- Realizing the right of children to freedom of expression is central to building and sustaining peace, democracy and respect for human rights across the world. It is not simply a matter of morality and altruism that adults should seek to protect and promote children’s rights - it is pre-eminently a matter of personal and political self-interest. The following article seeks to explore this claim through three case studies of countries in sub-Saharan Africa where peace, democracy and respect for human rights have been conspicuous by their absence in the past - South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone - and where children have been central to protracted internal conflict, both as victims and as active participants.
The three countries have had varying success in resolving their conflicts. South Africa is engaged in efforts to overcome the legacy of
apartheid in all its dimensions. This will be the work of generations. However, the conflict in South Africa has ended. Uganda has been recovering since 1986 from the nightmare of the Amin and Obote periods. But insurgency in the north of the country continues. Finally, Sierra Leone since 1991 has been convulsed by an insurgency covering large swathes of the country. While there is now some optimism that the insurgency in Sierra Leone can be brought to an end, the country has scarcely begun to emerge from its recent experience of generalized conflict.
South Africa and Uganda have begun the task of trying to implement their commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Sierra Leone is not yet off the starting blocks. What becomes clear from a brief survey of implementation efforts is just how much work remains be done to develop a more precise conceptualization of what children’s right to freedom of expression means in practice.
In South Africa, the rights of the vast majority of the country’s children were grossly abused under the apartheid system. Black children were denied access to nutrition, health services, housing and education. Indeed, education became an instrument of subordination for most black children. From the 1970s onwards, however, black children began to speak out against their oppression and take action against its symbols. The 1976 Soweto uprising began with student protests against the introduction of compulsory instruction in Afrikaans. During the insurrections in the townships in the 1980s, a significant number of black children experienced a degree of authority within their own communities for the first time. Yet their ‘liberation’was double-edged for many adults. Children’s voices were now being heard loud and clear, yet this was sometimes in defiance of parents or guardians and did at points contribute to instances of injustice and brutality - witness the role of the ‘comrades’, including in the context of ‘people’s courts’, in township life during this time. The education system also came to a grinding halt during this period in many parts of the country. Many adults felt that any education, however oppressive, was better than no education. Not all children agreed.
The period 1976-94 might be described as a time when black children made some gains in realizing their right to free expression, but not always in directions which necessarily served their individual ‘best interests’ in the long term. Neither were any of these gains based upon a measured assessment of ‘evolving capability’ or maturity’; they were by-products of the struggle against apartheid. This does not mean that the changes wrought during the struggle against apartheid were simply an aberration and therefore to be disposed of once the struggle was over. However, it should be clearly recognized that post-apartheid efforts in South Africa to ‘give children back their childhood’, while seeking to strengthen the voices of children within society and government in the new dispensation, are at the same time in part geared towards reinforcing adult structures of authority, not least within the family and the education system, ending certain modes of participation in public life by children and ‘de-politicizing’ childhood.
Building a new deal for children in South Africa is proving a difficult process, particularly given that there has not been a dramatic improvement in the provision of essential social and educational. services to black children. Furthermore, many of those children who, whether by choice or compulsion, put liberation before education, now find themselves hamstrung by their lack of qualifications and skills in a tight labour market. It is not surprising that children are active participants in the crime wave which is currently obsessing South Africans.
The government has begun to introduce structures, procedures and processes as part of its efforts to discharge its responsibilities under the CRC, which it ratified in 1995. How far and in what ways do they seek to realize children’s right to freedom of expression? To what extent do the measures proposed or undertaken reflect a clear conceptualization of what that right should mean?
In 1996, the South African government published its National Programme of Action for Children in South Africa: Framework (NPA). The NPA is described as the instrument through which its commitments under the CRC will be carried out. The overriding principle of the NPA is that of a ‘first call for children’.1 The policy priorities are set out as nutrition, health, water and sanitation, early childhood development and basic education, social welfare development, leisure and cultural activities and child protection.2 Under each of these headings there are then set out the goals, relevant articles of the CRC, responsible lead and supporting sectors and national strategies.3
In general, there is a clearer emphasis in the NPA on social and economic rights than on civil and political rights. Where articles encompassing civil and political rights are cited as relevant, there is no clear sense of why they have been so cited. In fact, at times the selection seems rather arbitrary. For example, in relation to child and maternal health, Article 12 is cited but Article 13 is not. With regard to early childhood development and basic education, both are cited.4 It is also instructive to note that Article 17 has at points been reformulated as access to appropriate information.5 This suggests a focus de facto on protection from ‘harmful’ information in preference to an emphasis on access to information from a diversity of sources.
