Statement by UNICEF Representative Sandra Lattouf
Occasion: Day of the African Child
Greetings to children in The Gambia and everywhere on the African continent.
The Day of the African Child is a special occasion to celebrate our children, our work for children, and renew our commitment to protect the rights and welfare of our children.
It is also an important occasion to reflect on the state of children in the Gambia and on the African continent.
This year, as we celebrate the Day of the African Child, we also mark a historic milestone for children: the 30th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Thirty years ago, in 1990, African leaders made a historic commitment to protect the rights and welfare of children.
The Gambia ratified this charter in the year 2006. Just like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Charter is an important legal document that has inspired the creation of many laws that continue to make a huge difference for millions of children.
An important element of this year’s celebration for the Day of the African Child is the theme: “Access to Child-friendly Justice in Africa.”
Access to child-friendly justice is not just a child right, it is a fundamental pillar of democracy and a key feature of any progressive society that recognizes the value of children.
On the occasion of the Day of the African Child, and in line with the theme, I wish to strongly encourage the acceleration of the promotion of a child-friendly criminal justice system, that will include a shift from punishment to rehabilitation of children in contact with the law.
Children in contact with the law are vulnerable and must be protected from punishment and provided all the rehabilitation support to reintegrate back into society.
Keeping children in detention centers without proper rehabilitation services could seriously jeopardize their wellbeing and mental growth. But despite progress in the treatment of children accused or suspected of committing offenses, many are still held in pre-trial detention for months or longer.
There are challenges, but we also have some accomplishments to celebrate.
And I must commend the Gambia Government for the gains in protecting the rights of children in the country through the enactment of laws, including the Children’s Act, the establishment of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, the Children’s National Assembly of The Gambia, and the setting up of children’s courts in Kanifing, Brikama, Mansakonko and Basse.
I am also encouraged by the decision of the President of The Gambia, His Excellency Adama Barrow, to grant amnesty to 2 children who were held at the Juvenile Wing of the Jeshwang Prison as part of his general amnesty in the month of Ramadan.
The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provision of access to justice for all and building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Crucially, the Day of the African Child 2020 focuses on “Access to Child-friendly Justice in Africa.”
The Gambia has ten years to achieve the SDGs. Ten years to provide access to justice for all, especially the most vulnerable in society: our children.
To ensure a child-friendly criminal justice system, UNICEF urges The Gambia government to:
• Enforce all the laws that protect children in The Gambia, including from violence, abuse discrimination, FGM/C, child marriage, and child labor.
• Ensure that every child, everywhere in The Gambia has access to child-friendly justice by expanding the children’s court to cover the entire country.
• Fully implement the Children’s Act to provide children with alternatives to detention and diversion such as community rehabilitation, community service, and counseling.
• Properly coordinate all efforts, including at the community level, to protect children, anywhere in the country, from violence, harm, and abuse.
• Empower children to participate in the national discourse, and have their concerns listened to and addressed by the concerned authorities/stakeholders.
Happy Day of the African Child to all children in The Gambia. Thank you!