16th of June has become a significant day across Africa as the Day of the African Child (DAC)- the day devoted to raising awareness on issues pertaining to the African Child. The DAC of course has its root in the 1976 students uprising in Soweto, South Africa where students who marched to protest the evil of the then apartheid education system, were brutally massacred by the South African police.
In 1991, the Assembly of Heads of States and Government of the then OAU directed that every June 16 be set aside as the DAC- a day to simultaneously celebrate the African Child and also outline the enduring challenges the African Child continues to face. The theme for 2020 DAC is ‘Access to a Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa’ as adopted by the African Union Executive Council, during its 34th Ordinary meeting.
AMISOM has, over the years, been commemorating the DAC, both as an AU Mission in Somalia and also as part of its capacity building support to the Government and people of Somalia.
Indeed, this time in 2019, AMISOM together with the FGS and FMS, commemorated the DAC in Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidoa and Jowhar. Sadly, the emergence of the novel coronavirus (Covid19) earlier this year and its continuing ubiquity across the world, including in Africa and in Somalia, has greatly affected this year’s commemoration.
Yet, despite Covid19, we owe a duty to commemorate today in Somalia and salute the resilience of the Somali Child in the face of numerous child protection concerns in the country.
The theme for this year is ‘Access to a Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa’ and despite the rampaging cases of Covid19 in Somalia and across Africa, it remains a pertinent theme for the continent. The theme is even more relevant to Somalia due to the activities of Al-Shabaab which continues to wage war against the people of Somalia with children being amongst the most vulnerable to its asymmetric war in the country.
The atrocities of Al-Shabaab in Somalia adversely affects the Somali children- both boys and girls- with the boys often being forced into joining the rank of Al-Shabaab fighters whilst girls may be forced into early marriage and other forms of sexual violence.
The quest for child friendly justice system in Somalia must therefore commence with the Somalia Security Forces (SSF), with the support of AMISOM forces, providing physical protection to the Somali Child against the evil of Al-Shabaab.
It also means that, in appropriate circumstances, children who were coerced and forcibly recruited to fight for Al-Shabaab, are provided a different pathway in the defectors ‘rehabilitation process, in a manner that recognise them as victims of Al-Shabaab’s activities.
AMISOM will continue to support the FGS and FMS in their efforts to engender a Somalia where children in the country will have access to: security, good health care, education and justice system that meet with international standards.
On behalf of AMISOM, I congratulate the Somali Child as he and she celebrate their International Day. We, in the Mission, remain committed to implementing our mandate in Somalia by promoting, protecting and upholding the rights of children, in line with the provisions of all international laws applicable to AMISOM operations in Somalia.