The Children’s Rights Unit was established in 2013 as the Centre’s focal point on matters of the rights of children. The Unit works through research, advocacy, and training, to contribute to the regional discourse on the rights of children in Africa and beyond. In line with the Centre’s mission, the work of the Unit has a pan-African reach, while seeking to foster a contextually relevant understanding of global issues and concerns to children in Africa. The Unit provides an essential bridge between academic research and evidence-based advocacy in the African region.
Areas of work
In terms of research, the Unit has hosted a number of research projects on aspects of children’s rights. Past projects have paid particular attention to the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in African countries and on the impact of the reporting to child-focused treaty bodies on the realisation of children’s rights in Africa. Additional areas of research interest include the rights of children in the digital space, child participation, and adolescent sexual and reproductive rights.
To contribute towards capacity strengthening, the Centre organises an annual advanced short course on the rights of children in Africa. The course is highly subscribed and has so far trained a sizeable number of researchers, practitioners, government workers, employees of intergovernmental agencies and institutions, as well as non-governmental organisations dealing with children’s rights across the continent. The aim of the training is to facilitate knowledge and skills building for key child rights actors in the region, and therefore to contribute to the establishment of a competent and vibrant community of practice on matters affecting children in Africa and beyond.
The Unit’s advocacy initiatives are aimed at influencing laws, policies, mindsets, attitudes, behaviour and practice at national and regional levels to improve the promotion and protection of the rights of children. The Unit’s initiatives in this regard, therefore, include actively engaging with African human rights institutions on emerging issues affecting children in the region, especially the African Children’s Committee, with which the Centre has had Observer Status since 2017. Specific initiatives in this regard include instituting communications before the Committee as in the case concerning the plight of the Talibé children of Senegal, attendance and participation at the Sessions of the Committee, placement of interns to the Committee, and providing research briefs on specific issues of concern at the request of the Committee. The Unit also convenes and participates in regional forums on children’s rights, such as representing the Centre at the CSO Forum for the African Children’s Committee.
The Unit also contributes to the Centre's academic programmes in various ways including hosting a Children’s Rights Clinic under the Master's programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa (HRDA). The clinic, which comprises of a group of 3 – 4 students focusing on child rights, is integrated into the Unit for the period and works on diverse emerging issues which are ultimately integrated into the research or advocacy agenda of the Unit and the Centre.
The Children’s Rights Unit is a pan-African platform established to carry out and support pan-African research in children’s rights, provide capacity strengthening training for government, intergovernmental and non-governmental institutions and organisations, as well as advocate for the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Africa.
So far, the Unit has carried out researchh on the impact of reporting on the realisation of children’s rights in Africa and is currently carrying out a second research project on the extent of implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in five countries across the continent. In the area of capacity strengthening, the Centre organises an advanced short course in children’s rights which has so far trained a great number of child researchers and practitioners across the continent. In the area of advocacy, the Unit, in collaboration with other organisations which partner with the Centre, has litigated two complaints before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC).
The Children’s Rights Unit also aims to undertake to follow up on the implementation of the decisions rendered by the Committee in respect of two communications submitted by the Centre, in collaboration with its partners: the decision on the situation of children in Northern Uganda and the decision on the Senegal Talibé children. Through the Children’s Rights Unit, the Centre intends further to undertake to follow up on the Concluding Observations issued by the Committee in response to South Africa’s Initial Country Report on the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Collaboration between the Centre and the ACERWC
In December 2017, during the 30th Ordinary Session of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the Committee), the Centre for Human Rights was granted observer status with the Committee. Although this date formalised the relationship between the Centre and the Committee, the collaboration between the two institutions precedes this date, being founded on a commonality of goals and aspirations, which could be summarized as follows: to contribute to the realisation of children’s rights on the continent.
The Centre has brought two communications before the Committee: the communication against the Government of Uganda concerning children involved in armed conflict and the communication against the Government of Senegal concerning the Talibé children involved in begging. The Centre also took active part and had a presentation in the implementation hearing in connection to the Talibé case, in Lesotho, during the 29th Ordinary Session of the Committee. The Centre coordinated the research that led to the adoption of the Joint General Comment No 4 with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, with which the Centre enjoys observer status as well.
The Children’s Rights Unit has established valuable relationships and partnerships in the course of its existence. While some of these are project-specific, others are wider and more robust. Of note in this regard is the Unit’s partnership with the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, and the Children’s Rights Project of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape.