15 June 2011


West Africa’s ‘Children on the move’ is a growing challenge - Child Rights Activists

A High Level Meeting on ‘Children on the Move’ was held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel yesterday organized by the Department of Social Welfare in collaboration with the Child Protection Alliance. The meeting was convened in hopes to promote and gain support for displaced youth throughout the West Africa region.

Speaking at the occasion, the Minister of Health, Fatim Badjie, said the government has been mindful of its obligation to children and hoped to create a protective environment for displaced children in keeping with its commitment to stamp out the phenomenon of child abuse and exploitation, an area in which it has made major strides.

According to Hon. Badjie, the enactment of the Children’s Act 2005 is a clear manifestation of the continuation of political will of the leadership of the country in this direction.

“Children’s first line of defence and protection lies within their families. Families and communities are therefore powerful sources of support for children who have been through some of the most negative life experiences,” Badjie said.

Badjie also believes that given the patriarchal nature and orientation of the society, children are seen rather than heard, resulting in limited statuses. She goes on to say that a child is a person with his or her own rights as well as moral and emotional claims which brings on a realization in our society that is hard for many to accept.

“The idea of a child with prescribed rights of his or her own, and freedom to voice opinions, makes any adult jitter,” Badjie said. “To many adults, the concept of child's rights is a subversion, a ploy to undermine cherished and longstanding customs and traditions, an attempt to take away the authority of parents, and a desire to make children rebellious and indisciplined.”

Badjie feels the basic principles of the rights of the child is that society has an obligation to satisfy the fundamental need and to provide assistance for the development of the child’s rights, personality, talents and abilities. She also stated that displaced children need these conditions in order to reach their milestones in a loving, caring, protective and child-friendly atmosphere.

According to Badjie, most parents would prefer to bring up their children with the best quality education as well as understanding his or her religion and/or culture and being able to practice them without fear of persecution.

Badjie also stated the Holy Prophet of Islam was loving, caring, sympathetic and magnanimous towards children, who he regarded as the butterflies of paradise. She went on to further justify her opinion by quoting a biblical verse from the New Testament of the Bible, Matthew 18:6, which states that Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a little child, and whatever we do to the least of these we do it to him.

“These rights, which are not external to the society but inherent in it, generate obligations and responsibilities that every duty bearer should honour and fulfil,” Badjie urged.

Fanta Bai Secka, director of Social Welfare, felt that investing in the care and development of children will have an impact on the economic productivity of future adults. Bai Secka stated that child rights are giving children what they need in order to grow to be responsible citizens and to contribute to the development of their societies.

“Let us move ahead as time is against us and childhood is very precious and limited in years, and it is the right of every child to enjoy childhood and grow in a protective environment,” Bai Secka said.

With child rights being the main topic of discussion, it was appropriate for child representative Haddy Jonga, president of the Voice of the Young, to speak at the High Level Meeting.

“Children on the move are unfortunately the most vulnerable amongst children,” Jonga said. “Living on the streets, being trafficked or exploited, may result in a line-up of risks and dangers that these children are prone to encounter and battle with.”

Jonga believes that many children on the move end up being faced with malnutrition, child labour, commercial sexual exploitation and being groomed to become violent and ignorant.

“We need to bring back these children to proper homes, to be loved and cared for, because they will not just end up benefiting you as an individual, but their communities and nations as a whole,” Jonga said.

Jonga went on to end her speech by reminding that the issue of child protection is a collective responsibility in which everyone has a role to play.

She urged the attendees to take on the challenge to make sure we all serve as our children’s keepers and to ensure that all laws are enforced to the letter.

Alexis Scott-Perry contributed to this article.

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