By Amie Sanneh
The Director of Social Welfare, Fanta Bai Secka yesterday inaugurated the National Child and Youth Advisory Board at a ceremony held at the Friendship Hostel in Bakau. The Board which is under the auspices of the Child Protection Alliance (CPA) consists of 45 members from across the country with an executive of ten people.
The Social Welfare Director said the ultimate aim of the board is to ensure the effective participation of children and youths in the implementation of programmes to prevent violence against children. She said special attention on children by all is required to ensure the realization of their rights, responsibilities and needs.
She described the lack of comprehensive data on the nature and magnitude of violence affecting children and youths as a major challenge, noting that there are significant gaps. Madam Secka however said the government is committed to addressing these gaps and the eradication of all forms of violence especially violence against children. According to her, the Gambia Government has undertaken a review of its laws which brought about the enactment of the Children’s Act 2005. She stated that two more Acts on Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Acts respectively were enacted recently.
Highlighting some of the strides made by the government, the Social Welfare Director explained that community child protection committees and adolescent and neighborhood watch groups have been established to undertake awareness raising campaigns about the laws and relevant child protection issues. She added that there are other policies and programmes in the area of sexual harassment in schools, one step centre for the protection of victims and survivors of violence, shelters and child protection system strengthening are being implemented by the Gambia Government and partners to create a child friendly environment for every child.
The Social Welfare Director noted that violence against children as a health and welfare issue has recently been a key focus area by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and who, she said, has trained child protection health focal points and doctors who are stationed at health facilities to ensure that victims are provided with emergency health treatment and psychosocial care and support. She finally advised the board members to be truthful and frank in their deliberations as violence against children has grave consequences which require their interventions in a timely manner. “To the board members, you have been selected to represent the interest of children and youths countrywide in a very sensitive and challenging issues that requires tactics, honesty and you must dare to act,” she said.
Speaking earlier, the coordinator of the Child Protection Alliance, Njundu Drammeh, in his welcoming remarks said the board is a platform for children and young people where they would not only talk about issues affecting them but also fight for the cause of children to ensure that violence against children and young people become a thing of the past. He stressed the need for children and young people to be involved in decision making and ensure that they bring about positive change in society. Mr. Drammeh said the Gambia has a youthful population and that no one can ignore or discount the potential contribution of children and young people to the development of the country. He described children and young people as critical in the realization of the country’s national blueprints. Mr. Drammeh noted that the board will advocate for more child and youth friendly environment for the Gambia.
The outgoing Chairperson, Amie Gai, said violence against children takes place in many different forms and settings which includes rape, incest; child sex tourism amongst others. This, according to her, is a fundamental violation of children’s rights and thus the need to end it. This, she continues, is what the board seeks to do. Amie stated that the people who are supposed to be the number one protector of children are themselves who sometimes put young people at risk. The establishment of the board came as result of a recommendation in the United Nations Global study on violence against children, she said. She highlighted some of the activities they undertook during the period such as school outreach activities across the country, joint symposium with NAPSA on violence against children and performances of students in schools amongst others.
The newly elected chairperson,n Modou Lamin Daviez, described the theme of the program as important noting that it seeks to inform and mobilize youth on violence against children. “The youths consist of more than 60% of the Gambian population and therefore we couldn’t have a better theme than this. Ending violence against children can never be achieved without involving young people in the fight, as we are the cream of the society and the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. He assured participants that his executive and the general membership of the board will work relentlessly to partnering with the various ministries, departments and any other institution working towards the creation of a violence free Gambia. As children, and young people, he said they must not take their rights as a license to do anything that pleases them. Daviez added that they should uphold the good moral conducts in society.