Earlier this year, the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child adopted the General Comment No. 5 (2018) on “State Party Obligations under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Article 1) and systems strengthening for child protection”.
The General Comment lays out what obligations state parties hold in the implementation of the Charter, particularly in regards to child protection. The Committee makes it clear that all states have an obligation to formally recognise the rights contained in the Charter, either in law or Constitution. Article 1 of the Charter indeed requires states to enact timely legislation and implementing regulations as well as continuously review national legislation to ensure compatibility with the Charter and other international texts, especially the UNCRC. Other measures based on, implementing and complementing legislation must also be implemented in a timely manner.
The Committee specifically stated that, under the Charter, state parties must adopt legislation to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including in the home, in schools, in penal institutions and as a sentence for a crime. States must also put in place specific implementation measures, including but not limited to: appropriate sanctions for violations, ineligibly for employment with children of people who have previously harmed them, the establishment of child helplines, and the recognition of the acute vulnerability of some groups of children (such as children with disabilities, children in the justice system and children who are subject to customary or informal legal systems) who may require specific protection measures.
The Committee highlighted that these obligations apply to all state parties, regardless of their governance systems. In particular, federal states must not defer responsibility to implement the Charter to the decentralised levels of government and must ensure that children in one region are not awarded less protection than in another. It was underlined that any retrogressive measures diluting or cutting back on rights already enjoyed are against international law and that the perpetuation of harmful cultural practices cannot be defended on the basis of custom, tradition, religion or culture, but must be eliminated.
The Committee’s adoption in 2016 of Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040 (Fostering an Africa Fit for Children), committing African Union member states to protect all children from violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse, including all corporal punishment (aspiration 7), was a key step in regional progress towards prohibition and elimination of all corporal punishment. The Committee has also in recent years increasingly examined states parties to the Charter on their progress towards prohibiting corporal punishment and, in the context of increased civil society advocacy on the issue, recommended its prohibition in all settings, including the home, to the majority of the states under examination.
The Global Initiative welcomes the Committee’s work on this crucial issue as a positive example of regional best practice and calls on all of the state parties to the Charter to fulfil their obligations and prohibit all corporal punishment of children as a matter of urgency.