SHIFTING CHILD PROTECTION CHALLENGES IN AFRICA

The traditional risk to children, especially in cases of sexual abuse, has been from caregivers, family members and persons who are familiar to the affected child. Although, these categories of persons who are potential threat to the wellbeing of children still exist, the increasing use of devices connected to the internet is introducing a new and perhaps more potent threat. To their credit, African states, many who are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), have done much to improve child protection regarding threats from the established sources. Legislation has been strengthened and numerouslaw enforcement officers have been trained and equipped with skills that are critical to protecting children. In Kenya, for instance, there are efforts to improve legislation through a review of the Children Act of 2001. With the enactment of the new Constitution in 2010, some provisions in the Act became obsolete. Moreover, the draft Children’s Bill is focused on improving critical aspects in the formal child protection system in Kenya.

In countries across Africa, in addition to strengthening the formal child protection systems, efforts have also been made to establish and strengthen community-based child protection structures. There have also been awareness campaigns that have targeted caregivers and the children themselves. As a combined result of these interventions, notable progress has been made in the protection of children in many countries in Africa.

However, there are aspects that need further work. The absence of smooth coordination has mostly affected children in need of care and protection (CNCP) as well as children in conflict and contact with the law. Children in areas affected by armed conflict in Africa are still at considerable risk. In addition, the growth of internet usage, particularly among children, has provided the opportunity for a new and disturbing assault against children in Africa. Increased internet connectivity in Africa has provided both advantages and disadvantages to children.  Notably, children are now at increased risk of online abuse and cybercrimes including sexual exploitation.

Already some countries are taking action to mitigate this threat, for instance in Kenya, the proposed new law is expected to take into account emerging child protection threats related to the internet. Ghana has already taken commendable steps towards child online safety. AnAfrica regional conference on child online protection was held in Kampala in 2014. However, the measures undertaken are far from enough. Child protection efforts should go beyond legislation in confronting this new threat, for progress made in the protection of children to be preserved. Massive awareness campaigns, sensitization of caregivers, and the expansion of school and community-based child protection networks to include surveillance against online abuse of children are just some of the measures that will enhance the protection of children as connectivity to the internet grows in Africa. Governments and other duty bearers should be taking comprehensive action now.

Hellen Akoth is a Consultant with Upward Bound. She coordinates our work with clients and partners in education and those working for and with children.