Delivering on the SDGs with Regard to Children’s Rights

By Musa Chibwana

So the SDGs were launched by the UN after a couple of years debating their framing and coverage.

The 17 goals and 169 targets seek to take over from where the MDGs left off while addressing the gaps that were identified. Here are my observations and prognosis:

The SDGs do well to address key systemic barriers to sustainable development such as inequality, unsustainable consumption patterns, weak institutional capacity and environmental degradation which the MDGs did not pay attention to.

Since we are now thinking of implementation at national level, there seem to be overlaps amongst the goals.

SDG 1 on ending poverty in all its forms (greater progress in framing than end extreme poverty as was previously framed) cannot be achieved without achievement of SDG 2 on food security and SDG8 on macroeconomic policies related to targets on full and productive employment and decent work. The foregoing will rely on SDG 10 as well on reduction of inequality, which is related to enhancing resilience to climate change – SDG13. Overall, the success of all the foregoing will lead to better health and wellbeing thereby contributing to SDG3.

What am I saying? While there are 17 Goals in total, civil society has to work with its government in prioritising in view of the overlaps that exist. The prioritising should however not leave the governments in their comfort zones, but should stretch them to do more.

One of the major challenges with the SDG framing is that it does not identify the various social groups which the governments have to mobilise in delivering the goals. As civil society, we have to claim that space in both complementing and holding the governments accountable – it will not be given to us as we have seen with the SDGs!

You may be wondering like I am, these are 17 Goals, but the question is, what is the ideal picture that we see when all of them are achieved? The succinct overall goal or vision to be achieved is missing from the framing. What are the 17 goals feeding into? This has to be interpreted since it is not readily provided with the goals.

These goals are not coming into vacuum; the governments have their own development plans some of which are going to end, for example, in five years or two years. In this case, where do the SDGs come in at national level? It is our prerogative as civil society to engage with our governments so that the SDGs are mainstreamed into the existing development agendas. We should avoid SDG orphan hood (child protection people would know about this better!) where the country does not adopt any of the goals under the pretext that they have their vision 2020. I’m sure there are linkages that can be identified so that the national development plans fit into the global development framework or vice versa.

It has been estimated that the full realisation of the SDGs will require USD1 trillion each year at global level. Our various countries can easily excuse themselves by saying that they do not have the resources to implement these goals. This is where civil society is expected to play a part in ensuring that the available resources are used judiciously.

Colleagues, anyone who does child rights work should be interested about this subject because it directly has a bearing on the fulfilment of children’s rights in their country. I always argue that a national budget or local authority’s budget is a human rights instrument! Let’s lobby for earmarked taxes to address issues of e.g. education or health. I yearn for a time when our social policies are wholly funded nationally.

Civil society organisations should create platforms for children to engage with duty bearers on implementation of the SDGs and the national development agendas in place.

Lastly, to measure progress, there must be the data that is systematically collected. Civil society organisations should lobby governments to budget for this element. Sometimes it’s not prioritised in national budgets. Let’s measure the progress we are making!

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


Overview CRNSA Strategic Plan

Introducing the CRNSA 2015-2019 Strategic Plan

The CRNSA Strategic Plan focuses on five thematic areas:

  • Capacity building and strengthening
  • Research, lobbying and  advocacy
  • Communication and  information dissemination
  • Child Rights monitoring, evaluation and  reporting
  • Organisational development

These goals inform our five strategic outcomes:

Outcome 1: National Child Rights networks in Southern Africa strengthened and supported to effectively promote and protect the rights of children

Key Results

  1. Vibrant national child rights networks with sound corporate governance systems operational in Southern Africa
  2. Increased sharing of experiences at national, regional and international levels by CRNSA partners
  3. Increased resource base (human and financial) of national child rights networks in Southern Africa
  4. Knowledge and skills in child rights instruments among national child rights networks and member states improved
  5. National child rights networks effectively engaging with human rights mechanisms at country level and regional level through CRNSA


Outcome 2: Improved social, economic and policy environment for the promotion, protection and fulfillment of children’s rights in Southern Africa

 Key Results

  1. Gaps and challenges on children’s rights identified, documented and remedial strategies and
  2. interventions developed and implemented by CRNSA members and their respective state parties
  3. International and regional child rights protocols domesticated and commitments observed by all
  4. member states
  5.  A SADC Child Rights Protocol developed & adopted all member states
  6. Child rights governance frameworks and mechanisms established with adequate resources
  7. Increased resource allocation by member states for child focused national and local budget votes
  8. Improved documentation of ‘best practices’ and knowledge management by CRNSA partners


Outcome 3: Mechanisms for effective and timely communication of the regional network’s programs and activities established and maintained

