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Why the SADC Needs a Children’s Protocol

By Musa Chibwana


A Protocol is a legally binding document committing Member States to the objectives and specific procedures stated within it. In order for a Protocol to enter in to force, two thirds of the Member States need to ratify or sign the agreement, giving formal consent and making the document officially valid. Any Member State that had not initially become party to a Protocol can accede to it at a later stage.


One generation on, very little substantive change has taken place in the lives of southern African children despite the ratification by most countries of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). The region is rife with child rights violations which have proceeded despite the well couched ACRWC and the UNCRC which governments have signed.

Despite these measures, children in Southern Africa still die of preventable diseases, hunger and children grow up in poverty. Most countries in Southern Africa are not on course in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with most having a great effect on children.

This provokes the question; do we not need another instrument? Indeed a new instrument is needful and it has to be the one that will deliver specifically on the rights and the welfare of children in Southern Africa.


  1. The rationale for a Child Rights Protocol lies in the evident lack of progress by most SADC countries in meeting targets set under non-binding agreements like the UNCRC and the ACRWC.
  2. The Child Rights Protocol should be considered as important to move the region from an era of paying lip service to member states’ regional commitments into one in which they will be compelled to act through the process of an obligatory, action-oriented child rights framework.
  3. Such a framework will require the support of various instruments already in force; but, because of their number and scope, their content needs to be consolidated into one, comprehensive document – which will be the Protocol. This not only will ensure clarity of normative expectation, it will also permit the inclusion of and focus on region-specific child rights violations.
  4. Thus, the Child Rights Protocol will result in increased accountability among member states both regionally and domestically.
  5. Since the SADC Orphans and Vulnerable Children and Youth Strategy of 2009-2015 is expiring, the child rights movement can take advantage of the momentum which this initiative achieved so that the next level be to come up with a more binding regional framework. The development of the SADC Children’s Protocol will tap into the experiences and observations obtained from implementing the SADC Minimum Package of Services for Orphans and Vulnerable Children and Youth for the realisations of children’s rights.
  6. The Child Rights Protocol will take the region a step closer to finding home-grown, concrete ways of fulfilling children’s rights in all the 15 member countries of SADC. Current instruments are generic and they do not have measurable standards which countries have to observe. This explains why the situation of children has barely changed despite the ratification of the UNCRC and the ACRWC.
  7. The Child Rights Protocol will both be a policy document and an implementation framework for the realisation of children’s rights. Since it will be binding, member states will have an obligation to fulfil its dictates.
  8. By creating common normative standards, the Protocol will empower policymakers, service-delivery institutions, child rights activists, and children as rights holders with the legal tools to demand and claim for the promotion, protection and respect of children’s rights.
  9. The Protocol will provide for setting of specific targets and time frames in which provisions of children’s rights will be realised. The Protocol will institute a monitoring and evaluation mechanism for measuring progress.
  10. Implementing the provisions of the Protocol should lead to more measurable, comprehensive, relevant and sustainable change across the region. It will create an imperative for taking immediate action.
  11. The hope is that this fresh approach will result in milestones being achieved after a stalemate that seems to have characterised attempts in the sub-region to move beyond the many commitments made on paper. The revised approach specifically means that SADC states will now be legally bound to speed up efforts towards the fulfilment of children’s rights.
  12. The Protocol will articulate, in a more nuanced and peculiarly southern African way, a number of child rights violations while proffering practical ways of addressing such violations, particularly in the area of child protection.
  13. The Protocol will contain some clear enforcement mechanisms. These mechanisms also need to exist at both the domestic and regional levels.


Children constitute more than 45% of the Southern Africa population. It is imperative for the region to give special attention to the aspirations and rights of such a significant population.

Even though the member countries have done well in ratifying child rights instruments like the UNCRC and the ACRWC, the ratification has barely made children to realise their rights. The region is still bedevilled by a myriad of challenges for children leading to questions being asked whether the already ratified instruments are enough.

The call for a Child Rights Protocol at SADC level is a statement to member states that there is need to set normative standards for the realisation of child rights. The Protocol will not be an end in itself; it will provide impetus to member states to fulfil their obligations as duty bearers for children’s rights. It will provide a premise for children as rights claimers and those in solidarity with them to demand for the fulfilment of their rights


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