18. Children’s Rights and Experiences of Governance in Africa

E-mail of panel organisers: tatek.abebe@svt.ntnu.no, je@hi.is

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) are key human right instruments that shape policies and programs for children in Africa. Rights discourses are infused in programs that address the living conditions of, among others, ‘children on the move’, ‘trafficked children’, ‘orphan and vulnerable children’, ‘street children’, ‘child beggars’ etc. Yet, intervention strategies for these children are met with complex challenges and dilemmas at the grassroots level. Rights-based approaches also have implications for children’s role and place in society. Through the UNCRC and ACRWC, the responsibility for the care and wellbeing of children has been re-scripted, with nation-states as the main duty bearers. Being part of the global children’s rights framework, African families face pressure from government and non-governmental institutions to uphold and exercise children’s individual rights. Yet, the capacities of families and communities to live up to the ideals contained in these documents are eroded by social, economic, political and environmental transformations as well as the inequalities reproduced by them. The paradigm of children’s rights further contradicts deeply held values about childhood as well as experiences that the needs and rights of children will be met through vertical state-child relationships, via practices of citizenship and accountability. This panel explores how the children’s rights agenda has epitomized intervention strategies for vulnerable children in diverse African settings; and discusses the implications for these children's lived experiences within families, communities and beyond. How do children, families and communities encounter children’s rights and the governance of their everyday lives in Africa? We welcome both conceptual and empirical papers that discuss the implications of children’s rights framework for re-thinking questions of governance for and with children in Africa.

The panel is part of an initiative of Nordic Network of African Childhood and Youth Research (NoNACYR), financially supported by NordForsk for the period of 2011-2015.

Papers Session 1: Children’s Rights and Experiences of Governance in Africa I – Collective Existence and Resilience Pathways

1. Talking make things worse: a qualitative study on how street children in Addis Abeba handle emotions

Authors: Sofie Dahlman and Birgitta E Rubenson (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden)


The study explores how street children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, handle emotions like anger,sadness and fear and how they maintain joy. Qualitative interviews were conducted and analyzed using inductive content analysis. The boys used isolation to handle anger and sadness and peer-support to handle fear and maintain joy. They avoided talking about personal issues associated to negative emotions as they felt it made things worse. Low selfdisclosure and isolation from peers is discussed in terms of suppression of emotions, implicit social support and interdependent self in collectivistic cultures. Regulation of fear was interpreted as similar to coping for survival.

2. Children’s perceptions and understanding of rural poverty in Zambia

Author: Douglas Tendai Phiri (Norwegian Centre for child research)


Excluding perspectives of those that experience and live in contexts of poverty has been characteristic of most poverty and ‘child poverty’ interventions and research. Children in ‘child poverty’ are simply objects and recipients of interventions and are seldom included in shaping discussions on conceptualizations of poverty. This tends to exclude the influence of the socio-economic and cultural context on which poverty is experienced and interpreted. In addition, the influence of age in experiences, conceptualizations and interpretations of poverty is less emphasized. Age as a mediating factor in how poverty is understood, experienced and interpreted is an important thread in child poverty research and interventions. Therefore, this paper shows some of the results of a child focused qualitative study of how children experience and perceive poverty in rural district of Lundazi in Zambia. The study involved 24 children in phase one and 18 children in phase of equal numbers of boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 16 years respectively. As opposed a narrow view of income and consumption poverty, this ethnographic study of ‘children living in rural poverty’ established that children interpreted poverty in social and relational ways that were mediated by cultural and socio-economic factors. The paper shows some of the dominant ways in which children understand and interpret poverty through symbolic, relational, socio-economic (productive and reproductive) and material markers of poverty. This work contributes towards child poverty literature that posits children as competent social actors that are both influenced and also influence the socio-economic contexts of their community’s and societies and thus attach meanings to their social worlds.

