By Bukar Bolori
The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has advocated for stronger protection of child rights in Nigeria and across the West Africa subregion.
This was the advocacy at a stakeholder interaction initiative to drive effort on strengthening delivery on child rights across the entire ECOWAS institution and the sub-region held in Lagos between 10-13 October, 2023.
The Lagos Retreat major thrust aimed at the Development and Validation of an ECOWAS Child Rights Inter-sectoral Strategic Plan and Methodological Guidelines for Mainstreaming Child Rights into ECOWAS Programming.
ECOWAS described the inter-sectoral strategic plan critical for the promotion and protection of Child Rights, including in relation to the rights of the child in a time of conflict, fragility and violence as an important move for different dimensions of Child Rights protection.
These dimensions include situations of emergency, children affected by armed conflict, child safeguarding, generally.
Survival and development of the child also involves issues related to nutrition, education, human capital development, etcetera.
Programme Officer, Trafficking in Persons within the Directorate of Humanitarian and Social Affairs, ECOWAS Commission, Olatunde Olayemi, said it doesn’t have to be a non-international conflict such as a civil war but also in situations of fragility for example in a time of elections.
He said: “Elections, sometimes if mis-handled, breed violence which could also affect children. We have disasters such as mudslides, landslides, economic downturns and others issues such as COVID-19, Ebola.
“Also inclusive is the early warning system with regional and national level centers in member states to ensure they anticipate challenges challenges to the rights of children and respond in a timely and effective manner.
”The SDGs comprise 17 Goals and 169 targets to be delivered by 2030 of which 48 targets are directly relevant to children, while 47 are somewhat relevant. Goals One, Two, Three, Four, Five and Six are of direct consequence to children, while Goals Eight, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Sixteen have targets directly or closely linked to the realisation of child rights’.
It may be recalled that the ECOWAS Commission has reviewed and adopted a new ECOWAS Child Policy and Plan of Action (2019-2030) covering not only child protection but survival, development and participation. This sets a new tone for programming for the entire Commission and will require better coordination between various Departments and Directorates of the Commission.
Despite the foregoing, ECOWAS identified clear weaknesses in the the integrated implementation of Child Rights instruments in the ECOWAS.These gaps have been glaring within the context of issue and events including:
(1) Weak integration of child rights in pandemic preparedness and response i.e. Ebola Virus Disease and COVID 19 pandemic etc.; as borne out in the reports by UNICEF and Save the Children
(2.) Weak integration of child rights in Security Sector initiatives i.e. ECOWAS Counter Terrorism Plan of Action etc.; in relation to Children affected by Armed Conflicts, Preventing Violent Extremism and Countering Violent Extremism and well as Deradicalization etc.
Also, a clear need to mainstream child protection into Peace and Security frameworks overall. Drawing from the ECOWAS Human Rights List of Indicators, required from Member States, certain actions must be integrated into ECOWAS Programming on: Measures/legislations for preventing violence against women and girls; Security forces and gender policy versus traditional and native practices; availability of special laws against child trafficking child labour and prostitution.
To this effect, the Olayemi’s Division that leads on the Rights of the Child, under the Directorate of Humanitarian and Social Affairs, headed by Dr. Sintikiti Tarfa Ugbe, which is a part of the Department of Human Development and Social Affairs, headed by the Commissioner, Professor Fatou Sow Sarr, said the ECOWAS Child Rights Inter-sectoral Strategic Plan follows through with the broad mandate of its dedicated programme area.