This appears to be confirmed by the comments on Article 17 in South Africa’s initial report in 1997 to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The report looks at civil rights and freedoms, yet its only substantive comment on Article 17 deals with the protection of children from ‘inappropriate’ information.6 Finally, largely missing is any coverage of what ARTICLE 19 believes is a crucial factor in realizing the right of children to freedom of expression: participation of the child.7
Too much should not be read into the NPA document. It is a framework document and could not be expected to be comprehensive. Implementation is still at an early stage and the research and planning process under way in South Africa is in many ways extremely impressive. But the way in which the NPA refers to key articles of the CRC with regard to freedom of expression denotes confusion and uncertainty rather than clarity of conception. The claim, made by the South African government in its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, that there is conformity between the NPA and CRC, is not wholly borne out by the evidence. Indeed, in the same report only a few paragraphs further on, the government acknowledges missed opportunities under the NPA in ‘giving equal attention to civil rights and freedoms’. It states that future activities must focus on ‘accelerating children’s participation in the process, especially younger children.’8
The National Child Rights Committee (NCRC), an umbrella group of non-governmental organizations (NG0s) active in the child rights field, confirms this view. In an interview with ARTICLE 19, the Executive Director, Mabel Rantla, stated that both the government and people of South Africa are still seeking to work out what the CRC and NPA should mean for the children of the country, not least with regard to Articles 12 and 13. She added that adequate structures do not yet really exist at grass-roots level to implement the NPA. Another concern which Ms Rantla expressed was that international agencies had forced the pace on the NPA and that a crucial priority - to build understanding and a sense of ownership of the CRC amongst South Africans - had been neglected.9
The NCRUs civic education work appears designed to link rights and responsibilities closely together, in part to reassure parents and guardians that children’s rights will not mean chaos and domestic ‘ungovernability’. It is clear that the battle to persuade the majority of adult South Africans that their children should have civil rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, has yet to be won. The NCRC also aims to set up country-wide structures, culminating in a National Children’s Forum, to improve children’s access to public debate. A Youth Commission has also been established, but it too is still finding its feet. For the moment, the means for the vast majority of children to participate in public debate does not really exist. Building understanding and support amongst both parents and children is essential if the likelihood of any ‘traditionalist’ backlash in defence of parental power is to be reduced.
Much has been achieved over the past two years in beginning to map out what the CRC might mean in relation to the right to freedom of expression. For example, within the context of the NPA, the South African Law Commission is currently reviewing the existing inconsistent legal framework with regard to children. In doing so, it is seeking, for example, to strengthen the voice of the child in the juvenile justice process, increasing opportunities for children to express their views and giving them ‘due weight’. It is also reviewing legislation regarding sexual offences against children and childcare legislation with the same goal in mind. Its overall goal is to create a comprehensive Children’s Code fit for the 21st century. The South African Law Commission has produced a series of high-quality issues papers for consultation prior to the formulation of new legislation.10
There have also been significant developments in the education field. The 1996 South African Schools Act provides for the right of learners to be represented from eighth grade onwards on the governing bodies of schools and on Learner Representative Councils. Through this route, children have the right to be consulted in the formulation of disciplinary codes of conduct. The outlawing of corporal punishment also helps to enhance a culture of respect for human dignity within schools and beyond.11 Participatory initiatives such as the NCRC’s South African Children’s Charter and the Southern Africa Children’s Broadcasting Summit have also been important innovations.12 There are also continuing efforts to lobby for a more child-friendly media. The establishment of a statutorily independent public broadcaster (the South African Broadcasting Corporation) and regulatory authority (the Independent Broadcasting Authority) was a major step forward in this regard. However, in terms of improving children’s access to the media as a means of expression, this should be complemented by encouraging children’s access to the independent community broadcasting sector.