 Key Results

  1. CRNSA communication and information dissemination strategy produced
  2.  Key communication and information dissemination technologies in place
  3.  Increased sharing of experiences at national, regional and international by CRNSA partners
  4.  A continuous and systematic mechanism of collecting, collation dissemination of child rights information in place


Outcome 4: States parties in SADC are compliant to regional, continental and international child rights protocols

 Key Results

  1. Continuous and systematic mechanism for child rights monitoring established
  2.  Member states produce periodic status reports on children’s rights policy and
  3.  State parties meet their reporting and accountability requirements to international and regional bodies on child rights
  4.  Readily available and up to date information on the state of children’s rights in Southern African countries


Outcome 5: An effective regional child rights network for Southern Africa is established

 Key Results

  1.  Joint programs with SADC and other regional child rights stakeholders established
  2.  Observer status to treaty bodies like the ACERWC and the UNCRC obtained
  3.  MOUs signed with all the members for effective participation
  4.  CRNSA registered with the secretariat fully established with but not limited to the following:
  • All key positions in the secretariat filled
  • Fully resourced offices
  • A monitoring and evaluation framework established
  • Administrative and operational guidelines in place


The State of Children’s Rights in Southern Africa

By Musa Chibwana

The protection of children’s rights is not a concept alien to traditional African culture, and international human rights principles on the protection of the child are supported in the African cultural concept of human rights.

All the Southern African countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and the Welfare of the child.

There are however some cross-cutting issues that need to be addressed in all the countries. These include the following:

1. A general unavailability of a child rights culture in all the countries

The countries have come up with good legal instruments meant to protect children. For example, South Africa promulgated the Child Care Act 74 of 1983. And in Namibia, the National Constitution Article 15, stipulates the rights of children that should be protected, promoted and respected.

Despite the availability of these instruments, the communities are not very aware of them. Neither are the children as the rights claimers conversant with them. There is a great need to inculcate a child rights culture in the countries in question.

2. No institutions that facilitate the collection, collation and sharing current information about children’s rights

Information on the state of children’s rights is scattered in several documents, institutions and government departments. There is a great need in the countries in question to have institutions that collect, collate and disseminate up to date information on the state of children’s rights. Consequently, advocacy in these countries is weak because it is not empirically based.

3. Harmful cultural practices

Despite the significant efforts of the governments to ensure the rights of children, they are vulnerable to harmful cultural practices, such as:

  • Child pledging, unsafe ritual practices (e.g. Mozambique)
  • Religious beliefs (e.g. the Zimbabwean white garment apostolic sect which does not believe in the immunization of children)
  • Child marriage (Mozambique has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage).
  • Early marriages for children considered ready for marriage after initiation rites. The 2003 Demographic and Health survey indicates that 18% of young women aged 20-24 married before the age of 15 and 56% before the age of 17.

In Mozambique, 36.9% married girls aged 15-19 have no education.

Teenage pregnancy and childbirth is associated with poor health outcomes for both the mother and child.

4. Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse has been noted as one of the challenges in the identified countries, and the statistics available reveal only the tip of the iceberg, as the majority of cases are not reported

  • Zimbabwe: 60% of rape survivors are children, and an overwhelming majority of the victims are girls.
  • During 2009 Zimbabwe Republic Police recorded 3448 child abuse cases while the Victim Friendly Court dealt with 1222 cases.
  • Mozambique: 8% of primary school children have been sexually abused and another 35% have experienced sexual harassment.

South Africa has promulgated the Child Care Amendment Act, (86 of 1991; 13 of 1999) which makes sexual abuse of children a criminal offense. Despite this law in South Africa, the numbers of child abuse cases are not reducing.

5. Access to quality education

South Africa is on track in achieving the MDG 2 on access to primary education. Gross enrolment rate in primary education (grade 1-7) is 98% and in secondary (grade 8-12) is 85%; the gender parity index is 0.98 and 1.08 respectively suggesting that girls and boys have equitable access to education.

Attendance at for childhood development and reception-year is low due to lack of means at household level, insufficient supply and poor quality at institutional level, and lack of appropriate norms and standards at structural level.

Net school attendance of children of primary schools age 7-13 years is 98%

Despite the high access to education, achievement of learners is not up to standard. Grade 3 students in 2007 scored 36% for literacy and 35% for numeracy on average. In the same year only 50% of the candidates for Senior Certificate passed. On the contrary, the pass rate for Zimbabwe has been plunging. In 2008, only 20% of pupils passed primary exams and the pass rate at O levels also went down steeply.

A number of factors contribute to the poor quality of education. These include untrained teachers, dilapidated infrastructure, lack of motivation of teachers, high textbook to pupil ratios and unaffordable school fees.

