By Omar Bah
The Minister of Women, Gender, and Social Welfare has called for concerted efforts to protect and safeguard the rights of children in The Gambia as she vows the government’s uncompromising stance against child abuse.
Minister Fatou Kinteh made these remarks at the official launch of the second phase of the PAPEV project aimed at protecting children’s victims of human rights violations. Implemented by the Ministry of Gender in partnership with the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) West Africa Regional Office, the project is funded by the Italian Development Corporation Agency in Dakar, Senegal, and focuses on supporting the child protection systems in The Gambia.
Minister Kinteh said government is committed to doing all it takes to ensure the full protection of children living in The Gambia. She reminded the gathering that the protection of children requires the participation of all.
“We cannot leave it to the state alone or the schools or parents alone. A society where the rights of children are protected requires the efforts of everyone—policymakers, lawyers, teachers, parents, and everyone else,” she said.
She said the government has been working relentlessly over the years with CSOs to support and promote the rights of Gambian children.
“The government has also signed and rectified major international agreements aimed at protecting the rights of children. This includes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and many others,” she revealed.
Minister Kinteh highlighted that the project launched in 2019 has contributed immensely to strengthening the child protection systems in the Gambia.
“Together, we have worked and supported children in the streets, and we have supported many of them to return to their families. We will continue to monitor them as they are reintegrated into their homes and plan a support programme for them. We have also provided support to several child centres and strengthened the capacity of 200 care workers to ensure an effective childcare response,” Minister Kinteh said. She disclosed that the project has also supported the maintenance of 30 child centres and provided robust material and equipment to both to ensure quality care of children in the care centres. “We also ensured that children’s protection centres across the country are profiled and documented to provide policymakers with the tools to make informed decisions about children living in care centres, and the list goes on,” she said.
She said abuse of children in society is widespread and grossly underreported, adding that the protection of children requires the participation of all stakeholders.
“There is no other source that a country can boast of other than its children; children who are well groomed, protected, cared for, and provided with a loving home often have a lot to offer their generation and continue the development of their countries,” she said.
On the other side, Minister Kinteh added, a generation of abused and traumatised children will translate into a dysfunctional society.
A representative from the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) West Africa Regional Office, Robert Osani, said so much has been done during the first phase thanks to the commitment of the partners.
“As we celebrate the milestone registered with PAPEV phase one and as we are clear about all other actions taken by the Gambia to accelerate and promote the protection of the rights of children in this country, we are also mindful of the dynamic nature of the forces that facilitate or hinder the protection or promotion of the rights of children. Today, almost all the countries in West Africa, including the Gambia, have rectified and domesticated regional and international child instalments and continue to develop programmes to protect children’s rights; however, violence, exploitation, and abuse of children persist in homes, schools, streets, and care systems. Many children will continue to be exposed to various forms of violence, exploitation, and abuse, including sexual abuse, trafficking, FGM, bullying, and other harmful traditional practices.”
Roberts added that thousands of children suffered from abuse in The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Niger, and Mali.
He said The Gambia is considered a place of origin, transit, and destination of trafficking in person, with children making up the majority of the victims identified.
“Tourism in economies like that of The Gambia often presents a looming danger for children. In The Gambia, tourism-related sexual abuse of children is not uncommon,” he said.
The WHO resident representative, Dr Desta Tiruneh, said child protection is a common concern at all stages. He said the UN systems in The Gambia have created a framework to support the government, especially in the areas of the protection of children, adding that there is a need for concerted efforts from the international community and state and nonstate actors cannot be overemphasised. “The Gambia child protection laws should be implemented,” he said.
He commended the government for prioritising the fight against child abuse.