The African Charter on the Rights
and Welfare of the Child
“...the child, due to the needs of his physical and mental development requires
particular care with regard to health, physical, mental, moral and social development,
and requires legal protection in conditions of freedom, dignity and security”.
Preamble to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
In 1979, member states of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) adopted a
Declaration on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child.1 Eleven years later, in July
1990, an African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the African
Children’s Charter) - the first regional treaty on the human rights of the child - was
adopted by the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government. The African
Children’s Charter is a codification by member states of the OAU of the responsibilities
of the state, community and individual in the protection and promotion of the civil,
cultural, economic, political and social rights of the child. It is rooted in other human
rights treaties, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the
United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The African
Children’s Charter emerges out of the social and cultural values of Africa, including
those relating to family, community and society. It takes into consideration “the virtues
of their cultural heritage, historical background and values of the African civilization
which should inspire and characterize their reflections on the concept of the rights and
welfare of the child”.2
At the time when the African Children’s Charter was adopted, the OAU expressed
concern that “the situation of most African children, remains critical due to the unique
factors of their socio-economic, cultural, traditional and developmental circumstances,
natural disasters, armed conflicts, exploitation and hunger”.3 More than eight years after
the adoption of the treaty, these concerns are still relevant and require an urgent response
and long-term commitment.4
1AHG/ST.4.Rev.1, adopted by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU
at its Sixteenth Ordinary Session in Monrovia, Liberia, from 17 to 20 July 1979.
2Preamble to the African Children’s Charter.
4 For example, in its publication Overcoming Human Poverty, of October 1998, the UN
Development Programme (UNDP) records that thirty-eight countries of Africa have an income
definition of extreme poverty (that is indigence or destitution, usually specified as the inability to
satisfy even minimum food needs). It is estimated that there are approximately 80 million child
workers in the region at the present time, and that, in regard to educational attainment, over 30% of
children in sub-Saharan Africa never reach grade five (age 10). The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

The treaty
In some important respects, the African Children’s Charter builds upon international

human rights law and
standards, in particular the CRC, to strengthen the protection it
affords the child, defined in Article 1 as “every human being below the age of 18 years”.
States parties are to ensure that no child takes a direct part in hostilities
and refrain, in
particular, from recruiting any child (Article 22). Special treatment is to be provided for

expectant mothers and to mothers of infants and young children who are guilty of

infringing the penal law (Article 30). States parties are obliged
to discourage any custom,
tradition, cultural or religious practice that is inconsistent with the provisions of the treaty

(Article 1(3)) and to take measures to eliminate harmful social and cultural practices, in

particular those customs and practices whi
ch are prejudicial to the health or life of the
child and those which are discriminatory to the child on the grounds of sex or other status

(Article 21). Refugee and internally displaced children are accorded the same rights,

including appropriate protecti
on and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of all the
rights set out in the treaty (Article 23).

Once the African Children’s Charter enters into force, the compliance of states parties

will be monitored by an African Committee of Experts on the Right
s and Welfare of the
Child (the Committee), consisting of 11 members (Articles 32 and 33). A state party will

be required to report on the measures taken to give effect to the African Children’s

Charter within two years of its entry into force in respect o
f that state, and thereafter
every three years (Article 43).
6In addition, the Committee is empowered to receive
mplaints from any person, group or non-governmental organization recognized by the
OAU relating to any matter covered by the treaty (Article 44).
7The Committee is also
mandated to resort to any appropriate method of investigating matters falling within the

ambit of the treaty (Article 45).

The African Children’s Charter requires 15 ratifications/accessions to enter into force.
, eight years after its adoption, only 27 of the 53 member states of the OAU have
signed this important regional treaty, and 11 have ratified it. In stark contrast to this, the

CRC has been ratified by all African states except Somalia. Whilst this signifi
es the
willingness of African governments to assume international legal obligations to protect

and promote the rights of children, it does not excuse the failure of African governments

to ratify the regional instrument. As repeatedly argued by the OAU Secr
one of the objectives of adopting the African Children’s Charter was “to complement the

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to include African realities”, not to duplicate


Abuses of children’s rights

The reality for many African children is that their human rights are seriously violated
every day of their lives, with severe consequences which extend well beyond their

childhood and which pose a direct threat to peace, stability and development in Africa
During 1996, for example, 14 of the 53 member states of the OAU were afflicted by

armed conflict.
10That year, the OAU adopted a resolution which affirmed that the use of
children in armed conflicts constitutes a violation of their rights and should be cons
as a war crime.
11Yet, the participation of children as soldiers-described by Ms Graça
Machel as “ of the most alarming trends
in armed conflict”12-shows few signs of
decline. At the end of 1997, children under 18 years of age had been reported to

participate in either government or opposition forces, or both, in armed conflicts which

were on
-going or ceased during 1996 or 1997 in the following African countries: Algeria,
Angola, Burundi, Congo
-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia,
Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda.
13The UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at the beginning of 1998 in Africa,

there were 3,481,700 refugees
-16% of whom were under the age of 5-together with
some 1,694,000 internally displaced and other persons of concern, as well as 2,149,700

9The OAU recognized the link between respect for human rights, democracy and
development when it adopted the Declaration on the Political and Socio-Economic Situation and the
Fundamental Changes Taking Place in the World, Twenty-Sixth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of
Heads of State and Government, 9 to 11 July 1990, Ethiopia, AHG/Decl.1 (XXVI).

10The causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in
Africa, report of the UN Secretary-General, A/52/871, 13 April 1998.

11Resolution 1659 (LXIV) on the Plight of African Children in Situations of Armed
Conflicts, adopted by the Council of Ministers of the OAU in July 1996, Yaounde, Cameroon. At the
time of writing, twenty OAU member states have signed the Statute of a permanent International
Criminal Court which will have jurisdiction to prosecute persons charged with war crimes, genocide,
aggression, and crimes against humanity. Included in the list of war crimes in international armed
conflicts is “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into national armed forces
or using them to participate actively in hostilities”, and in the case of an internal armed conflict,
“conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into armed forces or groups using
them to participate actively in hostilities”. Member states of the UN are also drafting an Optional
Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to raise the age currently contained in
Article 38 of that treaty from 15 to 18 years as the minimum age for recruitment (voluntary or
compulsory) into armed forces and participation in hostilities.

12Impact of armed conflict on children: report of the expert of the UN Secretary-General, Ms
Graca Machel, A/51/306, 26 August 1996.Subsequently, the UN Secretary-General appointed Olara
Otunnu as Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict on 1 September 1997.

13Source: Rädda Barnen, Stop Using Child Soldiers!, published by the Coalition to Stop the
Use of Child Soldiers, 1998.

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