Sunday, July 21, 2024
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A call to heads of states and Governments in Africa

  • 35 mln children without parents must be visible to national policies for child protection

In today’s world, where data and policies shape the direction of societies, there is a concerning issue that demands the immediate attention of heads of States and Governments in Africa. A newly released report commissioned by the African Union states that 35 million children in the continent lack parental care, need urgent attention, and are invisible to national child protection policies. Heads of State and Government need to take the necessary decisions to protect all children, especially those living under vulnerable conditions.

The leadership of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, part of the African Union, published the study on this group in November 2023. It revealed that an estimated 35 million children are without parental care in Africa and are separated from their families due to several interwoven crises. These children are routinely exposed to various forms of violence, including neglect, street violence, sexual abuse, forced labour, and trafficking.

When children without parents are invisible in national data and policymaking, their plight remains unheard and unaddressed. They are deprived of key resources, social services, and interventions that could potentially change their lives for the better. The consequences of such invisibility are far-reaching, affecting not only the children themselves but an entire community and a nation at large.

The report is the first of its kind for the African continent, conducted between 2020 and 2022, covering over 43 countries. It explains in great detail that children without parental care are already in vulnerable conditions due to these circumstances. It is high time that we shed light on this section of the population and work towards rectifying the system’s blind spot. One important action is to make them visible in national data so that their specific needs are included in policymaking, law enforcement, social protection measures, and macro budgets.

The data compiled by UNICEF says about half of the current population in Africa is under 18, and steady growth in births and declining mortality rates will bring Africa’s child population to one billion by 2055, making it the largest child population among all continents. It is a great opportunity and potential for growth and transformation. States and governments must invest to care for and protect all children if they wish to harness the demographic dividends.

However, the reality is different. The study indicates, regrettably, more than 70 percent of countries in various regions of Africa lack explicit comprehensive child protection policy frameworks and guidance. This implies that a considerable number of African countries do not explicitly include provisions for the protection and care of children without parental care.

The report provides baseline information to improve understanding of the situation of children without parental care in Africa and what can be done to change the invisibility of the population to policy actions. A number of care solutions are available to implement care practices and child protection based on the local context and the need of a child.

It is imperative that governments, policymakers, and organizations prioritize the inclusion of children without parents or at risk of losing parental care in their data collection efforts and policymaking processes. Only by doing so can we adequately address the challenges these children face and ensure their well-being. We suggest the following:

First, national data collection systems must be augmented to capture the specific circumstances of these children. This can be achieved through the inclusion of pertinent questions in surveys, census forms, and administrative databases.

Second, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions must work together to gather and analyse data on children without parents or at risk of parental care. This coordination and collaborative effort can foster a more comprehensive understanding of the issue, facilitate informed decision-making, and promote effective policy implementation.

Third, with a solid foundation of accurate data, policymakers can design and implement targeted policies and programs that address the unique needs of these children.

Fourth, an essential step in addressing the invisibility of children without parents or at risk of losing parental care is raising awareness among the public, policymakers, and stakeholders. By highlighting the systemic challenges faced by these children, we can mobilize support and garner attention for the cause.

Fifth, establishing robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms will ensure that the implemented policies and programs are effective in improving the lives of these children.

The invisibility of children without parents or at risk of losing parental care in national data and policymaking is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. Their exclusion from the system leaves them vulnerable and without access to critical support. By addressing this blind spot, we can pave the way for meaningful change and create a society that protects and nurtures all its children, regardless of their family circumstances.

Let us stand together and ensure that no child remains invisible in the pursuit of a brighter and more equitable future. We cannot continue with business as usual. Instead, we must embrace a meaningful paradigm shift in how we conceptualize, invest, and take action to address these challenges. Let’s collaboratively work on an effective solution based on respect and understanding of each child’s need.

The African Heads of States and Governments, as duty bearers, have a responsibility to protect children. We, as key stakeholders to achieve the Africa We Want, must work together in implementing child protection policies, given the evidence now available that millions of African children are without parental care. The 35 million children who lost parental care need care solutions.

By Dereje Wordofa

(Dereje Wordofa (PhD) is the president of SOS Children’s Villages International, the world’s largest organization focused on children without parental care. Previously, he served as United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund.)

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