By Samkelo Mahlalela | 2018-06-14
To provide an opportunity to intensify advocacy on children’s issues in the Kingdom of Eswatini, in 2007, government declared June as Children’s Month.
Since then, the government and partners recognise the month by drawing attention to issues affecting children – appreciating achievements as well as noting areas that require attention.
The highlight of the month-long advocacy activities is always the national commemoration of the Day of the African Child (DAC). DAC is commemorated by member states of the African Union and its partners on June 16, in memory of the 16th June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa.
For the Kingdom of Eswatini, the DAC presents an opportunity to reflect on the struggles and success stories of the collective work of all actors (government, international and local partners, and communities) committed to the rights of children in the country; and to renew their on-going commitments towards improving the plight of children by organising activities aimed at including children, thus consolidating their efforts in addressing the obstacles for realising these rights. For 2018, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) has selected the theme for the commemoration of DAC as “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development”.
The 2018 theme builds on the momentum created by the 2017 theme, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for Children in Africa: Accelerating Protection, Empowerment and Equal Opportunity.” It does so by emphasising the need to mainstream children’s rights in all (Agenda 2030) developmental programmes implemented by member states.
The Government of The Kingdom of Eswatini through the deputy prime minister’s office and the lead partners that come together to plan for and lead the commemoration of Children’s Month, have adapted the DAC theme to “Leave No Child Behind in the Development of Eswatini”. In launching Children’s Month at the city Courts in Mbabane last week, the Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Paul Dlamini explained that government’s approach to this theme derives from the basic principle of Emaswati that, to value our children is to value our future (bantfwana bangumliba loyaembili). Dlamini emphasised that any social institution (a home, church, community or nation) that fails to recognise the importance of children, runs a risk of dying a natural death, and therefore urged all to make it a point that something is done to appreciate children this month and beyond.
The deputy prime minister further stated that the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini is commited to having comprehensive children’s programmes to ensure that they grow up in a secure country, enjoying all the rights and privileges they deserve. “We recommit ourselves to the African Charter on Welfare and Rights of Children and to the UN declaration on the rights of the child,” he said.
With this year’s Children’s Month celebrations coinciding with the country’s celebration of 50 years of independence, there are numerous milestones that have been achieved across sectors.
These include (and not limited to) the education sector, where government has phased in free primary education, with the support of the European Union (EU); Has recently taken the first steps to improve conditions in training colleges and universities, where curriculums have been revised to include psycho-social support and inclusive education, with the aim of equipping teachers to equal the challenges that children meet in their everyday lives; and where government has availed financial support to vulnerable and orphaned children (OVC) through the OVC fund that has seen at least 55 000 children who could have otherwise been left behind in the education system, benefiting. This has been the case because government understands and prioritises education as the foundation for national development.
Despite such milestones, there are still concerns that in some parts of the country, children are left behind in some development activities. A case in point, is the large number of children who do not have birth certificates and personal identity numbers. There remains a need for government to strengthen her endeavours on decentralisation to deal with the challenges posed by parents that do not feel obligated to register their children at birth. This usually has negative implication on the child’s access to services such as education.
In promoting the right to health, the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini has partnered with a number of institutions including the Global Fund to ensure that the transmission of the HIV infection from mother to child is reduced. This has seen a drastic reduction in vertical HIV transmission and notable increase in HIV-freenew-borns.
The global community, through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the UN’s fast-track initiative has set an ambitious target of ending AIDS by 2030. The understanding is that to end AIDS as a public health threat, children, adolescents and young women should be reached urgently with the prevention, treatment, care and support they need. To achieve this, there is need to redouble efforts to reach mothers and mothers-to-be and protect the next generation of children from HIV.
For its part, the country has embraced the “Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free” accelerated framework for ending AIDS in children, adolescents and young women by 2020. The super-fast-track implementation framework that is the 3 frees, demands that the country continues to work with the development partners, donors, local and international non-governmental organisations (especially the Children’s and the HIV/AIDS Consortiums), and the private sector in the alignment and implementation of the 3 frees with the umgubudla: a fast-track programme towards an AIDS-free Eswatini programmes and those contained in the soon to be launched National Strategic Framework 2018-2022.
The survival, protection, growth and development of healthy and well-nourished children is the most important start to human development.Therefore, children must get the best possible start in life – including ensuring that every child should be born and remain HIV free (Start Free). It entails ensuring that every pregnant woman / mother living with HIV has access to lifelong HIV treatment. An HIV free beginning for a child means strengthening the prevention of new HIV infections among women, providing ART for pregnant women and ensuring that breastfeeding mothers are retained in care during the breastfeeding period.
There is need too, to ensure that every adolescent and young woman should be able to protect themselves from HIV infection and realise their full potential without fear of sexual violence, abuse or exploitation (Stay Free). With the HIV prevalence among adolescent girls and boys aged 15-19 almost double for the girls compared to boys at five per cent and three per cent respectively, there is need for more interventions aimed at giving adolescent girls and young women, a chance to remain HIV-free.
All people living with HIV should have access to the antiretroviral treatment they need to stay live long healthy lives (AIDS-free). When children and adolescents are left behind, the impact is devastating. Therefore, there is need to ensure that every child and adolescent living with HIV has access to quality HIV treatment, care and support and to help them realise their full potential without stigma and discrimination.
n Parents and caregivers of all children infected with HIV should make it a point that they are initiated on ART/ARVs and are provided support in the period of care and treatment. The infected children should remain adherent to the medication as their survival and development depends on it. These children should be encouraged to join teen clubs for peer support. It is important to encourage fathers to be directly involved and supportive to the HIV care and treatment for their children.
n Parents are required to disclose to the child about the HIV status by age 10, as children who know why they are taking ARVs have better treatment outcomes. ART is important for decreasing viral load; increased immunological status; the prevention of occurrence of opportunistic infections (OIs); and improved quality of life – allowing children to participate in normal activities.
n There should be zero stigma and discrimination among families, schools, church and the whole community at large. Children are the future of this nation, investing in their health and well-being is very important.
n For adolescents living with HIV they are encouraged to be adherent to their medication and to avoid teen pregnancy and focus on career development.
Children have a right to health and therefore, in our pursuit of vision 2022 and the various regional and international agendas, we should leave no child behind, until no child has AIDS! Let us meet at kaShewula Primary School on Wednesday 20 June and celebrate our children as the country commemorates DAC 2018.
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