The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC)
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (also called the ACRWC or Children’s Charter) was adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1990 (in 2001, the OAU legally became the African Union) and was entered into force in 1999.
Like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Children’s Charter is a comprehensive instrument that sets out rights and defines universal principles and norms for the status of children. The ACRWC and the CRC are the only international and regional human rights treaties that cover the whole spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
It calls for the creation of an African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee of Experts). Its mission is to promote and protect the rights established by the ACRWC, to practice applying these rights, and to interpret the disposition of the ACRWC as required of party states, African Union (AU) institutions, or all other institutions recognized by AU or by a member state.
Focus on Children’s Right in Africa
Children in Africa are affected by many different types of abuse, including economic and sexual exploitation, gender discrimination in education and access to health, and their involvement in armed conflict. Other factors affecting African children include migration, early marriage, differences between urban and rural areas, child-headed households, street children and poverty. Furthermore, child workers in Sub-Saharan Africa account for about 80 million children or 4 out of every 10 children under 14 years old which is the highest child labour rate in the world.
The ACRWC defines a “child” as a human being below the age of 18 years. It recognises the child’s unique and privileged place in African society and that African children need protection and special care. It also acknowledges that children are entitled to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, thought, religion, and conscience. It aims to protect the private life of the child and safeguard the child against all forms of economic exploitation and against work that is hazardous, interferes with the child’s education, or compromises his or her health or physical, social, mental, spiritual, and moral development. It calls for protection against abuse and bad treatment, negative social and cultural practices, all forms of exploitation or sexual abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation, and illegal drug use. It aims to prevent the sale and trafficking of children, kidnapping and begging of children.
Children’s Charter VS. Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Children’s Charter originated because the member states of the AU believed that the CRC missed important socio-cultural and economic realities particular to Africa. It emphasises the need to include African cultural values and experiences when dealing with the rights of the child in such as:
- Challenging traditional African views which often conflict with children’s rights such as child marriage, parental rights and obligations towards their children, and children born out of wedlock;
- Expressly saying that the Children’s Charter is higher than any custom, tradition, cultural or religious practice that doesn’t fit with the rights, duties and obligations in the Charter;
- The Children’s Charter has a clearer definition of the child as a person aged under 18 years old;
- Outright prohibition on the recruitment of children (i.e. under 18 years old) in armed conflict and deals with conscription of children into the armed forces;
- Prohibiting marriages or betrothals involving children;
- Prohibiting the use of children as beggars;
- Granting girls the right to return to school after pregnancy;
- Promoting affirmative action for girls’ education;
- Tackling specific African issues that affect children. For example, it called for the confrontation and abolishment of apartheid and similar systems; and although, apartheid is now over, this provision is still applicable to children living under regimes practicing ethnic, religious or other forms of discrimination;
- Protecting internally displaced and refugee children;
- Protecting imprisoned expectant mothers and mothers of infants and young children;
- Providing a way for children themselves to petition the Children’s Charter’s Committee of Experts regarding infringements of their rights;
- Including special reference to care of the child by extended families;
- Encouraging the state to provide support for parents “in times of need”;
- Protecting handicapped children.
- The fundamental principles guiding the implementation of these rights include:
- The best interests of the child;
- The life, survival, and development of the child;
- Child participation;
- Providing for the responsibilities that every child has with regard to their and society, the state and the international community.