About 100 children and youth from 13 countries in West and Central Africa have gathered in Accra this week to meet the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on Violence against Children (VAC), Marta Santos Pais. They will discuss the issue of harmful practices that violate the rights of children and young people in the region.
The delegates are participating in a consultation forum on "Ending harmful practices affecting children and youth in West and Central Africa".It is an initiative led by the child rights organisation Plan International in collaboration with the government of Ghana, UNICEF and other civil society organisations.
Millions of children in Africa continue to suffer from various forms of harmful practices, including female genital mutilation, child marriage, bonded labour, accusations of witchcraft, and a number of other lesser known practices.
In West Africa, for example, even though all countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children in the region still continue to suffer a wide range of violations many of which are deeply rooted in traditions and customs.
"Governments need to be held accountable on all the promises they make on behalf of their countries. At this Forum, we would like to know what concrete actions have been taken towards eradicating these harmful traditional practices," said Dombene Puobaare, 19, President of the Ghana National Children and Youth Advisory Board.
"Harmful practices have devastating consequences on the child's life, development, health, protection and education. Therefore, participation of children and young people is key to all efforts aimed at ending harmful practices.
The Forum will provide an opportunity for children and young people to share their views and hold governments, international agencies and other actors to account," said Adama Coulibaly, Plan International's West Africa Regional Director.
The Forum is aiming to create a stronger regional network of all stakeholders, including children, working on VAC across 13 countries in West and Central Africa.
"Dialogue and regular consultations with children and young people will remain a core component of UN-led efforts to end violence against children," said Marta Santos Pais, SRSG on VAC.
"I look forward to cooperating with the African Union and the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in supporting initiatives within the African region."
The 2006 landmark UN Study on VAC presented 12 overarching recommendations to prevent and address violence against children, including when associated with harmful practices. The Study has since been used as the basis to promote global action to ensure children's protection.
The SRSG on VAC will continue to collaborate with UNICEF, Plan International and other child protection organisations across regions to push for further mainstreaming of these recommendations in the national policy agenda.
"Some cultural and customary practices permit child abuse in spite of the existence of laws that prohibit child abuse.
That is why we will continue to collaborate with the various traditional authorities through the Ministry of Chieftaincy to use their good influence to abolish these cultural and customary practices that are detrimental to the development of Ghanaian children and ultimately a threat to our national development", said Nana Oye Lithur, Ghana's Minister for Gender Children and Social Protection.
"It is essential that we collaborate across all sectors to protect children from such abuses, but more than ever, we must work with communities as well as with children to end all forms of violence against children" said Susan Namondo Ngongi, UNICEF representative in Ghana.
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Communication Specialist, Plan Ghana
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