Prof Julia Sloth-Nielsen, a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, appointed in her personal capacity as the representative for South Africa, noted that the African Committee (AC) was established in 2001 with the mandate of overseeing the implementation of the African Children’s Charter (ACC). The African Children’s Charter (ACC) (also known as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child) was drawn in response to the feeling of many African states that
Challenges faced by the African Charter Committee included the fact that it lacked a Secretariat and resources. The ACC had been ratified by 46 states, or 85% of those signing. However, it also faced challenges in getting country reports, with only 16 having been received so far, of which 10 had been considered.
Members asked if there was interaction with the Department of Social Development, who also dealt with children and what the nature of the relationships was. Members agreed that there was a need to look more seriously at the rights of children with disabilities, and adopted children, because the Committee had seen problems with both aspects during its oversight visits. The Committee hoped to work with Prof Sloth-Nielsen on advancement of children’s rights. Members also noted their concerns about the failure of
The African Children’s Charter (Prof Julia Sloth-Nielsen)
Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen, Member of the African Charter Committee, African Union, said that the inclusion of children’s rights within the African Union (AU) considerations was not a new phenomenon. The African Union had firstly made a Declaration on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, in 1979. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child more commonly known as the African Children’s Charter (ACC) was drawn in July 1990 but was finally ratified by the requisite number of states on 29 November 1999. She explained that the nine-year delay was the result of a lack of signatories, and the slow ratification by various states. The AU had adopted the ACC because many African states felt that
The African Committee of Experts on the Rights of the Child (AC) was established in 2001, with the mandate of overseeing the implementation of the African Children’s Charter (ACC). The ratification status was currently at 85%, with 46 states having ratified. The AC received member party reports on the implementation of the Charter. So far, it had received 16 country reports, of which ten had been finalised.
The challenges faced by the AC included the lack of a Secretariat and the lack of resources allocated by the AU. The entity definitely needed more capacity, research assistance and resources.
Prof Sloth-Nielsen noted that the ACC set higher standards for African countries to meet than the United Nations Charter on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). For example, the ACC set 18 years as the minimum age for recruiting child soldiers into armed forces, while the UNCRC set an age of 15. The ACC was even more unique because it did not just focus on the rights of a child, but also the responsibility of a child. The rights of a child were also reflected in various pieces of legislation, especially in
The nature of State party obligations in the ACC were also unique, because this Charter referred to culture, tradition, religious practices and customs, and specifically said that those which were inconsistent with the rights of a child should be discouraged. The ACC made provisions for four cardinal values which were similar to those in the UNCRC: namely, non-discrimination (as set out in Articles 3, 26(2) and 26(3), consideration to the best interests of a child (Article 4), the right to survival, life and development (Article 5), child participation (Article 4(2) and Article 7).
Article 6 highlighted the importance of the right to registration, to a name, and to acquire a nationality. The freedom of expression was highlighted in Article 7. Article 8 dealt with freedom of association, whilst freedom of thought, conscience and religion were covered by Article 9. The protection of privacy of children was covered by Article 10. The protection of children with disability was covered in Article 13. Protection against child labour was set out in Article 15, whilst protection against child abuse and neglect, such as sexual exploitation, drug abuse, sale, trafficking and abduction, were covered by Articles 27, 28, 29). The socio-economic rights focused on the right to education (Article 11), the right to leisure, recreation and culture (Article 12), and the right to health (Article 14).
The ACC made unique provisions for harmful traditional practices, juvenile justice, use of children in begging, children of imprisoned mothers and the responsibility of a child.
Prof Sloth-Nielsen said that she was the newest AC member appointed by the Heads of States of the AU, in the face of other candidates from various African states. She thanked all who had effected her nomination, and also commended the role of the Department of International Relations. She noted that she currently had a non-renewable five year contract, which ended in January 2015.
Prof Sloth-Nielsen saw the ACC as complementary to the UNCRC. A comparison of the ACC with the UNCRC showed a bias of visibility towards the Geneva Convention, but Prof Sloth-Nielsen said that she was hoping to see this trend change. The reporting guidelines provided that state parties be permitted to submit the same reports as were submitted to the Geneva Committee under the UNCRC also to the AC, with an addendum or additional report highlighting the specificities of the ACC. However, many countries had not reported until recently.
The mandate of the African Charter Committee was to “protect and promote the rights and welfare of the child” (as set out in Article 32). Article 42(b) stated that the Committee should “monitor the implementation and ensure the protection of the rights enshrined in this Charter.” With respect to promotion, the tasks specified in Article 42(a) of the Charter were similar to the tasks specified for the Commission under Article 45(1).
The African Charter Committee would interpret the provisions of the present Charter at the request of a state party and institution of the AU, or any other person or institution recognised by the AU, as set out in Article 42(c). The African Charter Committee also received individual communications similar to the mandate of the African Commission on Human People’s Rights. The entity had been receiving communication since the early 1990s on behalf on individuals who wanted to issue complaints against governments. It would, therefore, accept communication from a state that was not a signatory to the Charter, if this would, overall, relate to the best interest of the child. In so doing, the Committee should collaborate with other related agencies implementing Conventions and Charters, to which the non-signatory country was a party.
The Committee had conducted investigations, and had also instituted the “Day of the African Child”, which was celebrated on 16 June annually. The Committee had increased cooperation with the African Commission, African Union Commission and other partners on African Human Rights Strategy. The legislative reform of the Charter’s provisions was being domesticated, via
The Acting Chairperson thanked Prof Sloth–Nielsen for the presentation and said it was unfortunate that
Ms G Tseke (ANC) also congratulated Prof Sloth-Nielsen on her appointment to the AC, and said the Committee hoped to work closely with her on advancing Children’s Rights issues. The Committee was aware of the non-reporting of
Ms Tseke asked for the background paper on the celebrations of the African Child, so that the Committee could get more information regarding the themes highlighted for 2012. She was of the view that the AC did not do well with regard to children with disabilities. The Portfolio Committee had many oversight tours around the country and noted many challenges. The background information would help Parliament to prepare itself for upcoming events on children.
The Chairperson asked whether the AC interacted with the Department of Social Development, who also dealt with children, and what the nature of their relationship was. She agreed entirely that there was a serious need to monitor adopted children. The Portfolio Committee had encountered serious problems when it did its oversight, and was disturbed in the manner which some children were looked after. Continuous follow up was needed to monitor the welfare and the wellbeing of adopted children.
Ms S Rwexana (COPE) asked whether the AC Committee was based at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
Prof Sloth-Nielsen replied that the AC consisted of independent experts elected by the Heads of States of the AU, who served as individuals in their personal capacity. No country was allowed to have more than one representative on the AC. Meetings of the AC were usually held at the AU Headquarters, except when a country offered to host a meeting. The AC did not have a seat as such, and it was not based at UWC. It would cost a lot for a country to host the AC offices and its supporting staff.
Ms S Rwexana (COPE) asked if the AC was monitoring the Charter, because she had serious concerns that
Prof Sloth-Nielsen responded that the AC worked closely with NGOs. In the 2006/07 financial year, it had hosted a psychologist on child trafficking, and recently had invited
Prof Sloth Nielsen said she would like to have the opportunity to make a presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Social Development, and she had personally worked with that department on Children’s Rights.
The Acting Chairperson expressed her gratitude and appreciation for the Report and hoped that the interaction with Prof Sloth- Nielsen would continue.
The meeting was adjourned.
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