Today brings a lot of memories to mind after 27 years since World leaders made a historic and genuine pledge to protect children from all forms of exploitation and abuse. November 20 of each is a time to solemnly reflect on issues confronting children worldwide, raise awareness about those issues, and act with sincerity and dedication to find lasting remedy to those issues.
As a student leader and a youth activist, I am elated to form part of this event, but I am also sad, because even as I speak, dozens of children around the world are being abused and exploited by cruel elements. The world is yet to find a more concrete and sustainable cure to child labor, force marriage, teenage pregnancy, rape, sexual harassment, infant mortality, child prostitution, sex trafficking, kidnapping, child pornography, neglect and the forceful recruitment of children as soldiers.
After 27 years since the adoption of the CRC by the United Nations in November 1989, millions of children worldwide are still entrapped and confronted by these painful realities and visible cruelties. Even though some gains have been made in specific areas of protecting the rights of children, but more needs to be done in order to make our world free of child abuse and exploitation.
I want to make this passionate appeal to governments around the world to step up their action against all forms of child abuse. The insistent enforcement of the 54 articles that are enshrined within the UNCRC could find lasting solution to prevailing nightmares. The 196 countries that have signed this instrument must go beyond just signing to ensure the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of race, religion, culture, and economic status.
Bringing an end to violence against children is possible, but only if nations and the human race unite in words and action. Speaking out against force marriage, child prostitution and rape is good, but speaking out and acting against these crimes and their culprits is better. Impunity must give way to Justice! It is not enough for us to assemble in Monrovia every year at such a colorful program and deliver inspiring speeches. We must add value to these speeches by stepping up our action against every form of child abuse. Children too deserve to live with dignity, respect and pride!!
The highest form of injustice is to sit in our comfort zones and allow violence against children to prevail. According to Human Rights Watch, approximately 300,000 children are combatants worldwide while nearly half a million of them serve in armies that are not currently at war. 11 children below age 5 die every minute according to UNICEF. Around 63 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 years are denied their right to an education. In sub-Saharan Africa, 4 in 10 girls marry before age 18.
In least developed countries, nearly one in four children from age 5 to 14 is engaged in labor that is considered detrimental to their health and development. At least 200 million girls and women have been cut (FGM) in 30 countries. Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. I could go on outlining more of these unbearable realities, but I hope these scaring statistics will provoke all of us to take a step further in order to end violence against children.
It is time for world leaders to reconsolidate their effort and redesign robust strategies to guarantee the ultimate survival, development, protection and participation of every child. Whenever they (world leaders) do not act to prevent children from teenage pregnancy, force marriage, child labor, child prostitution, sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation, they defeat the actual purpose of November 20. The vigorous pursuit of reducing violence against children through a concrete pro-children agenda is fundamental.
The families, parents, communities, schools, religious and civil society organizations have an essential role to play in ending violence against women. They must collaborate with the State in order to curb awful issues confronting children. If all of us take responsibility to protect the rights of every child, a future of unhindered prosperity would be an undeniable reality globally. If each of us could contribute to a child’s education in whatever little way, the rate of global illiteracy could reduce sharply in the next 15 years.
Today, wherever you are, I crave your indulgence to do something positive and rewarding to rescue a child from poverty and violence. Together, we can make the dream of millions of hopeless children come alive. Even in the midst of despair, we can defeat the most difficult odds that continue to hinder the proper growth and development of children worldwide. We must not allow teenage pregnancy, force marriage and child prostitution to win us at the battlefield. It is time to refill our ammunitions with sophisticated bullets in order to gun down rape and all forms of sexual violence against children.
Today, the world is besieged by evil geniuses who see children as beasts of burden or inanimate creatures. We must prove them wrong by standing in the gap and advancing the best interest of every child. We must advocate against ancient practices that undermine the dignity of children. We cannot overemphasize the need to strengthen and enforce existing laws that protect the rights of every child. We must support NGOs, INGOs, CSOs and CBOs that continue to promote the welfare of children. If we fail to stand up for children, then it means that celebrating this day every year is useless. If we fail to stand up for them today, then it means that we have no tomorrow.
I guess some of you already know those harsh realities confronting children across Liberia, but today I want to remind all of us about where Liberia is after 27 years since the UNCRC was adopted in November 1989. As a proponent of child’s rights and youth’s rights in Liberia, I thought it prudent to reawaken our courage and renew our commitment to combating violence against children in Liberia and elsewhere. With this sense of obligation bestowed upon me as keynote speaker, I have come to ask all of us to reaffirm our pledge we signed up to, which is enshrined within the CRC.
Liberia, which is a signatory to the UNCRC, must live up to its promise and solemn responsibility. But the question all of us (Liberians) need to answer after 27 years of pledging our unflinching loyalty to protecting the rights and welfare of children across Liberia is that “Are Liberian children really protected in accordance with what the 54 articles of the CRC say?” The bold and hard response to this inquiry is NO!! The children of Liberia are among the most vulnerable, the most abused and the most neglected group of children on earth. This is the hard truth that must be said, even if it hurts.
Some people may not want to hear what I am saying, probably because of they link or alignment, but what good it is for us to ignore these facts and run from our own shadows. Are we not aware that force marriage is still permeating our society? Are we not aware that rape continues to hunt and stigmatize our daughters, sisters and nieces? Aren’t we cognizant of the fact that child labor and child prostitution are on the increase? I can continue calling the roll, but what matters now is for all of us to work harder and put an end to these harsh realities.
Today, more than 62 million girls around the world are out of school, and Africa accounts for a good portion of this number. More than half a million children, mainly girls, are out of school in Liberia according to UNICEF. It will interest you to know that net enrollment rate in primary schools is 46%. While net enrollment rate for boys is 61.41%, girls account for 34.12%. The number of dropouts in Liberian schools is high, with 65% accounting for boys and 73% for girls. These students drop out of school before even reaching 5th grade. This is something policymakers and higher-ups need to take into serious consideration. We cannot hope for a prosperous Liberia when our children are out of school. If they are our future, we must do all we can to give them quality education and protect their welfare.
Rape is becoming a culture in Liberia. If swift action is not taken to prevent this stigmatizing threat, Liberia is doomed. In 2014, Liberia had a total of 554 rape cases. Recently, the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection reported that about 731 children were raped and sexually abused between January and March 2016. Aren’t these statistics provoking? Off course, they are!
Teenage pregnancy is another harsh reality facing our country. The rate of teenage pregnancy in Liberia is at 38%, according to UNFPA. The rate of child prostitution in Liberia is also growing exponentially. Liberian girls below the age of 17 years are found in night clubs prostituting themselves, least to mention smoking, alcohol and drug abuse. We must rescue our children from destroying themselves in such manner. The government has a leading role to play. But too often corruption and fiscal indiscipline in public service are challenging factors to our collective fight against harsh realities.
When resources are made available through budgetary allotment, loan, financial aid and grant to combat violence against children, it is sad that a good portion of those resources are diverted, misused and embezzled. If our government is serious about ending violence against children, it must institute a solid framework of transparency and accountability. In tears, I am constrained to question the sincerity of our leaders about those promises they made to Liberian children in the 2011 Children’s Law of Liberia. Even though some progress has been made, but this progress remains subservient to the rising challenges facing children across Liberia.
As we observe UNCRC at 27, I encourage all of us to step-up our action against all forms of violence against children. I encourage our government and its partners to do more. I believe that Liberia can rise above rape, teenage pregnancy, force marriage, child labor and child prostitution in the next 15 years. It is possible in our lifetime.
This is an extract of a speech I delivered in Monrovia in Observance of the 27th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC).
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