Important steps have also been taken in the vital area of developing mechanisms for monitoring implementation of the CRC. South Africa has established in law an independent South African Human Rights Commission. The Deputy Chairperson, Shirley Mabusela, has been given responsibility for heading a children’s rights committee within the Commission. Ms Mabusela sits with the South African Law Commission, the NCRC, UNICEF South Africa and ministerial representatives on the NPA Steering Committee, which is due to review the operation of the NPA over the coming months and present recommendations for change or further action. However, further debate is needed about how best to monitor implementation of the CRC. Should there be a national Children’s Commissioner? Should each province have a Children’s Commissioner, as the Western Cape now has?13
Nonetheless, despite the significant steps so far taken to articulate what the right to freedom of expression might mean in specific areas of administration and justice, there is as yet no shared conceptualization of that right shaping these initiatives. The voices of parents, let alone their children, remain largely marginal to the debates taking place. The absence of a clear conceptualization is perhaps at its most striking with regard to everyday relations between parents and their children within the family itself. Each of these issues needs to be squarely addressed in the next phase of the NPA if the longer-term process of implementing South Africa’s obligations under the CRC is to be founded on popular consent - and therefore to be truly sustainable.
The 1970s and early 1980s saw massive and systematic abuse of human rights in Uganda under Presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote. The infrastructure of educational and welfare provision collapsed across the country. Many hoped that the victory in 1986 of Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) would be a turning-point for Uganda and its children. Museveni promised peace, development and respect for human rights. These hopes have been only partially fulfilled. This is explained in part by the sheer scale of the challenge which faced Uganda’s new rulers. Translating promises into reality in the spheres of judicial, social and educational provision for children has only just begun. But it is also explained by official reluctance to address some of the root causes of internal conflict in Uganda. While internal conflict in the east of the country was eventually resolved by a mixture of military and political means, a brutal insurgency which ‘feeds on’ children has continued largely unabated in northern Uganda since 1986.
The international community failed Uganda’s children during the widespread massacres in the ‘Luwero Triangle’ in the early 1980s. The NRA was widely condemned for its recruitment of child soldiers or kadogos during its period as an insurgent army. Yet in many cases these children were the orphans of victims of army killings in Luwero. The NRA offered them a home and a means of articulating their hostility to the government. International agencies ran child-oriented activities, such as immunization programmes, in Luwero throughout this period, but failed to provide a voice to the orphaned children and to condemn human rights violations by the army. It was only after the NRA took power that assistance was forthcoming to demobilize and school the kadogos.
The Lord’s Resistance Army in the north of Uganda has systematically sustained its capacity to fight the Ugandan government by forcibly abducting children. Amnesty International has summed up the plight of these children graphically:
Most of those abducted are between 13 and 16 years old. Younger children are generally not strong enough to carry weapons or loads while older children are less malleable to the will of their abductors. Boys outnumber girls. Children are beaten, murdered and forced to fight well-armed government troops. They are chattels ‘owned’ by the LRA leadership. Girls are raped and used as sexual slaves. The abduction of girls and their forced marriage to more senior LRA soldiers is the cornerstone of the movement’s internal organization. Forced marriage is used as a reward and incentive for male soldiers.
But in addition, being abducted leads to being made to abuse others, both inside and outside the movement. The LRA uses violence to terrorize villagers. Thousands of northern Ugandan civilians have been deliberately killed; thousands of women have been raped. The killers and rapists are themselves armed children. They are being abused by being forced to commit human rights abuses. This is deliberate. The children are often traumatized by what they have done and, believing that they are outcasts, become bound to the LRA.14
In such circumstances, realizing children’s right to freedom of expression may appear to be a utopian dream. Other priorities at first sight appear infinitely more pressing not least, those relating to child survival and protection. This perspective is understandable but far from convincing. In the case of Uganda, it is important to recognize that the conflict in the north has been fuelled by systematic violations of human rights over the past two decades, a central dimension of which has been complex forms of censorship. Ending the conflict requires that this dimension be squarely addressed.
First, many northerners believe that the rest of Uganda is indifferent to their fate. Holding the north responsible for the human rights abuses of the Amin and Obote periods, Ugandans from other parts of the country have largely ignored the human rights abuses which have been committed by all sides since 1986. For its part, the Ugandan government has not done enough to combat the culture of impunity which has reigned since 1986, not least with regard to the north. The sense of grievance which this has led to among northerners has estranged them from the government.15 They deeply mistrust it. Official promises to invest in the north have been largely unrealized. The communities of the north feel that they are marginalized and their voices ignored. The children of the north, particularly those reaching adolescence, are hardly likely to have been unaffected by the attitudes of their parents and elders on these matters.
