Accra, June 16, GNA - Hajia Alima Mahama, Minister of Women and Children's Affairs (MOWAC) has called for societal change in attitude towards issues concerning children to ensure their total development. She said children were valuable national assets that needed to be protected, adding that "the children of Ghana are looking forward to us for hope and a better future; let us not fail them".
Hajia Mahama, who spoke at an interactive programme with about 500 children on the occasion of the AU Day of the African Child in Accra on Friday, said the rights of children should be respected to ensure their wellbeing.
The Day also marks the 17th anniversary of the Soweto massacre of more than 100 school children, who were marching to demand their right to quality education in June 1976 during the era of the Apartheid Regime.
The AU, then the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1990, therefore, chose the Day for Member States to reflect on the plight of all African children and to improve their lives.
This year's celebration, being held on the theme: "Right to protection: Stop Violence against Children," throws the searchlight on various forms of violence perpetrated against children. Hajia Mahama said children in spite of various legislation safeguarding children, they were still subjected to physical violence, neglect and abuse in the home and community, corporal punishment and violence in the school and exploitation in the workplace. She said girls were forced into marriages; underwent female genital mutilation; ritual slavery and sexual assault by males in the school environment, including teachers.
She said there were also disturbing reports of defilement and rape of girls within the community and even in the family, and other instances of sexual violation of young girls with disability. Hajia Mahama rejected any form of violence against children for any cultural, traditional reasons or on the grounds of poverty, adding that the future of Ghana as a nation would be greatly impaired if children were allowed to suffer physical, mental, psychological and sexual violence and abuse in their tender years.
She noted Government's initiatives to progressively address the manifold problems of children and announced that the Ministry had early this year, conducted research on violence against children to better understand the scale and complexity of the problem.
She mentioned the Criminal Code Amendment Act (554) 1998, Juvenile Justice Act and the Human Trafficking Act as some legislation put in place to ensure that children received the needed care and protection.
"Also the work of the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service has been expanded to all the regions and some districts and now has 42 centres," she said.
She called for the provision of adequate resources for the Ministry and the law enforcement agencies to accomplish their tasks. Hajia Mahama condemned parental irresponsibility and said it was an offence under the law and warned that parents, guardians and custodians would not be excused or pardoned for abandoning, neglecting or trafficking children.
She said the introduction of free rides by school children in the Metro Mass Transport, Early Childhood Care and Development Policy and the Gender and Child Policy were part of Government's policies and programmes to guide practical action for the welfare of children in national development.
"The introduction of the Capitation Grant has given great impetus to school enrolment and attendance. An increase of nearly 17 per cent enrolment for the 2005/06 academic year has been recorded, with over 18 per cent increase for girls and about 15 percent for boys," she said. Hajia Mahama urged parents to give their female children equal chance to education and further called on Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to establish decentralized mechanisms to care for and protect children in the communities.
Ms Dorothy Rozgar, UNICEF Country Representative, stated that though studies had indicated poverty as one of the causes of violence against children, parents must not use it as an excuse for abusing the rights of children.
She said the UN Secretary General, Busumuru Kofi Annan had set up a research team whose report on the state of violence against children in Africa would soon be published to serve as a benchmark for measuring the progress being made to address the needs of children in Africa.