Today marks the 20-year anniversary since the formation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) published on November 29, 1999. To honor this anniversary, we have explored the history and thematic areas of the Charter, followed by how to achieve the intentions of the Charter moving forward.
The ACRWC was preceded by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC compelled governments to amend laws and policies, as well as to invest in services that would enhance the healthy development of children and to protect them from harm. The CRC formally acknowledged that childhood was separate from adulthood and, as summarized by UNICEF, established life from birth to 18 years as a “special, protected time, in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity”. Children were granted their own rights and lives, distinct from their guardians.
The CRC was criticized by several African nations for representing a predominantly “western” view of childhood without consideration for the African context. This was largely attributed to an underrepresentation of African countries in the CRC drafting process. Common critiques included the CRC failing to adequately address African's concerns such as racial segregation, gender equality, and holistic views of family.
The ACRWC was created to reflect unique African social and cultural views by incorporating family, community, society, cultural heritage, values and historical background into the Charter. The ACRWC was not intended to replace the standards of the international document, but rather, enhance the guaranteed rights of children within an African context.
However, changing a legal regime is just a first step towards realization of child’s rights.
Since the ratification of the CRC by Kenya on July 30, 1990 and following the formation of the ACRWC on November 29, 1999; Kenya has pursued improved conditions for children. Children's right to education has been acknowledged (Articles 28/29 CRC; Article 11 ACRWC), through policies such as Free Primary Education, allowing more children to enrol in primary school. Children are living healthier lives (Article 32 CRC; Article 15 ACRWC), as child mortality and disease rates have decreased. Child protection was recognized (Article 19 & 37 CRC; Article 16 ACRWC), through efforts to address child abuse.
As a result of the introduction of the ACRWC and above changes, the conditions for Kenyan children have been enhanced, but the nation still has ambitious plans outlined in Kenya Vision 2030 which intersect with children’s rights. Gaps between policy and practice exemplify the need to further enact the commitments set out in the ACRWC.
Juvenile detention is permitted under the Charters, but Article 17(1) of the ACWRC indicates that children have the right to be treated with dignity and worth and; (2)(b) must be separated from adults in their place of detention. Human rights organizations have reported children being harassed by public officers and detained in adult facilities due to overcrowding, with the number of children in conflict with the law unknown due to inconsistent data. Reforms in the policing and justice systems have been listed as a mandate of Kenya Vision 2030.
Kenya has pledged to eliminate child marriage by 2030 by consequently addressing poverty reduction and access to education. Under Article 21(2) of the ACRWC, child marriage is prohibited, yet still a concern for many Kenyans. Data from UNICEF reveals 4% of Kenyan children are married before the age of 15 years and 23% are married under 18 years old.
As cases of neglect and abuse towards children are emerging from Kenya, children’s issues outlined in Kenya Vision 2030 demonstrates their commitment to socio-political reforms that would consequently address child abuse. Article 16 & 20 of the ACRWC recognizes that all children need to be protected from abuse, including neglect. This is further established in the 2010 Constitution of Kenya under Article 53(1)(d). The ACRWC denounces harmful social and cultural practices in a broad perspective in Article 2, that obliges States to take measures for abolishing practices that may harm the child’s health or discriminate.
Article 14 of the ACRWC obligates States to recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the best attainable standard of health; this includes access to water and sanitation – which remains a critical issue for children. While Article 24(2)(c) of the CRC obligates signatory nations (i.e. Kenya) to provide access to clean drinking water for its citizens, Article 14(c) of the ACRWC requires the State to ensure access to water. As discussed in previous AKU EAI articles and Kenyan national policies, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools are not up to standard.
Although every child has rights, they often lack the resources to practice these rights. Adults have the responsibility to becomes leaders for social change by advocating for the enforcement of laws, policies and practices that protect our vulnerable populations.
Following 20 years of progressive change in Kenya, the next era of children’s rights is promising for influential innovation and growth.
Kristin Swardh is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on child enabling environments in Kenya.