27 March 2012

Gambia: 'Gov't Will Not Relent in Fighting Violence Against Children'

The government will not relent in its efforts to fight all forms of violence against children in the country, the director of Basic and Secondary Education has reaffirmed.

Amicoleh Mbayemade this statement recently during the launching of the National Child and Youth Advisory Board (NCYAB), spearheaded by the Child Protection Alliance (CPA), held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Kololi.

She said the government of The Gambia in partnership with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other right agencies, has over the years supported numerous efforts in the country to harmonise national legislations with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international child rights treaties. This, she posited has been essential to providing a firm legal basis for developing child protection mechanisms, services and structures.

She pointed out that a research conducted in The Gambia over the years coupled with anecdotal evidence showed that children face different forms of abuses and violence in their homes, schools, communities and workplaces despite the national laws put in place by the state and the advocacy by the non-governmental organisations.

Madam Mbaye went on to indicate that situations in schools have improved since the open proclamation was made by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education that corporal punishment is abolished in schools and that alternatives to it be developed as a guide for teachers in The Gambia.

"In 2009 and 2010, we saw an increase in the number of media reports [of] well investigated and prosecuted cases of child rights violation relating to sexual nature. Notwithstanding, we are still faced with the challenge of providing a protective environment for children that has an effective monitoring system to record the incidents and nature of child protection abuses and allow informed strategic responses," she underscored.

Mbaye posited that such systems when put in place could only be effective if they are participatory and locally based. While stressing that it is the responsibility of government to make sure that every country knows the situation of its children with regard to violence, abuse and exploitation, Mbaye argued that this is vital as there are greater proportions of acts of violence against children that are not reported to the police or the Department of Social Welfare and thus never get investigated."In the event where cases are reported, investigation or prosecution are never carried out by the police due to capacity constraints and the unwillingness of worthy witnesses to testify or cooperate with the investigators, or fear of tarnishing the victim's family name, which can be really disheartening," Mbaye asserted.

She explained that child protection is a set of services designed to protect children and young people who are under-age and to encourage family stability. "At the same time, it is not effective to address child protection as a separate and a stand-alone issue. Given the relationships between child protection and other areas, it is valuable to consider the protection aspects of any issue being considered.

The Basic and Secondary Education director went on to stress that when considering education policy, it is necessary to consider safety and security in schools and to discourage the use of corporal punishment, which she said, should include initiatives to address violence against children in schools such as bullying.

Speaking earlier, the chairperson of CPA Board of Directors, Nfamara Dabo, said the launching of the National Child and Youth Advisory Board is geared towards enhancing the participation of children and youth for their own development. This platform, he posited will give them the opportunity to meet and discuss issues affecting their lives.

He then seized the opportunity to explain that CPA, which was formed on 26th April 2001, is a national network of 48 organisations and institutions in The Gambia working for and with children. "It is the first child right coalition in The Gambia whose focus is solely on child rights promotion and protection. The alliance advocates, lobby and collaborate with government and civil society for the creation of an environment in which the protection of children in The Gambia can be ensured based on the principles and rights enshrined in national and international laws through promotion of child rights, prevention of child abuse and participation of the children," Dabo explained.

The CPA Board chair further asserted that the Alliance was formed to fill the gaps in the child rights and child protection environment in The Gambia, and in particular to raise awareness to increase knowledge on issues affecting children; advocate and lobby for appropriate legal reform in relation to child protection issues; monitor the follow-up process; play a watch dog role for children, amongst others.

"To promote child participation," Dabo informed, "CPA formed a child-led advocacy group called "Voice of the Young" which serves as the mouthpiece for children in The Gambia".

Also adding his voice to previous speakers, the newly elected chairperson of the National Child and Youth Advisory Board, Abdoulie Badjie, said the government of The Gambia has taken giant steps in protecting children by ratifying and signinginternational conventions among which is the UNCRC and ACRWC. The Children's Act 2005, he said is another prominent law, which according to him seeks to punish people who are caught guilty of perpetuating certain acts against children. "It is encouraging to note that plans are underway for the creation of the Ministry of Children's Affairs, which is a big kudos for His Excellency, the president of the republic of The Gambia, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh and his government for their continuous support and commitment to the cause of children in The Gambia," he stated.

Other speakers were the executive director of National Youth Council, Marcel Mendy; and the national coordinator of the Child Protection Alliance, Njundu Drammeh, who chaired the ceremony.

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