By Essa Njie
It may surprise some why this topic is reappearing on this column after discussing it barely two months ago. But the gravity of such violations of the rights of children warrants me to write on the same topic. While one goes round the streets, the future seems hopeless that the cream of our society is exploited many at times by their very parents; that our children have become routine beggars. Instead of decreasing, these dilemmas are on the increase base on anecdotal evidence. I will re-echo virtually the same message while urging the government under your leadership to act swiftly. Child labour and begging indeed constitute violation of the rights of children. As a result, urgent and stringent measures are needed to put an immediate stop to such violations.
The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that: is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
The Gambia as a member of the international community has signed and ratified various regional and international conventions/treaties related to the rights and welfare of children including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and as a country, these treaties have been domesticated giving birth to the Children’s Act. As part of the Universal Periodic Review, the Gambia’s human rights report always receives recommendations just as other countries. Have these recommendations been put into serious consideration as far as their implementations are concern? Remember, a law will always be useless without implementation when it continues to be violated.
Today, one of the greatest threats to the rights, welfare and well-being of children in many African societies, particularly the Gambia is child labour and begging.
This is manifested in different forms including children being sent by their parents to sell in the streets, especially during the summer break when schools are closed. It must be known clearly that no religion or culture puts the responsibility on a child to feed a family. Instead the sole responsibility is on the parents to provide for the children. Some young girls have been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual abuse as a result of street selling. These further result in child prostitution which entirely affects the welfare and development of the child. As the so-called tourist season booms, our children are unsafe. Young girls under the age of 18 are selling on the beaches on a daily basis without any form of protection.
Inasmuch as one is willing to produce children, he/she must be fully prepared to take the responsibility of providing food, clothing, and accommodation for them and of course educate them which are fundamental human rights as encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10th December 1948. Sadly, we live in a society today where some parents share the responsibility of taking care of their families with the children or even put it on them entirely. Such children are routinely seen selling in the streets, on the beaches, hotels etc just to earn a living. Certainly poverty cannot be accused of being responsible for this. All parents must realise that they have a duty towards the welfare and development of their children and must fulfil that responsibility. As a matter of fact, culture is being used as a cloak by certain parents to dodge away from responsibility. Today, certain children are being denied the right to education not by the government but by parents. Such children are not only subjected to street selling, but have also become frequent beggars in various locations, especially on the Kairaba Avenue, Westfield and surrounding areas.
Equally, some under the age of 15 are also working as apprentices in commercial vehicles. The question is; what future is society building for such children? We must understand that the surest way to change the trajectories of our society is to prepare a better future for our children and generations unborn. As a result, the government under your leadership must take the sole responsibility of fully implementing various international conventions related to the promotion of the rights of children and ensure that child labour and begging become history in the Gambia. It is a fact that very good laws are in place, but proper enforcement mechanisms must equally be put in place to save the future of our children and live in a decent society.
Yours in the service of the nation.