Fifteen ECOWAS countries have adopted a framework to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
The Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems to Prevent and Respond to Violence, Abuse and Exploitation against Children in West Africa was agreed at the ECOWAS First Ladies’ Forum in Niamey, Niger on Wednesday.
It will see member states commit to concrete measures to protect millions of children from most damaging forms of abuse by focusing on sexual, physical and emotional violence against children, including female genital mutilation and cutting; child marriage; child labour; civil registration and vital statistics; and children on the move.
Almost 9 out of 10 children in West Africa experience violent discipline.
Child marriage is especially prevalent in West Africa, which accounts for six of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriages world over.
Four in 10 young women in West Africa were married off as children.
More than half the children in West Africa are not registered at birth.
In addition, the region is the theatre of complex migration routes where children are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“The Ministerial adoption marks a major step forward for the protection of children in our region”, said ECOWAS’ Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow, whose organization convened the gathering of experts and ministers from the 15 member states.
“We 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.”
Led by the ECOWAS Commission, the Strategic Framework was developed in collaboration with a Regional Child Protection Working Group comprising UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations and networks.
“In West Africa, urgent action is needed to address the acute vulnerabilities of children,” said Andy Brooks, the Chair of the Regional Child Protection Working Group.
“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.”