By Graça Machel
The legendary editor of the Guardian newspaper CP Scott famously declared in 1921 that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. Unfortunately, when it comes to hard evidence on how many children are locked up in prisons, detention centres, migrant and refugee camps, rehabilitation units or other institutions across the world, the facts are more scarce than sacred.
There is no single source of accurate data for these figures and estimates vary widely between 15,000 and 28,000 in Africa alone, but common sense dictates that the numbers are likely to be worse than even the highest approximations.
The UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty – due to be presented to the general assembly this September – aims to address this data gap.
Whatever the numbers, no child should be kept in prison. Detention should only ever be used as a last resort, and then only for the shortest possible time.
A lack of statistics makes it hard to identify any country or region in the continent as being worse than another. The recent conference onAccess to Justice for Children in Africa, convened by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) and its partners in Addis Ababa, made it clear that young people are poorly served by the justice systems meant to protect them. Despite some progress in recent years, the conference heard how groups such as children with disabilities, victims of trafficking, sexual abuse and violence, orphans, refugees and migrants are routinely discriminated against: they are denied access to justice, to adequate legal representation and to fair trial.
ACPF held the gathering to call on governments and international agencies, research institutions and experts as well as the media to highlight the injustices children are facing in judicial systems. Participants, numbering more than 200, committed themselves to giving a face and a voice to these children, and making access to justice a reality for all young people on the continent.
Their call to action pulls no punches, noting that children remain predominantly invisible in the justice systems in Africa, that traditional, customary or religious justice remains largely unregulated and renders children particularly vulnerable; and that African laws need to be brought into line with international standards and principles such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The call to action makes it clear it is our collective responsibility to ensure progress – governments, the African Union, UN agencies, civil society and non-governmental organisations, academics – no one can shirk their responsibility.
But calling for action is one thing, getting it is another. African countries must make greater strides towards improved access to justice for children. This will be marked by, among other things, law and policy reform that recognise the rights of children in the justice system, as well as growth in services that support these laws. Many African countries now have laws and standards to protect children in the justice system, some have child courts and dedicated police units, but true progress requires their systematic implementation.
Some countries such as Uganda report a significant drop in the number of children being detained. Elsewhere, trials of new technology such as “virtual courts” lessen the stress of children having to appear in person. But progress is painfully slow, and all the while another generation of children faces discrimination and ill-treatment at the hands of the systems intended to protect them.
As the call to action concludes: “There is an imperative on all of us to act now, as the future of our continent depends on ensuring justice for our children today.”
Published on The Guardian on June 18, 2018
By Nellie Peyton
African political leaders, activists, and local chiefs joined forces on Monday to commit to ending child marriage in West and Central Africa, the region with the highest child marriage rate in the world.
More than a third of girls in the region are married under the age of 18, with the rate over 50 percent in six countries and up to 76 percent in Niger.
Driven by factors including poverty, insecurity and religious tradition, marrying off girls once they reach puberty or even before is a deeply engrained social custom in much of West and Central Africa.
The practice hampers global efforts to reduce poverty and population growth and has negative impacts on women’s and children’s health, educational achievements, and earnings, the World Bank has said.
The conference in Senegal’s capital Dakar, which included government, civil society, and religious representatives from 27 countries, was the first gathering of its kind to address child marriage in the region.
“What we need to end child marriage is a movement,” Francoise Moudouthe of advocacy group Girls Not Brides told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We hope this will be solidified in the region with this meeting.”
World leaders have pledged to end child marriage by 2030 under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, but at current rates it will take over 100 years to end it in West and Central Africa, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said on Monday.
Although the rate of child marriage has declined from 50 to 39 percent across the region since 1990, population growth means that the number of child brides is still increasing, said Andrew Brooks, UNICEF’s regional head of child protection.
“I think the fact that they came is a sign that they’re ready to do something,” said Brooks of the local and national leaders present.
Other activists said they hoped the meeting would result in concrete national action plans and would pressure countries to enact and enforce laws against child marriage.
“We have heard your heartfelt cry,” said Senegal’s prime minister, Mohammed Dionne, to campaigners, who chanted “No to child marriage” as he took the stage.
“The problem is how to move from vision to action,” said Dionne. “Beyond the legal framework, what we need today is collective engagement in the search for solutions.”
Published on Reuters on October 23, 2017
By Jewel Ike-Obioha
Freedom of the press or media is the freedom of communication and expression through various mediums including electronic media and published materials.
Article 8 of the Tunisian constitution states “the liberties of opinion, expression, the press, publication, assembly and association are guaranteed and exercised within the conditions defined by the law.” Article 1 of the press code provides for “freedom of the press, publishing, printing, distributing and sale of books and publications.”
One would ask if these statements are actually upheld or mere penned down fallacies to justify the press freedom or the lack thereof.
