Protection

PROTECTION

Goal 16 is one of the key focusses of our work.

SDG 16.2 “End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children”.

This is the core of our direct support work, delivered through our SAFEChild project. The numbers involved are shocking. In the first three months of 2017 alone, our SAFEChild project has supported nearly 100 children and has carried out just under 3000 interventions – whether that’s providing a safe bed for the night, a nutritious meal, a visit to check up on how they are doing, or a counselling session – the list goes on.  And many of these children have suffered significant abuse – multiple sexual abuses, witchcraft accusations, severe violence, ongoing neglect. They have complex needs and need long term support. I’ve met some of these children, I’ve seen myself the difference this support means to them, andI’m so grateful to all of our supporters and donors who mean we can keep this work going.

These are all things that should be provided by the government – it is they who have the primary responsibility to protect and support children, as stated by both Nigerian and international child rights laws. But one of the main problems we face is that child protection systems in Nigeria are simply not currently fit for purpose. There are a number of reasons for this – lack of funding, corruption, poor knowledge of child rights and how children should be supported, and community mistrust of government services such as social welfare and the police. There is also work going on to strengthen these systems, and we are very proud that some of our partners in Nigeria are advising UNICEF and the government on how to do this! But it takes time to set up, test and refine new systems, both practically and politically, and in the meantime there are many, many children who need support. That’s why SAFEChild and the services it provides to children is so important.

Gender and Equality

GENDER AND EQUALITY

Goal 5 promotes the principle of gender equality.

SDG 5.2 “Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation”.

Sadly, sexual abuse and exploitation is something that we see a lot of. Nearly 20% of the children whom we supported in 2016 had experienced this, and we’ve had 11 new cases already in 2017. Over the years, we’ve also come across the practice of ‘baby-farming’, where girls are imprisoned, forcibly impregnated and then their babies are taken and sold to people who want to adopt them. It’s absolutely appalling.

Socially, there is still a lot of stigma attached to sexual abuse of children. In many cases the child is blamed for inappropriate behaviour, and that is seen as the cause of the abuse. We also see cases where a payment to the child’s parents, and an undertaking not to do it again, is considered to have resolved the matter. There is very little support to the child, either medically or psychologically. So there is a huge amount of work to be done to challenge these attitudes, and to ensure that children receive the support they need.

We address this in several ways. We provide practical support – helping the children to access medical care and counselling. It’s hard to believe that a child who has been raped may not be able to get medical care if they do not have money to pay for it, but that is the reality. We also help children to bring a case against the perpetrator. I am really proud that our legal team have secured successful prosecutions for child sexual abuse. It is so difficult given the constraints that they work under, but they are determined to succeed! In addition, we engage with local communities, to educate both adults and children about child sexual abuse and what needs to happen to support a child who experiences this. Between 2014-2016, we’ve directly reached over 600 children, teachers, parents, pastors and community leaders through community workshops on child sexual abuse, and this is work that we intend to continue and expand.

Education

EDUCATION

Goal 4 is all about education.

SDG 4.1 “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.  

One of the most fascinating things I learnt when visiting Nigeria was in a workshop with street children. When we asked them what was most important to them, education was their highest priority – above food, or shelter or protection. This really challenged my assumptions about children’s needs, and showed me that children recognise that access to education is essential to break cycles of poverty and violence.

We currently work with two partner schools in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States. Our Education for All project helps disadvantaged and stigmatised children, who would otherwise be denied an education, to attend school. We also support children’s access to education through our SAFEChild project, which supports former street children to attend school, and provides educational grants to help children who are living in poverty go to school. One of the problems we face is that although state primary education is in theory free, if children do not have the books, uniform and shoes required, the school can send them home. Poverty is a real barrier to children’s right to education.

Through these projects, in 2017 we are supporting nearly 100 children to go to school.

We also want to make sure our partners can continue to provide this support without relying on external funding. We are about half way through an exciting income-generation project, which will help our two partner schools to become financially sustainable. With the generous support from the Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission, we are working with the schools to develop businesses including snail and fish farms, and a new school hall which can be rented out for events. By the end of 2019, both schools should be generating themselves all the funds they need both to support access for disadvantaged children, and upgrade and extend their facilities.

Access To Justice

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

Another key part of Goal 16 is the principle of access to justice.

SDG 16.3 “Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all”

Our SAFEChild project also works to support children who have experienced abuse to gain justice, should they choose to do so. We provide free legal advice to the children and their families, we help them to report cases of abuse to the police, and we support them through all aspects of the court case – preparing the legal documents needed, advising them on the process, transporting them to court, and representing them. There isn’t a functioning legal aid system in Nigeria, sothis support is absolutely vital if these children are ever to receive justice for what has happened to them.

One of the problems that we face with this area of work is that the judicial system and the police are ineffective. The police often don’t have the knowledge or resources to properly investigate cases. Even when cases get to court, it can take years for the case to finally be heard, which is incredibly stressful for the children and their families. It also means the work is hugely resource intensive because we have to keep going back to court again and again until the case is finally heard.

One case we are currently pursuing involves the rape of a nine-year old child. Even though the suspect was arrested and charged quickly, the court hearings keep being adjourned – our legal team has had to attend court 17 times in the last 18 months, and we have still not had the judgement. And this case is relatively quick compared to some – we have cases of severe child rights abuse that have been ongoing in the courts for nearly four years.

But this legal work is having an effect. Our team made history by gaining the first ever successful prosecution for child rights abuse in the Family Court of Cross River State back in 2011, for a child who was burnt with a hot knife as a punishment for misbehaving. And we’ve had other legal successes since then in cases of sexual abuse, violence, and neglect. It takes perseverance, patience and resources – but it has a hugely positive effect. For the children, it is recognition that what has happened to them is wrong and is not tolerated. For the wider community, it strengthens the rule of law and demonstrates that children cannot be abused with impunity. This legal work is crucial in order to reduce and ultimately end abuse of children.

Day of the African Child

Every year, 16th June marks the Day of the African Child. This is a day that we, at Safe Child Africa have been celebrating for several years now. This year we will be marking the day with events in Nigeria including an inter-school debate on the use of corporal punishment, as well as a Q&A session where children can quiz representatives of local child rights groups, the government, UNICEF and the Children’s Parliament about how child rights should be protected.

The Day was first set up by the then Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) in 1991 in memory of the student uprising in Soweto, South Africa, where students marched in protest against the poor quality of education they received and demanded to be taught in their own languages. It is an occasion to both remember these children and to celebrate children in Africa, as well as a chance to lobby for action to address the challenges that African children still face.

Each year the Day has a different theme. This year it is focusing on the2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But what does this mean?

In September 2015, the UN agreed a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, intended to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. These were the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were eight anti-poverty targets that the world committed to achieving by 2015. Although the MDGs were not fully achieved, considerable progress was made, and so it is felt that having a unified agenda with clear targets would be hugely helpful in the fight against poverty and inequality. This is why the Agenda for Sustainable Development and its associated goals were agreed.

The focus of the Day of the African Child in 2017 is therefore to look at how these new Sustainable Development Goals can and should be used to uphold child rights. This blog series will talk about the ways that our projects contribute towards achieving these Goals and what else needs to be done.