Commemorating the Day of the African Child, 16th June 2022

Eliminating Harmful Practices against Children: A call for a Renewed Commitment to Promoting the Inclusion of Children with Special Needs. Today marks 31 years since the African Union declared the 16 of June the Day of the African Child. The day was first observed in 1991 to remember the lives of over 1000 innocent children as they rose to protest the discriminatory practices and poor quality of education orchestrated by the apartheid regime in South Africa. The day is marked annually to raise awareness of the plight of vulnerable children in Africa and across the globe.   Refugee Law Project joins the rest of the world to commemorate the Day of the African Child under the theme: “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy & Practice since 2013”. This theme is timely given the unique challenges children face in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa looks at harmful practices, including all behavior, attitudes and practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women and girls, such as their right to life, health, dignity, education and physical integrity.   The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) selected this theme to call on Governments, UN Agencies, International Organizations, NGOs, CSOs and other relevant stakeholders to renew their ongoing engagements toward the protection and assistance of children affected by harmful practices, through the organisation of specific activities and programs to prevent, protect and assist children who are at risk and victims of harmful practices in Africa. Government and non-government organisations have significantly protected children against harmful practices. This includes: a) the National Child Policy (NCP) demonstrates the commitment of the government of Uganda to ensure the well-being of children; b) the National Child Protection Working Group, which brings together all partners working towards the protection and wellbeing of children, c) “Sauti” is a new initiative based in Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD), a communication platform for reporting all abuses against children are among the many approaches that Uganda is implementing to ensure protection and welfare of children. However, it is important to pay attention to the following;   RISK: Many vulnerable children, especially those affected by forced displacement, including refugees, are at a greater risk of facing harmful practices.  Refugee children with special needs, particularly those with disabilities, face double jeopardy as they not only have to deal with the past traumatic experiences of forced migration but also work through the stigma and discrimination resulting from embedded social attitudes on disability and special needs. These children often face a lot of harmful practices including abuse but also subtler ones like labelling that affect their esteem and general wellbeing.   HARMFUL PRACTICES: Refugee children with special needs are affected by a myriad of harmful practices ranging from cultural practices such as early marriages, relating disability and special needs to sorcery, hiding children with special needs away due to stigma and shame, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, lack of inclusiveness among other harmful practices. These have far-reaching consequences on the well-being of all children, especially, refugee children with special needs. Generally, the negative perception families, communities, and schools have about the potential of these children to become successful citizens that culminate in fewer expectations of what they can do, further discouraging them from aspiring to succeed, which may lead to dropping out of school.  Such harmful practices breed physical and psychological effects; physically, the neglect may turn the condition from mild to severe, as the child may not receive timely medical and psychosocial support interventions. Physical and social barriers may limit the child’s participation, and such children may drop out of school. Emotionally, refugee children with special needs may withdraw from family, peers, school settings, and community. They grapple with feelings of low self-esteem coupled with a negative view of themselves and the world. These effects may make it difficult for such children to form an identity.   LIMITED ACCESS TO EDUCATION: It is important to recognise that limited access to education fuels harmful practices and continually exposes children to other forms of harm, including child marriages. Yet refugee children, especially those with disabilities, remain with limited access to education. More than half of all refugee children in Uganda (57%) are out of school. Yet many have often missed school for several years; their attendance is more inconsistent due to their living difficulties. Further still, for those who can attend school, the quality of education is severely compromised by a shortage of classrooms, teachers’ materials and large class sizes of up to 1:150 children minimum. Language barriers remain a barrier for many children who come from non-English speaking countries. Although there are no good statistics, children with disabilities tend to face additional educational barriers due to their requirement for extra support.   As Refugee Law Project, we believe limited access to education puts many children at risk of the many harmful practices and efforts to ensure all children, especially the most marginalized, attain quality, accessible and inclusive education present a significant opportunity for fighting harmful practices against children.   Refugee Law Project’s Interventions: Refugee Law Project, in partnership with other stakeholders, has invested in building the capacity of different stakeholders including parents, caretakers, teachers, school management committees, local leaders, service providers among others to equip them with knowledge and skills needed to respond to the needs of children with special need. Efforts are being made to improve access to inclusive education for refugee children with special needs in order to give them a chance to life and protect them from harm.   As we commemorate the day of the African Child, lets reflect on the strides made in promoting quality inclusive education for children with special needs, the barriers that still exist, and forging a way forward into a future where all children are supported fully access education to realise their potential. This is one of the best ways of protecting children from harm, because quality inclusive education provides safety to children. Call to Action Government should expedite the enactment of the Inclusive Education policy to ensure that all children are supported to attain quality inclusive education. We need to continuously raise awareness about the importance of children’s full participation in education All stakeholders need to reflect on and respond to the less recognized harmful practices that continue to disempower children. Service providers should strive to provide trauma-informed support services for refugee children with special needs. Happy International Day of the African Child, 2022   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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