Since the removal of strongman President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2001, Tunisia’s once-stead media have enjoyed a new lease of life but activists and politicians say the government is now seeking to impose some of the same types of controls as before. Media in Tunisia under President Ben Ali was among the most repressed in Africa and the Arab world in part because of his crackdown on opposition and criticism of his autocratic government.
In recent times, however, things are not looking up for the press in Tunisia and their advances are under threat since two major attacks in 2015 killed more than 60 foreign tourists and increased fears of insecurity. Tunisia has since been under a state of emergency and this has given some officials leverage to curtail some rights in the name of national security.
“Government officials seek to control the media and exert pressure through telephone instructions and practices of the old regime have returned” Neji Bghouri, President of the Tunisian journalists union, said during a news conference.
Kahoula Chabeh, a member of the Tunisian journalists union, said that 41 local and foreign journalists were beaten by police, harassed, insulted or treated aggressively just last month in attempts to prevent them from working.
“Police have returned to old practices to tighten up control on journalists, harass them and intervene in their work under the pretext of the state of emergency and the fight against religious extremism,” Bghouri said.
Other African countries are not left out in this press repression that has eaten deep into the continent’s roots.
Press repression in Uganda
In January of 2015, Lwanga was attacked by a police officer while he, Lwanga, was covering a protest march in Kampala on January 21, 2015. The police officer hit Lwanga with a baton multiple times on his shoulders and head until he fell to the ground, and as he fell, the officer drove his boots into Lwanga’s back, damaging his spine in the process. In March 2017, the officer, Joram Mwesigye, was found guilty of assault by a Ugandan court.
Abdullahi Halakhe, Amnesty International’s East Africa Researcher said about the ruling: “Today’s ruling is a rare victory for freedom of the press in Uganda. It sends a clear message that attacks on journalists must never be accepted or tolerated under any circumstances. It will hopefully assure people working in the media that the courts are watching; willing and ready to uphold their rights.
“Press freedom has become increasingly restricted in Uganda with numerous attacks on media outlets seen as critical of the government in the past year. Today’s court decision offers a chink of light in an otherwise bleak outlook and demonstrates that the judiciary is prepared to defend freedom of expression.”
Four journalists tortured in Sudan
On 5th April 2017, Amnesty International reported that the torture of two journalists abducted en route to Jebel Marra, in Sudan’s Darfur region is not only a grave affront to press freedom but also proof the Sudanese authorities have something to hide in the region. The journalists were abducted due to their persistent investigation on the Darfur chemical attacks that occurred earlier in the year.
“For nearly two months, the two journalists were locked up in a prison and tortured, simply for doing their job. They were beaten, subjected to electric shocks, deliberately deprived of oxygen and subjected to mock executions,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
President John Magufuli’s attack on press freedom in Tanzania
In Tanzania, just like Tunisia and most African countries, while the constitution provides for the freedom of expression as a whole, the situation on the ground continues to be antithetical.
After about two decades of highs and lows, the Media Services Act 2016 was finally passed in November 2016. The passing of the act was not well received by the stakeholders, media practitioners and the opposition camp. The government insisted that the act which, however, repels the infamous Newspaper Act 1976 was going to professionalise journalism; while the other side maintains that it is going to continue to muzzle the media industry.
Tanzanian press felt they had gotten hope with the election of current President John Magufuli in November 2015, but little did they know that oppression will commence again with the passing of this Media Service Act.
How Paul Kagame shut down press freedom in Rwanda
Rwanda ranks 171 in the world for freedom of the press. This is indeed a very stifling position and even though the economy of the country seems relatively stable, freedom of expression which is vital is still impeded.
During the last presidential election which gave victory to the same President Paul Kagame, journalists within the country only reported as the government deemed fit. International observers say it was one of the most orderly and peaceful elections in history but the press still faced stifling conditions and this was only obvious to the people experiencing it in the country. It’s as though a veil has been cast on the Rwandan populace that no one dares speak up on any form of press oppression and even if anyone dares write about it, the Intore militia, an indoctrinated group dedicated to the government’s political agenda, immediately denounces and ridicules the authors saying that their lives in Rwanda were happy.
The cases of press oppression go on and on within the continent. In a recent study by Freedom House, Ghana, previously the only press free country in Africa, declined to partially free as a result of increased ethnic violence by the police, military, political party members; the first killing of a journalist in over 20 years and the continuous electricity outage which impairs media coverage.
However, countries like Burkina Faso made great improvements when she underwent a long investigation into the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo. And also, Cote d’Ivoire benefited from continued openings in its private broadcasting market as well as a reduction in harassment against the press. Togo also made some strides in granting the opposition party press access during the last elections.
We are certainly not there yet as only 13 percent of the world’s countries have complete press freedom, forty-one percent has partially free status and forty-six live in not free media zones. But we can try to do better by abiding by the constitutions which grant us freedom of expression.
Published on Ventures on April 13, 2017.