Gambian children at risk?
Each child has the right to his or her physical and personal integrity, and protection from all forms of violence.
Abuse can occur both at home (housework, punishment, physical abuse, rape sexual mutilation (FGM) and other traditional harmful abuse to the girls) ,and school( punishment, discrimination, physical and verbal abuse as well as on the street.
Also considered are cases of teenage pregnancy, sexual exhibitionism, indecent assault, HIV- infection following rape, early forced marriage, forced abortion, forced sexual mutilation, forced prostitution, forced labour.
Children, as human beings, are entitled to enjoy all the rights guaranteed by the various international human rights treaties that have developed from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.1 They are also entitled to the protection laid down in international legal instruments relating to international criminal, humanitarian and labour law.*
Children are therefore entitled to the rights and procedures set out in the International Bill of Rights, consisting of the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and that on Civil and Political Rights.
They are also entitled to the rights and protections contained in specific treaties, including those which address the alumina- * further information on all instruments referred to in this chapter is available at: http://www.ohchr.org. tion of racial discrimination, discrimination against women, the prevention of torture, and the rights of migrant workers and members of their families.
These instruments, legally binding on States which have accepted them, include provisions which are relevant to eliminating violence against children. Some treaties, in particular the two Covenants, also contain provisions extending specific protections to children. Thus the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights includes a provision requiring that children be protected from economic and social exploitation, and that the employment of children in work that is harmful to their morals, or health or dangerous to life, or likely to hamper their normal development, be punished by law.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights expressly prohibits the imposition of death sentences on children and young people under 18. It also includes provisions governing the proper treatment of accused and convicted children, which in particular require their separation from the adult(s) accused and offenders. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is fully applicable to girls under 18 years of age. Article 16.2 of the Convention provides that the betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no legal effect and that all necessary action, including legislative action, shall be taken by States to specify a minimum age for marriage, and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.
Existing protection under international human rights law will be expanded with the finalisation of treaties regarding children, on disappearance and disability, currently being concluded. Specific provisions relating to the human rights of children with disabilities, including obligations of States to address violence against them, are included in the draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which will be submitted to the General Assembly for adoption at its sixty-first session. The implementation of each of the seven core human rights treaties currently in force is monitored by a Committee of Experts through various procedures.
Each reviews implementation thereof through the consideration of reports submitted by States, and makes recommendations for further action. Four Committees are empowered to consider petitions from individuals who allege that their rights have been violated in cases where the State concerned has accepted this procedure.
Two Committees have competence to conduct inquiries into grave, systematic or serious violations of the treaty, again in cases where the State has accepted these procedures. Similar procedures are contained in the draft treaties on disappearance and disability, while the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture and other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment introduces a system of visits to places of detention in States parties.
All bodies accepting the treaty have emphasised the obligations of States to take specific steps to eliminate and respond to violence against children in their concluding observations, reports, and in several of their decisions on petitions. Several treaty bodies have also adopted General Comments or recommendations which outline States’ obligations to address violence against children.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment on the Right to Education indicates that corporal punishment in an educational setting is inconsistent with international law and the dignity of the individual. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has adopted a general recommendation on States’ obligations under the Convention with regard to female genital mutilation (FGM) and two general recommendations concerning gender-based violence against women. T
The Convention on the Rights of the Child Although protections are provided to children by general international human rights treaties and other international agreements, at an early stage in the history of the United Nations, the international community recognised the need to provide specific human rights protection for children.
The General Assembly’s 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child set out 10 non-legally binding principles aimed at providing special safeguards for children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which sets out legally binding standards, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1989. The CRC, which signals clearly that children are holders of human rights and acknowledges their distinct legal personality and evolving capacities, is the most widely accepted human rights treaty, having been ratified or acceded to by 192 States. Its 42 substantive articles set out civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, formulated to address the special needs of the child, defined by the CRC as every human being under the age of 18, unless majority is attained earlier under national law.2
The CRC sets up a framework of legal principles and detailed standards which should govern all law, policy and practice affecting children. These include the promotion of prevention of violence, and responses to protect all children from all forms of violence.
Various articles of the CRC assert the rights of children to physical and personal integrity, and establish high standards for protection. Article 19 requires that States which are parties to the CRC take “all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s), or any other person who has the care of the child.”
The breadth of this obligation has been emphasised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee has also underlined the requirement that all violence against children be prohibited. This includes all forms of corporal punishment, however light. The Committee’s General Comment No. 8 on the Right of the Child to Protection from Corporal Punishment and Other Cruel or Degrading Forms of Punishment, adopted at its forty-second session in June 2006, highlights the obligation of all States to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children, focusing on the legislative, awareness-raising and educational measures that States must take.3 The General Comment makes clear that the Committee does not reject the positive concept of discipline, and recognises that parenting and caring for children, especially babies and young children, demands frequent physical action and intervention to protect them. The Committee indicates that this is quite distinct from the deliberate and punitive use of force to cause some degree of pain, discomfort or humiliation to children.
Regional human rights systems The international legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights and the standards that it provides in respect of violence against children are reinforced by treaties which have been adopted regionally, by the Council of Europe, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the African Union, and mechanisms established to monitor and enforce them.
The African Charter on the Rights of the Child is particularly relevant, as is the African Protocol on the Rights of Women adopted in 2004 which contains provisions directed at the elimination of harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation (FGM), scarification, medicalisation of harmful traditional practices, and establishes 18 years as being the minimum age for marriage. Regional human rights mechanisms, responsible for the oversight of these legal instruments have addressed various forms of violence against children.
For example, the European Court of Human Rights has found violations of the European Convention on Human Rights in a number of judgements concerning cases of corporal punishment in the penal system, schools and the home.13 Other judgements of the Court have concerned sexual abuse, failures of child protection systems and juvenile justice.14 The European Committee of Social Rights, which monitors compliance with the European Social Charter and the Revised Social Charter, has held that these instruments require prohibition in legislation of any form of violence against children.
Where violence against children is concerned, Governments are required to take immediate and positive steps to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against children and to
The Child Protection Alliance (CPA) Representative in The Gambia, which supported by UNICEF emphasized in a workshop on sensitization on “violence against children in the Gambia” sharing the main finding and recommendations of the United Nations on this important issue in The Gambia on 20 March 2009.
According to the CPA the global study examines the nature, scope of violence against children in the home and families, schools and educational settings, care and justice institutions, places of work and in the communities.
For further information contact the Child Protection Alliance, Action Aid, UNICEF and Dr Azadeh by only text messages ON: 7774469/3774469.
Author DR AZADEH Senior Lecturer at the University of the Gambia Senior Consultant in Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Clinical Director at Medicare Health Services