Renowned Child Rights advocates such as Dr. Benyam Dawit Mezmur and Lady Justice Martha Koome reflected on the realisation of child rights in East Africa during a regional symposium to mark Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ 50th anniversary. The “Child Rights in East Africa: past, present & future” symposium was organised by the regional office East Africa and held in Nairobi end of November 2016.
What are the trends in the child rights and child protection environment in East Africa? In terms of safeguarding child rights, where does the region come from, where is it standing today, and where is it heading to? Are some child rights more important than others, as a prerequisite for the realisation of those rights? These and other questions were discussed by the panel of experts, consisting of Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome (Judge of the Court of Appeal in Kenya), Irene Ovonji Odida (FIDA Uganda), George Nyakora (Africa Wide Movement), Aloys Opiyo (ANPPCAN Kenya) and Beatrice Gacengo (Terre des Hommes Netherlands), with Samuel Munyuwiny (African Institute for Children Studies) as moderator of the discussion.
The panel agreed that there are remarkable achievements in upholding child rights in East Africa. However, proper implementation and enforcement of applicable laws is still lacking, including allocation of sufficient budget. “We forget that in 50 years time, when we will be commemorating 100 years of Terre des Hommes Netherlands, it is today’s children who will be calling the shots.”
Guest of honour and keynote speaker was Dr. Benyam Dawit Mezmur, chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child of the African Union. In his speech, Dr. Mezmur expressed his appreciation that Terre des Hommes Netherlands is commemorating and not celebrating its 50th anniversary. He noted that: “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights treaty. But at the same time, it is also the most violated. There are too many what I call ‘Yes, but No’ scenarios.” He pointed out various issues that children in East Africa are still facing. “The sexual exploitation of children in the tourism industry is a big issue in East Africa. My question is: Do you have a commitment to tourists, or do you have a commitment to your children?” When it comes to harmful practices, another issue which is still prevalent in East Africa, he noticed a ‘one step forward and two steps back’ trend.
It is all too easy to blame these and other violations of children’s rights to finances. “I personally don’t believe that the lack of money is the root of all evil. Children are simply falling through the cracks,” Dr. Mezmur continued. Concurrently, the world should stop referring to children as the future. In his view: “Children are tired of being the future. They want to be part of the present, so that they can have a meaningful part in the future.”
Dr. Benyam Dawit Mezmur, from Ethiopia, is the current Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child of the African Union. He is an Associate Professor of Law and Project Coordinator of the Children's Rights Project at the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.