African officials at UN-backed meeting seek to protect migrating children

23 February 2010

With cross-border movement of unaccompanied minors reaching into the thousands, senior officials from 15 Eastern and Southern African countries are thrashing out ways to strengthen cooperation for the protection of children at risk, at a three-day United Nations-backed meeting beginning today in Pretoria, South Africa.

“We need to make sure that all children, particularly vulnerable and orphaned children are better protected against the risk of trafficking, abuse and exploitation,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director As Sy said.

“UNICEF is committed to accompany all countries in this region in their efforts to comply with the Hague Conventions on children,” he added, referring to four inter-governmental pacts adopted since 1980 on international child abduction, inter-country adoption, protection, and international recovery of child support.

Although Governments have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, many countries have yet to ratify the Hague Conventions, which seek to standardize international law and provide a comprehensive legal framework for the cross-border movement of children between countries.

According to recent UNICEF research, South Africa is home to thousands of unaccompanied child migrants, both from neighbouring countries, especially Zimbabwe, and from within the country.

Delegates will explore how these international conventions can translate into a practical inter-State framework. So far only Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Madagascar and South Africa have ratified the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, and many countries do not have adequate cross-border legislation in place.

This meeting, hosted by the South African Government and the Hague Conference on Private International Law with support from UNICEF, brings together high officials from Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Union (AU) Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

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