Second, traditional cultural practices in northern Uganda, which place great emphasis on the principle that children should ‘know their place’ within the family and community, may have increased the frustration of children in times of social turbulence where access to education and employment is especially limited.
The vast majority of children abducted by the LRA have shown no prior enthusiasm for its cause. But some may come to do so, for the same reasons which motivate children involved in other armed conflicts around the world: status, authority and a minimal livelihood.16 In any case, all parties concerned with child welfare and protection in Uganda, including the government, accept that there is a need to work with families and communities across the country to expand the space for children’s voices to be heard more forcefully in future.17 This represents an acknowledgement that the traditional ways of treating children must change if Uganda is to meet its commitments under the CRC. Such change could only contribute positively to efforts to end the conflict in the north.
Finally, there is an urgent need for the Ugandan government to address the sense of injustice and marginalization felt by many people in the north, for example, by establishing a commission of inquiry or ‘truth commission’ to investigate human rights abuses committed by all parties since 1986.18 With specific regard to children, international support should continue to be given for rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for former child combatants and other unaccompanied children. Since 1995, two NG0s have been responsible for these programmes - World Vision Uganda and Gulu Support for Children Organisation (GUSCO).19
The Ugandan government ratified the CRC in 1990. Government-co-ordinated efforts to realize the rights contained in the CRC bore their first real fruit in the 1992 Uganda National Plan of Action. The 1995 Constitution specifically guarantees children’s rights (Article 34). A further major step forward came with the promulgation of the Children’s Statute in 1996. The Children’s Statute sets out a range of important reforms designed to protect children’s welfare where they come into contact with local authorities, social service agencies and the judicial system. For example, the statute proposes that all local councils should have a Secretary for Children’s Affairs and that Children and Family Courts be established at district level, focusing primarily on civil cases. The statute also establishes that no child below the age of 12 years can be charged with a criminal offence. It provides for a wide range of non-custodial options for children aged over 12 years who break the law.20 Another important recent initiative came in 1997 with the introduction of the first phase of universal primary education. In 1997, almost three million more children started at primary school than in the previous year.21 It is important to note that non-governmental organizations have also played a crucial role in child survival, development and protection work at the level of implementation.
Our main concern here is how far the measures taken so far reflect a clear view of children’s right to freedom of expression. The Children’s Statute states that a child’s needs should always be taken into account and that part of doing so should be listening to the views of the child, while allowing for age and understanding. This directly echoes the provisions of Article 12 of the CRC. The statute also states that parents have the primary responsibility for looking after a child. It follows, therefore, that they have the primary responsibility for listening to their child, notwithstanding the important role of the state in this regard. However, as the Uganda Child Rights NGO Network (UCRNN) stated in 1997, ‘it will be sometime before children actually enjoy these rights as infrastructure for implementation is still under preparation’. It continues: ‘The family and school are the two institutions where most children will enjoy or be denied respect for their views. Both are under pressure either from tradition or competition, to discipline/suppress children and teach them responsibilities before anything else.22
The idea of children as active participants in society is not strongly developed in the Children’s Statute. Yet Articles 12 and 13 should be viewed as essential preconditions for children’s participation in society. What child participation means in practice will vary depending upon age and maturity and will be, to a degree, context- specific, but there are also universal requirements which flow from it. The conceptual framework employed in the Children’s Statute still largely reflects traditional views of the child as a passive object within society, whose empowerment and participation can only be deeply problematic. There is an urgent need to deepen and extend existing grassroots civic education work with communities, families and their children across Uganda to try to move beyond these views.23
With regard to Article 17 of the CRC, the Ugandan government has much to do before it is able to meet its obligation to ensure that children have access to information from a diversity of sources. Its predominant concern in practice has remained the protection of children from ‘harmful’ information. The Ministry of Education and Sports has begun to produce educational materials, including through television and radio, for schools. NG0s also use the broadcast media to produce programmes on aspects of children’s rights.24 However, key preconditions for broadening access to information - not just for children, but for all Ugandans - are the establishment of statutorily independent public broadcast media and the encouragement of independent community/local radio beyond the urban centres. This has barely begun to be addressed. An independent broadcasting regulatory framework, including over the public service media, should be established as a matter of priority, with responsibility for ensuring that children’s rights and concerns receive sufficient airtime. South Africa is far ahead of Uganda in this regard.
