party to take preventive measure to protect children from displacement, enhancing community and household that are resilience to withstand climate-related and economic changes and finally working on how help reduce the CSO’s shrinking space to allow them to enhance child protection issues in different member states.
Legal voting age in Somali is 16 years, Above 16 is consider a youth, age of one to be convicted under a criminal offence is 14 years . A girl is considered mature after FGM which is between age of 12-15 years thus considered adults at an earlier age rather than boys. Well, this is among the contributing factors that exposes these vulnerable children and we need to ensure that every state follow up to them such as the age limit for a child to be at 18 years.
Children have a thousand languages to communicate, let’s allow them to communicate in the best way they can by amplifying their voices
With the above challenges mentioned it is time for everyone to come up with relevant measures to ensure we curb the situation and it is our duty to ensure state parties follow the policies that have been implanted for the well-being of a child says, Doris Mpoumou, Director, AU liaison and Pan-Africa office and Save the Children.