3. The effect of stigma and marginalization on psychosocial wellbeing of orphans and adolescents in Rwanda

Author: Tehetna Geleta (University of Helsinki, Finland)


The 1994 genocide in Rwanda left government, Ngo’s and civil societies into enormous challenge of caring for the 850,000 orphans created by the carnage. It is unprecedented in its scale and intensity in recent memory that has led not only to one of the largest population of orphans in the world, but also eroded traditional social structures that could have cared for orphans. As a result, it created a condition for orphans to be marginalized by society due to their indigence and orphan status (Foster et al., 1997).
Stigma and marginalization leads to isolation, poor social relations, and weakened access to resources (Sauce, 1998; Link et al, 2004). This in turn affects physical and mental health (House et al, 1988). Studies have clearly demonstrated that social relations promote health by buffering potentially deleterious health effects of psychosocial stress or other health hazards (Cassel, 1976; Cobb, 1976)
The study is based on data collected in 2009 on a randomly selected sample of 420 orphaned children and adolescents (aged between 10 & 25). The data consisted of 179 girls and 251 boys living in different environment such as in orphanage, child headed households foster and street.
This paper examines the role of social support in mediating psychosocial wellbeing by mitigating stigma and discrimination. It also addresses whether or not stigma and marginalization was perceived in equal measure across different living environment of orphans.
Results showed that stigma and marginalization varied significantly across orphans. Children in orphanage and foster homes reported as having less perceived stigma and marginalization than child headed households and children in the street. The higher the level of stigma and marginalization perceived by orphans, the worst the emotional wellbeing and mental distress. Moreover mediation analysis indicated that social support had a statistically significant and substantial effect in reducing the negative impact of stigma and marginalization on emotional wellbeing, and less so in the case of mental distress. In this connection, the study by Ruggiero et al (1997) has also highlighted the importance of social support to disadvantaged group members to cope with marginalization. From these findings, it follows that the Rwandan government, the civil society and the community could do great service in mitigating the deleterious effect of stigma and marginalization.

4. Children’s conceptualization of families in two contrasting social settings in Ethiopia

Author: Sophia Chanyalew Kassa (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)


The paper discusses children’s conceptualizations of families, whom they consider as members of their families and what criteria they use to include and exclude individuals as members of their families. Empirical study for the paper is carried out in two socio-culturally and economically contrasting settings, namely Addis Abeba (urban and upper class) and Dangla (rural, predominantly peasant) in Ethiopia. Empirical data was gathered using semi-structured interviews, field observations, and informal talks in order to explore the similarities and difference between children’s conceptualizations of family.

The conceptualization of family among children in Addis Ababa is interpreted mainly in two interrelated concepts of togetherness and closeness. These concepts are identified as central to most of the children’s explanations of what families are. Togetherness is attributed to the sharing of residence while closeness is associated with emotional relations and material reciprocity. Children in the rural study are found to conceptualize family through the notion of togetherness and unity. The sense and meaning that the children in the rural attribute to togetherness however goes beyond place of residence and is found as being intertwined with the notion of unity. Hence it takes the meaning of both sharing of residence plus the cooperation of members dwelling in a single residence to survive and economically grow together, which is understood as unity. The paper reflects upon the implications of children’s perspectives on family to think and conceptualise about questions of households, collective existence and interdependence in livelihood strategies.

Papers Session 2: Children’s Rights and Experiences of Governance in Africa III – Contesting International Norms?

5. Independent child migration in Ghana: decision and challenges

Author: Þóra Björnsdóttir (University of Iceland)


Children who live in poverty decide at times to migrate independently at young age in search for better life conditions. In some places children migrate because of lack of opportunities of employment and education in their home town. They seek to gain experience, knowledge and to provide income for themselves and their family. The presentation examines life of people in Ghana who migrated before the age of fifteen, without the company of a parent or a legal guardian. Their life story and current activities will be discussed along with the emotional changes that occur due to new living conditions. The data collection took place in Accra from June to September 2013, through qualitative methodology.
Results show that most participants migrated because of lack of educational or employment opportunities in the hometown. Many interviewees come from poor families which made them difficult to attend school and accordingly to get a job. Therefore, the children did not see many opportunities and decided to change locations in hope of gaining better condition of life for themselves and their families. Most participants claimed to be happy with the decision of migrating and that current life condition is better than what they had before. However, most of the interviewees would choose to move back to their hometowns if they had the same opportunities as in the city. The statement of happiness is therefore mainly based on gratitude of what they have in their lives rather than true and honest happiness towards their choices. In most cases returning home is difficult or even impossible because the family and the society expect the children to return in better situation than before the migration. The migrants are therefore trapped in current situation and need to prove to others that they did not make mistake by choosing to move away.