Independent monitoring of the performance of public bodies in their provision for children should not be restricted to the sphere of broadcasting. In 1997, the UCRNN called for the establishment of an ‘effective and sustainable mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the CRC and enjoyment of rights by children’.25 Such a mechanism could also play a lead role in interpreting what the CRC should mean in Uganda and in setting standards. Whether the mechanism might be created within the Uganda Human Rights Commission or as a free-standing body such as a Commission for Children or an Ombudsman is a legitimate matter for debate. This debate should now begin. Important as the role of government officials such as district-level Secretaries for Children’s Affairs may be in the future, it is unrealistic to rely upon them for impartial monitoring of other governmental figures and institutions.
There is universal agreement that there can be no future for Sierra Leone unless the protection and promotion of children’s rights is dramatically improved. Sierra Leone ratified the CRC in 1990. As the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs acknowledged during a meeting in July 1998 with ARTICLE 19, so far this has counted for little.26 The odds against realizing the provisions of Articles 12, 13 and 17 of the CRC in Sierra Leone seem overwhelming at present. Thousands of children have had their prospects blighted or destroyed by civil war over the past eight years. Lack of opportunities for children and youth - in particular, through the absence of a functioning education system - has been one of the main factors in bringing about the conflict. Children have been both victims and perpetrators in this conflict. To provide hope for its children is the surest means of building a sustainable peace in Sierra Leone.27
This challenge has many dimensions. The government of Sierra Leone has promised to ensure that all children under the age of 18 are demobilized from the Civil Defence Forces and that recruitment, of children will cease, although UNICEF expressed concern in October 1998 that recruitment was continuing.28 ‘This demobilization process should be completed as rapidly as possible. The announcement by the government in mid-1998 that no child will be prosecuted for criminal acts committed in the context of war is also an important step towards reconciliation in Sierra Leone.
However, important as such measures are for trying to end children’s involvement in the current conflict in Sierra Leone, they do not address the root causes of that involvement. Studies of the role of children in the current conflict clearly demonstrate that their participation has had a significant freedom of expression dimension.29 Their involvement has often produced a sense of empowerment and authority, however illusory it might seem to outside observers. If the roots of the conflict are to be addressed, children must feel that there are other, peaceful and more hopeful avenues through which their views can be given ‘due weight’ by their elders, ways that genuinely are in their ‘best interests’. Without this, children involved in the conflict may not be prepared to accept that they cannot expect to exercise their rights in the manner of adults.
It is striking that the first recommendation of a group of Sierra Leonian children brought together to mark the Day of the African Child in 1998 was: ‘The Government and elders in our communities must listen to us, observe, respect and try to understand what children say and do.’ The children went on to detail a wide range of other recommendations which are necessary if their rights in future are to be respected and promoted.30 Sierra Leone is a country in which children have traditionally been seen but not heard. Sierra Leonians need to initiate a wide-ranging and honest public debate about what children’s right to freedom of expression should mean for all areas of society and government - for example, within families, within schools, and in judicial and administrative proceedings. Children themselves should be active participants in the debate. In short, there needs to be a new social, economic and cultural compact between adults and children in Sierra Leone.
As part of this process, the government of Sierra Leone should commit itself as a matter of priority to incorporating the CRC into domestic law, as part of a process of reviewing existing child welfare legislation such as the 1960 Children and Young Person’s Act to ensure that it fully reflects the country’s international obligations. In addition, a review of media laws and practice is currently under way. If this review brings them into line with international standards, children will benefit in terms of their freedom of expression no less than adults.31
During a visit to Sierra Leone in July 1998, ARTICLE 19 visited a range of local and international NG0s working in the field of the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers and unaccompanied, displaced and street children. During those visits, it became evident that a key reason as to why children had become caught up in the conflict was that they felt nobody was helping them, listening to them and giving them hope. ARTICLE 19 witnessed concerted efforts to ensure that the children going through rehabilitation and reintegration processes were heard, respected and understood. This was being done through activities, training and counselling which, while giving children a voice, were also sensitive to specific cultural and community contexts.32 ARTICLE 19 has called upon the international community to further increase its support for this vital work and to encourage all those involved to ensure that a children’s rights perspective lies at the heart of their activities.
