Ugandans are challenged to pay attention to children, who are often left behind in planning and development processes.
CHILDREN CAN AID DEVELOPMENT
By Justine Nakiwala
This Saturday, June 16, 2018, Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate the Day of African Child under the theme "Leave No Child Behind in Africa's Development."
Beyond the commemoration, the Day of African Child calls for appreciation and commitments towards addressing the numerous issues impacting children in Africa. In Uganda, this day is marked to reflect on actions different stakeholders are taking to advance the rights of children and re-affirm their agency as critical stakeholders in development.
Reflecting on this year's theme, Ugandans are challenged to pay attention to children often left behind in planning and development processes. Children living with HIV, Street Children, orphans, children in conflict situations, children living with disability, unregistered children at birth, adolescent girls, and children in rural areas, are among the vulnerable groups of children we need to place at the center of our development agenda.
Uganda has remarkably achieved a number of milestones towards advancing children's rights. The introduction of Universal Primary Education Scheme that has led to high levels of school enrolment up to 96%; with equal enrolment of boys and girls.
The ratification and domestication of the international and regional frameworks including the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (1990) that comprehensively guarantees the rights of children. This coupled with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda development framework that seeks to leave no one behind, only re-affirms government's commitment to advancing the rights of children in Uganda.
The Children's Act Amendment 2016, the approval of the National Integrated Early Childhood policy, Government mandated ( 2016) the transformation of the National Children's Council to the National Children's Authority, giving it more autonomy and hence more influencing power to steer greater investment towards child rights fulfillment.
Despite such commendable efforts by government towards advancement of children's rights in Uganda, the participation of many children particularly girls in the country's development agenda is pushed to the edge due to social economic and political issues that undermine their rights in various ways.
One third of all children out of school in Uganda are children with disabilities. Pre-primary (3-5 years) enrolment rates are still low - especially among vulnerable children living in rural and post-conflict areas, as well as disadvantaged communities. Child trafficking, defilement, kidnapping and murder practices are on the rise. Uganda is currently hosting millions of children affected by the internal and neighboring conflicts.
Millions of young girls still face deep-rooted inequalities and violations of their rights on a daily basis which ultimately leave them out of the development agenda. Teenage pregnancy stands at 25%, sexual debut is estimated at 16.7 years, 15% girls are married by the age of 15 and 49% by age 18. 23% of girls are either absent or drop out of school due to Menstrual Hygiene Management challenges.
Adolescent girls in conflict and emergency situations are even more vulnerable as they are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, compromising their future prospects for work and financial independence as adults.
In Kampala alone, 80% of girls report feeling unsafe in public spaces particularly in markets, on the streets and in recreational centres due to high incidences of rape, defilement and theft. These and more inequalities faced by girls ruin any aspirations for sustainable and inclusive national development.
Failing to invest in essential services and protection for all children does not only deny them of their rights but gravely impacts on our economy as we incur higher costs in terms of low human capital development, loss of lives, wasted potential and reduced productivity.
As we commemorate the Day of African Child, any attempt to achieve national development goals should among others address the above bottlenecks by ensuring that all children in their respective capacities are strategically planned for, their rights protected and respected.
There should be deliberate allocation of sufficient budget by government to implement legal and policy obligations relating to children. As stakeholders in the advancement of children's rights, we should all endeavor to create safe and inclusive cities for children particularly young girls, as well as invest in awareness-raising about children as rights holders and the laws that protect them from violence.
If parents would complement government efforts by providing their children with the necessary scholastic materials, food, and sanitary towels, this will go a long way into increasing the number of girls that enroll, stay and complete school.
During the seven years that Plan International has conducted the "Because I Am A Girl" campaign and produced ground-breaking reports, it has become clear that participation of girls in the development agenda sets a direct path towards poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.
To achieve this goal both the private and public sector need to invest in programmes that empower girls to become much more productive hence breaking the intergenerational poverty and causing social change.
Justine Nakiwala is the communications manager at Plan International Uganda