All member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have agreed to a range of concrete measures to protect millions of children from violence, abuse and exploitation across West African countries.
The decision to protect the children was made at the ECOWAS First Ladies’ Forum which took place between 2nd and 5th October.
A statement from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said, in doing so, the Ministers from all members States are committing to concrete measures to protect children from the most damaging forms of abuse, by focusing on five priority areas: sexual, physical and emotional violence against children, including female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C); child marriage; child labour; civil registration and vital statistics; and children on the move.
The Forum by the ECOWAS Commission, the Strategic Framework was developed in collaboration with a Regional Child Protection Working Group comprised of United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations and networks.
"Almost nine out of 10 children in West Africa experience violent discipline. While child marriage exists throughout the continent, it is especially prevalent in West Africa, which hosts six out of the ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world: about four in 10 young women in West Africa were married off as children. Less than one in two children in West Africa have a birth certificate, which is their basic right to an identity. In addition, the region is the theatre of complex migration routes where children are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation."
ECOWAS ‘ Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr Fatimata Dia Sow said, the Ministerial adoption marks a major step forward for the protection of children in our region adding that they stand together more strongly than ever to ensure children are safe and protected.
"With the right framework, the right actions, the right resources and the right positive changes in attitudes and practices, we can ensure they have an opportunity to fully contribute to our societies.”
She added that strong child protection systems can ensure that no child falls between the cracks. "They provide the surest safeguards against child abuse, neglect, exploitation and other forms of violence through a concerted effort between formal and informal actors."
The Chair of the Regional Child Protection Working Group. Andrew Brooks said, in West Africa, urgent action is needed to address the acute vulnerabilities of children.
“We count on the commitment shown by the Ministers being echoed and supported by the Heads of States and the First Ladies’ network in West Africa. We will continue to support States to strengthen services on the ground and the ECOWAS Commission in tracking accountabilities to commitments made here today.”