Across Sierra Leonian society as a whole, there is an urgent need for an honest reckoning with the past. ARTICLE 19 has recommended that, at an appropriate time, Sierra Leone should establish a Truth Commission. However, we do not believe that such a Commission should seek to monopolize the truth by undermining other ‘truth processes’ which are under way. For example, it should not require former child combatants to appear before it. For those children, community-based ‘truth processes’ should be the main means of rehabilitation and reintegration into society. However, it might be appropriate in some circumstances for a Truth Commission to collect anonymous testimonies from children where they are willing to give them.33
Despite the excellent work being undertaken by many NG0s in the areas of rehabilitation and reintegration, ARTICLE 19 was concerned about a degree of unevenness in the co-ordination of these programmes. Not all NG0s active in the field were part of the co-ordinating structures which existed - most importantly, the Child Protection Committee, which is convened at a national level by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. This needs to be remedied. An audit is urgently required not just of the overall scale of the task but also of the activities being undertaken by each organization in this field. This would also assist in the formulation of codes of conduct and principles of ‘best practice’ - including with regard to children’s rights such as freedom of expression - which should inform the activities of each organization.34
More generally, ARTICLE 19 has suggested that in future some sort of statutorily independent body may be required to help protect and promote children’s rights in Sierra Leone. This might be achieved through the establishment of an independent human rights commission or, if resources permitted, a separate independent Commission for Children. The independent body should be responsible for setting standards and monitoring the progress and performance of all bodies working in the field of children’s rights. Mechanisms would also need to be considered through which the body might enforce standards and take action against those in contravention of them.35
ARTICLE 19 had a further concern regarding some of the programmes for the rehabilitation and reintegration of children - those being conducted by Christian evangelist organizations. Built into the fabric of their philosophy of rehabilitation is the Christian rebirth or conversion of the children who come into their care. A significant proportion of those children are not Christians when they enter these programmes. ARTICLE 19 is not seeking to question the quality of such programmes. They are responding to a desperate need. Nor are we suggesting that children are necessarily ‘forced’ into Christian rebirth or conversion. We simply seek to raise the issue as one which needs debate in the context of a child’s right to freedom of thought, religion and conscience under the CRC. This would be an area where the development of codes of conduct and principles of best practice would be valuable.36
Finally, it is vital that the public broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, be established as a statutorily independent body with a strong commitment to community access and participation. The government has declared that it is committed to doing this. In addition, the private and community broadcasting sectors should be encouraged to expand. In each of these sectors, the question of maximizing the access of children should also be specifically addressed. An important means of seeking to ensure that children are heard, respected and understood would be to develop specific programming for children - and, where possible, by children - for radio and television broadcasting.37
There are a number of important issues which arise from the three sub-Saharan African case studies. Article 12 of the CRC may be uncomfortable for many in government and society, but Article 13 has fared much worse. It seems itself to have become a victim of censorship. To a certain extent, the reason for this is understandable. The right to freedom of expression provided for children in Article 13 is virtually identical to that given to adults in Article 19 of the ICCPR.
To cope with the disjuncture between the two, Article 13 has so far largely been refracted - even displaced - in South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone through the prism of Article 12, which makes it clear that the rights which children can expect to enjoy will not be identical in extent to those of adults - and, indeed, that older children should have greater independent scope in exercising their right to be listened
to than young children. Article 7 of the African Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which Uganda and Sierra Leone have ratified and South Africa has signed, provides for a ‘weaker’ and in many ways problematic definition of freedom of expression, but its explicit recognition of the importance of a child’s evolving capacity chimes more clearly with Article 12 of the CRC.
However, in placing their emphasis on Article 12, South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone have dodged awkward questions about child participation and empowerment by adopting an excessively narrow and paternalistic interpretation of its provisions. As we have argued earlier, Article 12 should be interpreted in an expansive, purposive way to encompass these concerns. The obligation to give the views of the child ‘due weight’ extends to creating a conducive and appropriate environment for their active participation in society. Such an interpretation of Article 12 goes strongly with the grain of Article 13. The governments of South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone should review their approach to Article 12. Further, notwithstanding the problems with Article 13, there can be no justification on their part for sidelining it.
