Protecting Children from Harmful Practices in Plural Legal Systems with a special emphasis in Africa

Across regions, millions of children continue to suffer from various forms of harmful practices, including female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, breast ironing, son preference, female infanticide, virginity testing, honour crimes, bonded labour, forced feeding and nutritional taboos, accusation of witchcraft, as well as a great number of other less known practices.

Harmful practices may be traditional or emerging, but generally have some cultural, social or religious underpinning. Common for most harmful practices is that they have devastating consequences on the child’s life, development, health, education and protection. 

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Safe and child-sensitive counselling, complaint and reporting mechanisms to address violence against children

Counselling, complaint and reporting mechanisms constitute critical remedies to address breaches of children’s rights, including violence in all its forms. Their development is anchored in international human rights standards and, in view of their urgency, the Brazil Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents called on their establishment in all countries by 2013. 

The need for safe, well-publicized, confidential and accessible mechanisms for children to report incidents of violence was also a serious area of concern addressed by the UN Study on Violence against Children. The Study recommended their establishment, including through telephone helplines which children can access to report abuse, speak to a trained counsellor in confidence, and ask for support and advice.

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Prevention and Responses to Violence against Children within the Juvenile Justice System

In its resolution 18/12 of 24 September 2011 on human rights in the administration of justice, in particular juvenile justice, the Human Rights Council invited the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children to collaborate in the organization of an expert consultation on prevention of and responses to violence against children within the juvenile justice system and to submit a report thereon.

The Expert Consultation took place in Vienna on 23-24 January 2012. It was hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and co-organized with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, in cooperation with the Government of Austria. Participants included representatives from international and regional human rights bodies,  governmental and State institutions, academia and civil society.

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Tackling Violence in Schools: Bridging the Gap between Standards and Practice

For child victims of violence, school can become an ordeal rather than an opportunity.

The promise and potential of education and the excitement of discovery and learning are undermined by pain, trauma and fear. In some cases children’s academic performance suffers, their health and wellbeing is affected, and their capacity to operate as confident individuals, capable of developing open and trusting relations with others, is compromised. The negative impact of violence in schools goes beyond the children who are directly affected by it. It touches the lives of those who witness it, creating an atmosphere of anxiety and insecurity incompatible with learning.

Recognizing the crucial importance of education in safeguarding children’s rights, and of violent-free schools as catalysts for non-violence in the communities that they serve, the Norwegian Government, the Council of Europe and my own office joined hands in the organization in June 2011, in Oslo, of an expert consultation on tackling violence in schools.

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Political Commitments by Regional Organizations and Institutions to prevent and Address Violence against Children

The collaboration with regional organizations and institutions to advance implementation of the recommendations of the UN Study on Violence against Children has been a critical dimension of this process.

In the past two years, considerable progress has been achieved in this area with a growing institutionalization of regional governance structures and the development of regional initiatives. Leading regional organizations and institutions have pledged to protect children from violence, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the League of Arab States, the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC), States in the Asia Pacific Region, the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), the MERCOSUR Permanent Commission Nin@sur, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the African Union and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

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