Joining Forces for Africa (JOFA) has called on National governments and policymakers in Africa to develop and implement laws that protect children from harmful practices.
Held in commemoration of the Day of the African Child 2022, the Forum sought to highlight and address some of the harmful practices that affect children including child marriage, female genital mutilation, child labor, and Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of children (OCSEA).
The campaign called “Spot It, Stop It’, encourages children to speak out about these harmful practices.
This event offered a platform for addressing and recommending solutions to some of the challenges children face both at home and school. The reiterated need is to allocate cost budgets for child protection, with the initiative of protecting African children calling for more effort to eliminate harmful practices affecting children in Kenya and Africa as a whole.
The move seeks to strengthen legal and justice systems to protect children’s rights by taking action against promulgators of violence against children, creating a platform for echoing the voices of young people, especially girls, in policy and the decision-making process.
This comes amid concerns from academia, civil societies, non-governmental organizations working with children and faith-based organizations, that children face a violation of their rights, discrimination, poor access to education, poverty, as well as gender inequality.
According to UNICEF (2022), there is a slow pace of progress in dealing with challenges the African child is facing with 3 out of 10 young girls in Eastern, and Southern Africa still married before the age of 18.
Deputy Regional Director, SOS Children’s Villages International, Bedilu Shegen, said in marginalized areas the boy child is faced with higher risks of dropping out of school opting for cheap labor.
“It is necessary that the government chips in with lunch subsidies that ensure food is provided for the students in schools so that at least in a case where the parent/ guardian fails, a child is guaranteed a meal,” he said.
Based on the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA 2022), estimates a projected rise in the number of girls undergoing female genital mutilation from 4.1 million in 2019 to 4.6 million girls in 2030. Hence emphasizing the move taken by Kenya in 2019, an initiative in dealing with cross-border FGM cases of early childhood marriages and FGM acts.
“The meeting is extremely important as evidenced by actors from different spaces coming together to combine efforts at ensuring the protection of children from early marriages and harmful practices as well as supporting parents to cope with economic crises,” UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Eastern and Southern Africa, Mona Aika, said.
Online child sexual abuse and exploitation (OCSAE) is another key harmful practice widely witnessed that increasing daily. Findings from Disrupting Harm Research, reported that in Kenya, an average of 9% percent of children who use the internet, aged between 12-17, reported experiencing online exploitation and abuse (ECPAT, INTERPOL, and UNICEF, 2021).
“Setting up of resources from the national and county level will assist set programs that train children on soft skills and vocational skills. With internet access, children can be protected through information delivery. Involving the children is key to solving issues affecting them. Through them, we are able to learn of the challenges first hand,” said Roger Yates, CEO of Plan International Middle East, Eastern and Southern Africa.,
Terres Hommes Netherlands head of East Africa and Madagascar region, Raphael Kariuki, , in his closing remarks, viewed the protection of children will change when they are empowered through involvement and education.
“It’s been a long journey toward discovering the protection of children from these harmful activities, and it will be identified and achieved once all the children in various areas are involved and informed about these harmful practices at an early age,“ said Kariuki.
JOFA advocates for an increase of child protection volunteers who will go to communities, find out the issues children face, and to instill courage in children to speak out about harmful practices they are faced with. The hope is to achieve a conducive environment for learning geared towards educating, engaging, and supporting children.
Joining Forces is an alliance of the six largest child-focused international NGOs namely; SOS Children’s Village International, Plan International, Save the Children International, ChildFund Alliance, Terres des Hommes International Federation, and World Vision International.