Abuja – In what seems to be a positive response to growing global concerns for children in West Africa, all member states in the region under the umbrella of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Thursday agreed to a range of concrete measures to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
At the ECOWAS First Ladies’ Forum in Niamey, which took place between 2nd and 5th October 2017, Ministers responsible for the care and protection of children across the 15 Member States adopted on 4 October the ECOWAS Strategic Framework for Strengthening the National Child Protection Systems to Prevent and Respond to Violence, Abuse and Exploitation against Children in West Africa.
A release on the adoption made available to Nigeria Health Online by the Nigerian Office of United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the regional body agreed on five concrete measures to protect children from the most damaging forms of abuse namely: sexual, physical and emotional violence against children, including female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C); child marriage; child labour; civil registration and vital statistics; and children on the move.
UNICEF said in the release that almost nine out of 10 children in West Africa experience violent discipline. “While child marriage exists throughout the continent, it is especially prevalent in West Africa, which hosts six out of the ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world: about four in ten young women in West Africa were married off as children. Less than one in two children in West Africa has a birth certificate, which is their basic right to an identity. In addition, the region is the theatre of complex migration routes where children are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation…
“Strong child protection systems can ensure that no child falls between the cracks. They provide the surest safeguards against child abuse, neglect, exploitation and other forms of violence through a concerted effort between formal and informal actors. The adoption of the Child Protection Framework provides a joint platform for action on the protection priorities for children. As programmes for children are strengthened at national and community level, Ministerial commitments made during this week’s meeting will be submitted for approval at the next ECOWAS Heads of State meeting in December 2017.”
The just-concluded meeting was led by the ECOWAS Commission, according to UNICEF, which furthered that the Strategic Framework was developed in collaboration with a Regional Child Protection Working Group comprising the United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations and networks.
ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow, whose organization convened the gathering of experts and ministers from the 15 Member States, was quoted in the release as saying “The Ministerial adoption marks a major step forward for the protection of children in our region. We stand together more strongly than ever to ensure children are safe and protected. With the right framework, the right actions, the right resources and the right positive changes in attitudes and practices, we can ensure they have an opportunity to fully contribute to our societies.”
Also, the Chairman, Regional Child Protection Working Group, Andy Brooks, said: “In West Africa, urgent action is needed to address the acute vulnerabilities of children. We count on the commitment shown by the ministers being echoed and supported by the Heads of States and the First Ladies’ network in West Africa. We will continue to support States to strengthen services on the ground and the ECOWAS Commission in tracking accountabilities to commitments made here today.”
The RCPWG is a coalition of agencies with a common goal of strengthening the protection of children in West Africa. The RCPWG comprises 15 organisations: ISS, Save the Children, World Vision International, EDUCO, MAEJT, ENDA, Terre des hommes- Lausanne, Handicap International, ChildFund, Plan International, SOS Children’s Village, ILO, IOM, UNODC and UNICEF.