Statement by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, MP, on the occasion of the commemoration of the Day of the African Child 2015, Soweto, Gauteng province
Dr Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs;
Ms Fatima-Zohra Sebaa-Delladj, the African Union (AU) Special Rapporteur on Ending Child Marriage;
Ms Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the AU Goodwill Ambassador on Ending Child Marriage;
Mrs Sidikou Aissatou Alassane, the Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child;
Representatives of the South African Government;
Representatives of Unicef;
Our children who have joined us from the rest of the continent;
Ladies and gentlemen;
Tomorrow South Africa will commemorate the 1976 June 16 uprising during which school children, no different from the many young people we have here today, stood up for what they believed was right and just. Their decision to raise their collective voice was driven by the determination not to stand by and allow injustice to be visited upon them one more time. They rose up and said; enough is enough!
The Day of the African Child is hosted here on this day to remind our young people of the spirit of the Class of 76 and to inspire you into action against the injustices of your time. Despite the best efforts of African Governments and civil society to protect children from forced marriages, many children still remain vulnerable to this despicable practice.
We have brought you here to engage in a battle of ideas on how we can end child marriage in our beautiful Continent because we understand we cannot win this war without your involvement as children: nothing about us without us. We therefore trust that you have had fruitful engagements and that you have clearly articulated your position on initiatives that can be undertaken aimed at eliminating child marriage.
Nearly all African Governments, if not all of them, are signatories to international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, that offer statutory protection towards providing a better life for children. Over and above this, Governments have legislation and policies aimed at protecting children from exploitation. In our own country, South Africa, as in many other African countries, protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse is not only a basic value, but also an obligation clearly set out in Article 28 of the South African Constitution.
As such, every child within our borders, irrespective of their country of origin, has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation. Our commitment to protecting all children within our borders is guided by the principle that children’s development and well-being must not be hampered by the circumstances in which children find themselves. Every nation has a duty to ensure that all children within its borders get the best possible start in life so they can grow up to become contributing members of the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to acknowledge the huge role played by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in putting Africa’s child-related matters on the global agenda, whilst at the same time giving direction and leadership to the Continent on the issues of children and the youth. Child marriage denies an overwhelming number of children in our Continent the right to live healthy, fulfilling lives free from childhood pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
The sexual abuse of children causes multiple, severe adverse effects. At the most extreme are cases of child rape, murder, and HIV infection. For survivors of sexual abuse, there is conclusive evidence of immediate and lifetime impacts on physical and mental health, brain functioning, life expectancy, employment and sexual health. In essence, this makes child marriage a sexual and reproductive health and rights issue.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights can, of course, never be divorced from the pursuit of gender equality and equity, and the full empowerment of women and the girl child. Sexual and reproductive health and rights is at the centre of gender relations, as much as the full realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights cannot be achieved in the absence of gender equality and equity.
It is, therefore, important for us that the African Children’s Charter builds on the existing provisions of the African Union to recognise and promote these rights. It commits us to harmonise our national legislation with all the relevant international instruments on gender equality and women’s empowerment and the protection of children, particularly to support and protect the girl child.
Whilst the prevention of child marriages is of paramount importance, it is also critical for us as a Continent to work on our support services for children who have been rescued from forced marriages. Studies report that the attitude of the health care workers and justice and court officials are crucial to reducing secondary trauma for the child.
Health care providers must be supportive and give informal psycho-social support. Where cases have been brought before the courts of law, support workers in courts also need to be helpful. It is important, therefore, that health care workers and court officials are sensitive to child victims and provided with the skills and training to communicate with children.
As I conclude, ladies and gentlemen, we must stress the importance of community involvement in reversing the trend of child marriage and sexual exploitation. In South Africa, child marriages are often effected through the practice of ‘ukuthwala’ – the wrongful, and usually forcible, carrying off or removal of girl children from their homes for the purpose of being married to older men against their will – prevalent largely in the provinces of KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Just two weeks ago, while launching Child Protection Week in Kokstad – on the boundary of KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape – we were alerted to forced marriages involving girls as young as fifteen years who are also being impregnated by older men that continue in that part of the country.
On Thursday last week KwaZulu Natal police also rescued a 14-year old girl allegedly sold into marriage for fifteen sheep. The police have arrested her forty year old father and a twenty seven old man who claims to be her husband. This particular girl was rescued because members of the public alerted the police to her suffering.
It is also a fact that our girl children are taken advantage of by their male teachers at schools. Many teachers have sexual relations with young girls and when they impregnate them use the payment of lobola to shut down the outcry. Our communities cannot keep accepting the abuse of children by their teachers in the name that the teacher has made it ‘right’ by paying lobola and marrying the child. Teachers must not have sexual relations with school children and our communities need to stand up against this behaviour by men who are meant to guide and mentor our children.
There are many factors that may assist members of the public and caregivers in identifying a child who is at risk or a victim of child exploitation. These include evidence of abuse (physical, mental, emotional, financial or sexual), not being in school or showing significant gaps in schooling, substance dependency, or children keeping inappropriate adult company (with known or unknown persons). When any of these signs are noticed, the matter must be immediately reported to the nearest police station or social worker for further investigation.
It is also vital to empower children who are vulnerable or might be at risk of being exploited and it is vital to equip children, parents and communities to combat and prevent child exploitation. Citizens, especially parents, teachers, caregivers and people working with children – must educate themselves on the factors that make children vulnerable to exploitation in order to prevent it from taking place.
Family problems, poverty, having few or limited opportunities for earning a living and employment, lack of education or opportunity to further studies, and living under difficult circumstances such as living on the streets or involved in petty crimes, all make children vulnerable to exploitation. As such, communities are encouraged to put in place prevention and early intervention programmes offered to children who are at risk of exploitation.
Such programmes and interventions can aim to support safe, developmentally appropriate, family-based care for children; enhance community engagement; identification of children at risk through the involvement of the community and other role players and develop awareness-raising campaigns involving existing community structures.
Partnerships between Governments, the non-governmental sector, faith-based institutions, institutions of traditional leadership, the media, organised labour and civil society, are essential, for preventing child abuse, neglect and exploitation. All of us have a role to play; let us work together to protect our children because, as Nelson Mandela once said, there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
I thank you.
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SOURCE: South African Official News