6. Social protection for child poverty

In South Africa, 68% of the children live in poverty.

In Mozambique, child poverty is a pervasive and deep rooted problem, with about 58% of children living below the poverty line.

In Zimbabwe, anecdotal information suggests that child poverty is rife. However, there is no source of information on the scope and extent of the poverty.

At the same time the social protection safety nets have not been able to cater for all the children needing care. This caused by the fact that the system is not resourced to do such.

7. Need for child friendly budgets

A major challenge in Africa is for the governments to significantly increase their level of investment in children.

Namibia has acknowledged that investing in early childhood development is the best investment in human capital for economic growth.

In Mozambique, UNICEF is assisting in the expansion of a social protection programme which provides cash transfers and in-kind material support to the most vulnerable households. Over the past two years, the number of direct beneficiaries has increased from 90,000 to 120,000. The governments have not been prioritising resource allocation to alleviating child poverty.

In Zimbabwe, the public assistance program has failed to capture all needy persons due to the low budget allocation for public assistance.

Governments must be advocated to adhere to the Dakar Declaration which stipulates that 20% of the national budget should be allocated to education while the Abuja Declaration notes that 15% of the same goes to health.

8. The impact of HIV and AIDS

In countries like Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the HIV prevalence rate is around 10-15%. In South Africa the HIV prevalence is 17.8%. Zimbabwe has a higher number of orphans, in proportion to its population, than any other country in the world, according to UNICEF.

As many as 1 in 4 children in Zimbabwe are orphaned as a result of parents dying from AIDS.


22% of Namibians population live with HIV. The disease has been the leading cause of deaths since 1996. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, there are approximately 114,000 orphaned children in Namibia of which 77,000 are orphaned by AIDS. AIDS led to a disruption of the population in the country. Child-headed households, school drop-out, prostitution and sex at a young age are some of the consequences of AIDS on children. Namibia adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit. Of most importance to HIV/ AIDS is MDG 6, with its target of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/ AIDS by 2015 and combating malaria and other diseases.

South Africa:

While South Africa is the richest nation in sub-Saharan Africa and should have led the way in ARV distribution, its government was slow to act, and so far, only 37% of those in need of treatment in South Africa are receiving it. There is need to improve access to treatment of children living with HIV.

5.2 million people were living with HIV in 2009, with an estimated 413,000 new infections; South Africa is the hardest hit country by HIV and AIDS in absolute numbers. AIDS is the leading cause of maternal death accounting for 23% of all deaths. This is happening despite the free health care policy for pregnant women and children less than 6 years of age and the high coverage of services (92% ANC one visit, 91% skilled attendant deliveries1). The HIV and AIDS prevalence rate is 24.5%.


In Zambia, there are as many as 1.5 million orphaned children. According to figures released by the Central Statistical Office in 2007, there are only about 85,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia. But the United Nations International Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF) and other international humanitarian aid agencies put the present figure at over one million. UNAIDS estimates 1.1 million Zambians are living with HIV/AIDS; the prevalence rate for the 15-49 year age group is 15.2%.


Mozambique has an estimated 1.2 million orphaned children, of which 350,000 have lost their parents to AIDS. Children living in child-headed households are in a particularly precarious situation.

9. Issues peculiar to countries

Birth certificates

For Zimbabwe, it is estimated that in 2009, 45% of children under five in urban areas and 70% in rural areas did not have birth certificates. This means that all these children did not have a legal name, nationality or citizenship rights. This can be attributed to stringent rules that do not permit every child despite origin of parents to have birth certificates.

Child trafficking

For Mozambique, trafficking children to exploit them as sex-workers and domestic workers in the region is a growing concern. A report by the International Organisation on Migration estimates that approximately one thousand children and women are trafficked from Mozambique to South Africa every year for the purpose of exploitative labour and commercial sexual exploitation.

This phenomenon is also growing in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe however they are termed unaccompanied children.

Child labour

In Namibia, child labour is rife. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare of Namibia, there is little data available on the economic exploitation of children, although it is a problem which is known to be particularly acute on farms, where employment relationships often involve entire families – with fathers performing farm labour, mothers performing domestic work, and children often being expected to “help out” without extra compensation. Although it is now illegal for employers to demand the labour of their employee’s children, enforcement of this rule on isolated farms will be difficult if not impossible.

The government of Namibia ratified The ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention in 2000. The Convention requires ratifying governments to take measures to effect the immediate abolition of the ‘worst forms of child labour’. The worst forms of child labour include slavery, child prostitution, using a child for illegal activities, and work which by its nature or the circumstances is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.