Nikhil Roy, Anti-Slavery International
Roger Hart, Children's Environment Research Group
Chikonde Chiweze, Malawi
Gordon Oyoo, Kenya.
Marie Staunton, Plan International
While statutory intervention should guarantee the widest coverage, difficulties in reaching rural populations or oversight of particular groups may mean that effective delivery of certain forms of social protection to the most vulnerable can only be assured by local communities. This session identified the community support institutions and mechanisms that deliver social protection for children most effectively, in addition to the challenges posed by the impact of HIV/AIDS, the potential reinforcement of gender inequalities and the potential for community exclusion to hinder the delivery of social protection to those in greatest need will be explored. Rather than just being seen as beneficiaries, how can children and young people effectively participate in community-delivered social protection?
1. Chikondi Chiweza identified from her own experiences, corruption, lack of education, inequality, fear, disability and AIDS as barriers to community level social protection for children.
She expressed particular concern about the denial of educational opportunities to girl children which resulted in low self-esteem. She outlined inequalities created by the preferential access to the benefits of aid by those closest to the chief in rural areas, mirrored in urban areas by the greater access to school materials by the children of teachers.
2. George Oyoo spoke from his personal experience as an orphan who had assumed responsibility for himself and his siblings at a young age. He argued that community social protection offered opportunities for peer education but would be strengthened by community information centres.
In particular young people had a role in challenging detrimental community traditions such as gender bias. He strongly advocated for young people's access to education and stressed the importance of children's opportunities to interact with other children. He argued that national level children's and youth parliaments helped monitor and reduce corruption levels.
3. Nikhil Roy identified child trafficking as one of the worst forms of child labour and outlined different forms of child exploitation: sex, domestic work, begging, early marriages, adoption and use of organs. Poverty, low school enrolment, and low birth registration made children particularly vulnerable to trafficking.
4. Anti-Slavery International's work in West Africa identified strategies that included children in social protection: visited children's meeting places, went door to door, involved former victims, and set up hotlines for exploited children. Children came together in focus groups and learnt about their rights. Communities addressed the issues with parents, teachers, employers and community workers. Cases were highlighted in the media. They established vigilance committees and tackled poverty through micro-credit, employment generation and other programmes.
5. Nikhil Roy argued that child exploitation and trafficking went beyond the community. He concluded that poverty alleviation was key and demanded political will for change among both governments and donors.
6. Roger Hart argued that there were limits to children's successful participation in social protection projects. He identified a tension between protection and participation rights as contained within the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and argued that the African Charter for Children's Rights resulted from resistance within African countries to the notion of children's participation contained within the CRC.
7. He argued that traditional community forms of protection needed promotion and that the CRC should had developed from the bottom-up, from traditional bills of rights, rather than imposed from the top-down, in the form of international standards.
8. The CRC participation clause outlined the substantive right of all children to have their views heard. Hart argued that children's voice was fundamental to justice and that adults could not be relied upon to assert children's issues and rights. He concluded that children's rights were not recognised because of formalised roles and relations within communities. Arguments for child participation linked rights to duties: where children had responsibility for the care of their siblings they should have the right to a say. He stressed the need for intergenerational discussion in which parents and grandparents reflected on their own childhood and were facilitated to think more horizontally about children's roles and rights.
9. During discussion the young presenters agreed the need for child empowerment and intergenerational dialogue in addition to children's dialogue with peers in spaces where they are not controlled by adults. There was some discussion of whether children's attitudes changed as they entered adulthood.
10. Exploitative child labour was debated. Concern was expressed about work that would fall within the ILO definition but seen by some as a necessary part of their training for adulthood and contribution to the household. There was no consensus, but agreement that children had a role within their broader relations and households.
11. The influence of foreign values was discussed. Had their imposition disrupted and undermined traditional community institutions? In the context of community dispute resolution mechanisms, it was acknowledged that cultural change had taken place and that community dialogues that involved all members were needed. The diversity and complexity of Africa was stressed, which made generalised statements difficult.
12. The types of community mechanisms needed to implement the CRC were discussed. Government level implementation had tended to take centre stage but abuses tended to happen at the local community level. The importance of linking community initiatives with government policy was highlighted. Ombudsmen working with communities were one suggestion.