ECOWAS moves against child marriage in West Africa

Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja

ECOWAS moves against child marriage in West Africa

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has set in motion a move for the adoption of the ECOWAS Child Policy and Plan of Action.

The move will also witness the Declaration and Roadmap in the Prevention and Response to Child Marriage in West Africa.

This followed a meeting of ECOWAS experts yesterday in Abuja to find lasting solutions to issues surrounding children in the sub-region.

Speaking during the opening ceremony, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Dr Siga Fatima Jagne, recalled the adoption of the ECOWAS Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems to Prevent and Respond to Violence, Abuse and Exploitation against Children in 2017 by ECOWAS Ministers, and approved by Heads of State and Government in the same year.

Jagne said the strategic framework sets out ten aspirations and five key priorities for child protection in the sub-region, including the elimination of child marriage.

She added that the priority of immediately eliminating child marriage was a recognition of the unacceptable rates of child marriage in the region, with West Africa having the highest prevalence rates of child marriage in Africa and the second highest in the world, after South Asia.

Jagne said: “Indeed, six of the fifteen ECOWAS countries (Niger: 76 percent, Mali: 55 percent, Burkina Faso: 52 percent, Guinea: 51 percent, Nigeria: 43 percent, Sierra Leone 39 percent), are among the twenty countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world; while two ECOWAS countries (Nigeria and Niger) rank among the 20 countries with the largest absolute number of child marriages in the world.

“While ECOWAS member states continue to implement measures to end child marriage, including ratification of and adherence to extant international instruments seeking to eliminate child marriage, rates remain very high. This also, is despite the work done at the level of the African Union and the launch of the Campaign in 2014 to end Early Child Marriage on the continent with the commitment of 11 West African countries to put an end to child marriage.”

Earlier, Jagne said promoting and protecting the rights of children within the West African space is of critical importance for the achievement of the goals of human security and development of West Africa.

Jagne also said promoting and protecting the rights of children within the West African space was also necessary for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and the African Union Agenda 2063 of the Africa We Want.

According to Jagne, “While all SDGs ultimately have an impact on the rights of the child in framing the wider context within which the global society seeks the sustainable promotion of human rights and wellbeing; there are a number of Goals that specially relate to children.”

The goals, Jagne added, include “Goal 1 on Ending Poverty, Goal 2 relating to Healthy Lives, and Well-being for all ages, Goal 4 on Inclusive and Equitable Educational and Lifelong Learning Opportunities for all; Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls; Goal 8.7 in relation to the Combat of Human Trafficking, Slavery, Forced Labour and Child Labour and Goal 16.4 on Violence Against Children amongst others.”

She emphasised that all efforts of the sub-region in relation to economic integration and the focus on macro-economic progress will be grossly undermined if the civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights of the vast majority of vulnerable West Africans of whom children are the most vulnerable are ignored or the enthronement of the said rights are not pursed vigorously.

Jagne added: “The Child Policy and Plan of Action approved by ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in 2008 were based on extant international normative frameworks. The primary instrument being the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifying four key ‘clusters’ of the rights of the child namely: Child Survival, Development, Protection and Participation. The Strategic Plan of Action covered the period 2009 to 2013 and upon its expiration, it became necessary to examine the underlying assumptions upon which the Policy and Strategic Plan of Action were based.

“Clearly, the regional context has evolved and some issues that have since emerged include the phenomenon of children on the move within the ECOWAS space and the need to adequately conceive of responses to the issue of children in emergencies. This latter category include infectious disease outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics; not least disasters such as the Ebola Virus Pandemic of 2014.

“Broadly speaking, key issues setting the context and affecting the rights of the child in West Africa are multi-dimensional child poverty, the impact of climate change natural disasters and environmental hazards on children. The context of child rights also features the threats of crises and conflicts resulting in children in emergencies. Gender inequalities affecting children and other vulnerable groups such as children with specific/special needs, disabilities, those affected by HIV/AIDS and children in contact with the law are all categories requiring due attention.”

Jagne further said the evolving global context was also very significant, adding that accelerated climate change and its impacts, including climate related migration, technological innovations and recent developments in international development frameworks are all relevant.

In his remarks, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to ECOWAS Mission, Babatunde Nurudeen, said of particular note among the reasons for a review of the ECOWAS Child Policy is the prevention of child marriage.

Nurudeen added that the trend had become one of the most painful, disturbing and demeaning problem in the sub-regional society.

Nurudeen said: “Indeed, the prevention of child marriage has become critical for us, given its attendant consequences. According to statistics, West Africa has the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world after South Africa.”

He added that in that connection, the West African sub-region cannot but undertake a review of the Child Policy in West Africa given the consequences of the trend on child marriage.

Some of the consequences, Nurudeen stated, include high rate of maternal mortality, exposure to deadly diseases such as the Vesicovaginal Fistula, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, early pregnancy and domestic violence.

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