The Day of the African Child (DAC) is commemorated annually on June 16 by Member States of the African Union. On this day, Member States take stock of the implementation of practices, policies and programs that contribute to the rights, protection and well-being of children in their country.
This day also honors the children who died while protesting against the discriminatory system of apartheid during the Soweto uprising in South Africa in 1976. This year’s theme is “Eliminating Harmful Cultural Practices Affecting Children: progress in policy and practice since 2013”.
Kenya has put in place legal and policy frameworks to protect children from harmful cultural practices. Section 53 (1) (d) of the Constitution provides that every child has the right to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices and other forms of violence.
Section 14 of the Children Act (2001) provides for the protection of children from harmful cultural rites, including female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage or other cultural rites, customs and traditions that may harm adversely affect life, health, social well-being, dignity or physical or psychological development.
Other related laws and policies include the Sexual Offenses Act (2006) under review, Basic Education Act (2014), Marriage Act (2014), Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (2011), National Child Protection System Framework for Kenya (2011) and County Child Protection Systems Guidelines.
The 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey estimates that 21% of women and girls aged 15-49 in Kenya are affected by female genital mutilation, with the percentages varying by ethnic group and geographical area. Child marriages account for 23% nationally.
Harmful cultural practices lead to childhood deprivation, poor health and education outcomes, high prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence, child labor, spread of HIV, among others and AIDS, early pregnancy and stigma. In a nutshell, they prevent children from enjoying the rights to survival, development, participation and protection, which the government has guaranteed and as enshrined in the legal frameworks mentioned above.
There is an urgent need to address these practices by enacting the Children Bill (2021) as it provides safeguards for the rights, welfare and best interests of the child as well as the establishment of child protection mechanisms for prevention and response such as child protection centers, child protection units, rescue centers and child protection programs childhood.
Furthermore, the implementation of the National Plan for the Prevention and Response to Violence against Children in Kenya (2019-2023) will accelerate efforts to eradicate and end harmful cultural practices against children.
Social workers must be equipped with the skills, knowledge and resources to meet the protection needs of children. This can be done through established structures such as zonal advisory councils, child protection volunteers, community health workers, volunteer lay counselors and court users’ committees.
This will improve the identification of potential survivors of harmful cultural practices and connect them to other referral systems for access to services such as psychosocial support, legal aid, health care, education and social protection.
The allocation of adequate human and financial resources to child protection services is necessary. This will ensure the effective and efficient functioning of the mechanisms established by the State such as the 116 child helpline, the child protection information management system, the anti-FGM council and the social protection funds. that promote family and community care for children.
There is a need to raise awareness and conduct community and national campaigns and sensitization targeting policy makers, the community and children on the negative effects of harmful cultural practices.
It will also focus on changing attitudes, norms and behaviors towards them. To achieve this, joint efforts are needed between state and non-state actors to achieve full commitment to the eradication of harmful cultural practices.
Finally, we cannot do much without serious political will. In some of the geographic hotspots of these practices, the main promoters are cultural, political and other opinion leaders. Civil society and other actors must mobilize for the signing of national charters, at the county, constituency and neighborhood levels by all political aspirants committing to strengthen the fight against these practices if elected during the next elections.