Protect children in humanitarian situations

Sunday June 23 2019

In this file photo taken on February 1, 2018

In this file photo taken on February 1, 2018 refugee children walk towards the gymnasium at the monastery in Thal-Marmoutier, eastern France. PHOTO | PATRICK HERTZOG | AFP 

JANE MBAGI MUTUA
By JANE MBAGI MUTUA
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Humanitarian emergencies have a profound impact on children and deprive them of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs. These include situations of natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, health emergencies and man-made disasters resulting from factors such as armed conflicts and tensions.

HARDSHIPS

Already grappling with hardships that arise from such situations, like being uprooted from their homes and even families, children who have been affected by emergencies are also deprived of their rights.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires state parties to strive to ensure the survival and development of the child. That is an obligation that applies at all times, whether in peacetime, in times of conflict or in other emergencies.

But the legal frameworks protecting children in humanitarian situations face several challenges. The greatest one is the meaningful implementation of our existing frameworks for the effective protection of children.

In Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, for instance, there are more than 12,000 unaccompanied minors — children who continue to be disproportionately affected by the risks inherent in humanitarian situations.

CONFLICT

We must continue to advocate specific child protection measures for these children which are in the best interest of the child. The rights of the child apply at all times — irrespective of there being a conflict or crisis.

The theme for the Day of the African Child, which was, this year, celebrated on June 16, was “Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First”. The day marks the 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa. It calls for a serious introspection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges facing children across our continent.

Reports show that one in five children in Africa live in humanitarian settings.

We should also be concerned about the selective implementation of the law, whereby children who fall into certain categories are associated with some labels — categories such as “migrant” or “refugees” — that lower the standards of implementation of existing legal protections.

GREAT STRIDES

The government has come a long way and made great strides with the enactment of the National Drought Management Authority Act 2016, which has improved the level of coordination among the actors.

At the sub-national level, several counties have put in place emergency and disaster management legislations in tandem with Section 110 of the Public Finance Management Act, thus enabling them to pre-position funds to prevent and respond to any emergency.

It is important to continually seek proactive measures to ensure the rights of children in humanitarian situations are not violated.

The ongoing review of the Children Act offers the country an opportunity to ensure that, whenever a humanitarian crisis happens, child rights will be upheld.

Ms Mutua is the director of Program Development and Quality at Save the Children. [email protected]

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