While believers in ‘traditional’ family values may cavil, it is an inescapable fact that in South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone, the genie is already out of the bottle. Many children have been active participants in the context of conflicts which have not served their ‘best interests’. One of the reasons for this tragedy was that such children’s views were not heard and not accorded due weight. New modes and mechanisms for expression by children now require development. The governments of South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone and all other bodies involved in implementation of the CRC should start to address this challenge more directly. While there has been some progress in doing so in South Africa, it has so far been achieved rather by the back door and has not been a clearly articulated objective. In Uganda and Sierra Leone, the process has even further to go. The unease described above with regard to child participation and empowerment in the context of Articles 12 and 13 also applies to a large extent to Article 17 of the CRC, where the emphasis has been excessively on protection of children from harmful information.
In both Sierra Leone and Uganda - as elsewhere in the world - the demobilization of child soldiers and their reintegration into society is the most urgent task with regard to the country’s youth. Both countries illustrate the importance of allowing the active participation of the children themselves in the process by giving full opportunity for them to express their views. This is reflected in the Cape Town Annotated Principles and Best Practice, adopted by participants in a UNICEF-organized symposium in 1997, which deal with the prevention of recruitment of child soldiers in Africa and their demobilization and reintegration into society:
22. The demobilization process should be as short as possible and take into account the human dignity of the child and the need for confidentiality.
a. Ensure adequate time and appropriate personnel to make children feel secure and comfortable so that they are able to receive information, including about their rights, and to share concerns;
b. Wherever possible, staff dealing with the children should be nationals;
c. Special measures must be taken to ensure the protection of children who are in demobilization centres for extended periods of time;
d.Children should be interviewed individually and away from their superiors and peers;
e. It is not appropriate to raise sensitive issues in the initial interview. If they are raised subsequently, it must be done only when in the best interest of the child and by a competent person;
f. Confidentiality must be respected;
g. All children should be informed throughout the process of the reasons why the information is being collected and that confidentiality will be respected. Children should be further informed about what will happen to them at each step of the process;
h. Wherever possible, communication and information should be in the mother tongue of the children; Particular attention should be paid to the special needs of girls and special responses should be developed to this end.38
Children’s freedom of expression cannot be strengthened in isolation from that of their parents - above all, that of the mother, to whom children are usually most tightly linked, especially in their early years. In all three case study countries, it is clear that the means of encouraging public debate about the rights to freedom of expression and access to information have yet to be fully developed for adults, let alone children. The role of the media is crucial in this regard. Here too, South Africa has gone furthest. But much work remains to be done in terms of grass-roots access and participation. In Uganda and Sierra Leone, which both still lack an independent public broadcaster, the task is daunting.
This survey of implementation efforts in South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone has demonstrated that there does not yet exist in any of these countries a clear conceptualization of what children’s right to freedom of expression can and should mean. At present, there is a tendency to focus on issues of child welfare and protection, areas with which those in authority feel more comfortable. Difficult and fraught as it will be to negotiate such a conception, there is no escaping the need to do so if these countries are eventually to meet fully their obligations under the CRC. The longer it is avoided or fudged, the more fragile the foundations for a better future for South Africa, Uganda and Sierra Leone will be.
From Chapter 3 of ‘Kid’s Talk: Freedom of Expression and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’, published by Article 19, London, January 1999. Reprinted with permission.
1. National Programme of Action for Children in South Africa.. Framework (Johannesburg: 1996), 1.
2. Ibid., at 2.
3. Ibid., at 4-12.
4. Ibid., at 5 and 7.
211 For example, see ibid., at 4, 5 and 7.
6. Initial Country Report by South Africa on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Pretoria: Nov. 1997), 48-49.
7. It is interesting to note that the South African Law Commission, in its 1998 issue paper on the Child Care Act, interprets one of the general principles relating to the rights of the child under the CRC, which is usually described as ‘respect for the views of the child’, instead as ‘participation of the child’. See The Review of the Child Care Act (Issue Paper 13, Pretoria: 18 April 1998), 6.
