Prolonged counterintuitive harmful traditional or non traditional practices underpinned by cultural norms, socially constructed attitudes and religious beliefs impedes children’s potential and threaten the well-being of families and communities .Vehemently, these practices have prohibitive and devastating consequences on the child’s cognitive development, health and educational potency.
While harmful practices against children have remained pervasive in regions worldwide, subsequently damages to children’s rights have been prevalent. Across regions children continue to suffer from hurtful forms of abuse with similar patterns which are approved within sectors of society.
Prevailing social and economic challenges in developing world coupled with the adverse impact of covid-19 have exposed existing harmful practices since its inception resulting in increased violation of children’s rights and vulnerability. Without access to essential prevention, protection and support services, the risk is further exacerbated.
In Africa hurtful traditions have persisted erratically, according to Africa union child marriage is highest in Western and Central Africa particularly in Burkina Faso, CAR, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Niger and South Sudan, where more than half of women and girls are married by the time that they turn 18.
Moreover, there are numerous harmful acts that are widespread across African countries such as female genital mutilation (FGM) forced marriage, honour killings, acid attacks, son preference, child prostitution, female infanticide, prenatal sex-selection and virginity testing, stoning, violent initiation rites, widowhood practices, accusations of witchcraft, incest and body modifications that are performed for beauty or marriageability of girls and women.
According to UNICEF some 650 million girls and women around the world today have been married as children, and over 200 million have been subjected to FGM.
Several international and regional commitments have been made to improve and advance the rights of children these include Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, the Maputo protocol and the Convention on the elimination of All Forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW).
In the recent past, African countries have made significant progress to lock in some of these harmful practices. According to United Nations, the African continent gender gap in primary school education has effectively closed and in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of unenrolled girls of primary school age decreased by 22 percent between 1990 and 2012.
The government of Zimbabwe has ratified many children’s rights instruments and in August 2020, the government took an important step to uphold girls’ right to education by amending the education Act to allow pregnant girls to attend classes and the marriage act of 2022 which criminalizes child marriages.
The Constitutional court (ConCourt) recently raised the age for sexual consent from 16 to 18, a move that further strengthens children’s rights instruments, protects underaged girls from sexual exploitation, and addresses the religious organizations that propagate these practices.
On 16th of June, the commemoration of the Day of the African Child was celebrated under the theme “Elimination of Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Advances in Policy and Practice Since2013”.
Numerous interventions programs have been put to place signifying commitment by both government and civil society organizations to measure progress, develop interventions programs aimed eliminating harmful practices against children, and deploy resources.
Cultivat8 Africa, a youth-led, non-discriminatory organization that promotes Africa’s empowerment and transformation by equipping youth with skills and knowledge, hosted a medium-sized roundtable focused on eliminating harmful practices against children. With the participation of various stakeholders including members of Miss Deaf Pride Zimbabwe Trust, Mwanasikana Wanhasi, ZNCWC, Union in Christ and University of Zimbabwe students.
The discussion aimed to identify harmful practices affecting children in Zimbabwe and to revitalize measures to protect and support affected children. Emilda Vhiriri Mahachi, director of Cultivat8 Africa explained the purpose of the roundtable in detail. “In addition to highlighting harmful practices affecting children, this platform serves to co-opt youth leaders into our pilot project, African Youth Action Takers (AYAT), which will focus on promoting young people into taking action”
In order to effectively achieve SDGs (3) ensuring healthy lives for all, (4) inclusive education and (5) gender equality, legislation needs to be supported by other efforts by civil society, non-profit organizations and religious and traditional leaders. Collective and inclusive discussions involving affected communities and capacity building of professionals working with children can be effective in achieving a unified, inclusive response to address harmful practices against children.