8. Ibid., at 23-24.
9. Interview with Mrs Mabel Rantla, Executive Director, National Child Rights Committee, 14 September 1998.
10. Sexual Offences against Children (Issue Paper 10, Pretoria: 31 May 1997); Juvenile Justice (Issue Paper 9, Pretoria: 31 May 1997); The Review of the Child Care Act (Issue Paper 13, Pretoria: 18 April 1998).
11. Note 229 above, at 84.
12. Ibid., at 44.
13. The Review of the Child Care Act, note 230 above, at 155-6.
14. Amnesty International, Uganda. ‘Breaking God’s commands’: the destruction of childhood by the Lord’s Resistance Army (AI Index: AFR 59/01/97. London: 18 Sept. 1997), summary. See also Human Rights Watch/Africa, The Scars of Death. Children Abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda (New York: Sept. 1997).
15. Sessional Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, Parliament of Uganda, Parliamentary report on the war in the north (Kampala: Feb. 1997), 54-56.
16. Cohen and G S Goodwin-Gill claim that the ‘vast majority of young soldiers are not forced or coerced into participating in conflict, but are subject to many subtly manipulative motivations and pressures that are all the more difficult to eliminate than blatant forced recruitment’. Quoted from Child Soldiers. The Role of Children in Armed Conflict (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1. 994), 30.
17. In 1993, the Ugandan government and UNICEF Uganda jointly commissioned a report entitled, Children and their rights: Village Perceptions (Kampala: November 1993). The report, written by P T Kakama, an official in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, vividly illustrated the scale of the challenge of changing traditional relationships between parents and children.
18. Amnesty International, note 237 above, at 37-39.
19. Ibid., at 35-37.
20. The Republic of Uganda, The Children’s Statute (Kampala: Government Printers, 1996).
21. Department for International Development, ‘Clare Short announces £67 million for education in Uganda’ (Press release 54/98, 2 Oct. 1998).
22. UCRNN, Response to the Government of Uganda Country Report on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Kampala: Feb. 1997), 6.
23. GUSCO in northern Uganda has reportedly established Child Rights Clubs as part of its programme of psychosocial counselling and therapy for former child combatants and their communities of origin.
24. UCRNN, note 22 above, at 5.
25. Ibid, at i. The Uganda Human Rights Commission was established in 1996 under the terms of the 1995 Constitution. It is independent of both government and civil society and has wide-ranging investigative, reporting and educational powers. Given these attributes, it would be a suitable organization to monitor respect for children’s rights in Uganda. However, it lacks resources and is still working out its agenda and priorities.
26. Interview with Mrs Shirley Gbujama, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, 24 July 1998.
27. This section on Sierra Leone was written before the upsurge in the conflict in December 1998.
28. Sierra Leone Web, 3 October 1998 (http://www.Sierra-leone.org/slnews.html).
29. See, for example, P Richards, Fighting for the Rain Forest. War Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone (Oxford and New Hampshire: International African Institute in association with James Currey and Heinemann, 1996); 1 Abdullah, ‘Bush path to destruction: the origin and character of the Revolutionary United Front/Sierra Leone’, 36 Journal of Modern African Studies 2 (1998).
30. ‘Day of the African Child (DAC) 1998, Sierra Leone: Final Proposals/Recommendations by us, the Children’. ARTICLE 19 thanks the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs for making this available.
31. For a fuller discussion of media issues in Sierra Leone, see ARTICLE 19’s September 1998 memorandum, Strengthening the right to freedom of expression in Sierra Leone: ARTICLE 19’s recommendations for action by the government of Sierra Leone and the international community (London: ARTICLE 19, Sept. 1998), 5-8.
32. ARTICLE 19 would like to thank in particular the following NG0s involved in this work for the time which they gave its representative during his visit to Sierra Leone: UNICEF-Sierra Leone, Children Associated with the War (CAW); the Christian Brothers, Bo; Lifeline-West African Indigenous Ministries Approved School, Wellington; Kids in Distress; Action contre le faim (ACF); World Vision Sierra Leone.
33. ARTICLE 19, note 31 above, at 11-12.
34. Ibid., at 10.
36. Ibid., at. 10-11.
37. Ibid., at 6 and 11.
38. Cape Town Annotated Principles and Best Practice on the Prevention of Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa, April 1997. The Principles take their cue in significant measure from the influential 1996 report of the expert of the UN Secretary-General, Ms Graça Machel, on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (UN Doc. A/51/306, New York: 26 Aug. 1996).