Author: Frederick Longino (University of York, UK)


The widespread of religiosity in Tanzania is taking place alongside concerns over reliance of families on religious healing and deliverance miracles for the prevention and treatment of illness/diseases instead of accessing medical or scientific health care. What is the impact of religious beliefs and practices on medical or health care of vulnerable children and young people? How do ill-health experiences of East African religious families and medical practitioners’ experiences inform and shape decisions or choices between faith healing and medical care or both? To answer these questions, METHODS: I will present my PhD fieldwork experience and data I collected through in-depth interviews and participant observation from Tanzania in 2010/11. With support from relevant health policies in Tanzania I will discuss the effects of religious healing and deliverance practices on medical intervention, emotional and physical well-being of vulnerable children, young people and families, by presenting narratives of religious parents, particularly how their faithful life contravenes or fits in medical or health care delivery and management for their children and young people in Tanzania. FINDINGS: My paper will focus on three aspects of my findings: construction of medical intervention with special interest in children's rights to health care in accordance to the Law of the Child Tanzania, UN Convention on Rights of the Child and various health policies in Tanzania, efficacy of prayers and God’s miracles. CONCLUSION: The paper concludes that religious beliefs lead some parents to favour their own faith care through healing and deliverance in lieu of medical care from hospitals. But   should the government health policy considers the integration of religious beliefs in the process of health care intervention, as religious beliefs might have implications in the prevention and cure of ill-health?

7. Bissau-Guinean talibes in Senegal: responses to claims of child trafficking

Authors: Hamadou Boiro (Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisa, Guinea-Bissau) and Jónína Einarsdóttir (University of Iceland)


Trafficking, not least child trafficking, has gained enormous attention lately. Nonetheless, research rarely focuses on traffickers. The assumption that traffickers are involved in a well organized crime characterized by a big international business networks is vanishing. Instead evidence indicates that their background varies, or as described by Feinberg (2005: 28), traffickers “range from truck drivers and village ‘aunties’ to labor brokers and police officers.” Parents, family, friends or other community members are increasingly implicated as child traffickers. The Trafficking in Persons Reports present religious teachers named marabouts in Mali, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau as “unscrupulous traffickers”. In Senegal more than 50000 children beg in the country, most of whom are Koran school students, named talibes. Many of these come from Guinea-Bissau. This presentation examines how Bissau-Guinean marabouts running Koran schools in Senegal react to accusation of being child traffickers. It is based on fieldwork carried out intermittently in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau since 2009. The presentation highlights how the various groups of marabouts responded to anti-trafficking measures that banned begging and attempted to repatriate Bissau-Guinean boys from Senegal as well as curtailing their cross-border movement between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.

8. Beyond child rights – is schooling really in the best interest of African children and their families?

Authors: Marguerite Daniel, Samson Yeboah and Ingvild Kvissellien (University of Bergen, Norway)


The CRC expresses that children have the right to education, it describes the nature of the education they should receive and it also states that children should be protected from participating in hazardous and exploitative labour. In addition, the second Millennium Development Goal aims to achieve universal primary education by 2015, a strategy which is heavily supported by the World Bank with particular emphasis on the benefits of educating girls. Few studies have explored the views of local families and communities, particularly in Africa, on the drive to school children. This paper explores the views of local people in two communities in different regions of Africa on the value of schooling in terms of i) the quality of available schooling and its opportunity cost, and ii) the outcomes. This paper draws on data from three separate studies, two from Botswana and one from Ghana. The first study in Botswana involved 19 youth aged 16 to 23, 7 boys and 12 girls (only six of the youth were not orphaned) and aimed to explore what facilitates thriving for youth in a time of transition. The second and third studies both explored local understandings of child protection. In the second study nineteen individual and group interviews were held with national, district and local child protection authorities, and, village leaders, elders, community members and young people in two villages in Botswana. In the third study in Ghana, data were collected from 33 participants involved in some form of caregiving or services to children, including regional level authorities, school teachers and the local Queen mother as well as parents. Education had not been the focus of any of the studies but emerged as a strong theme. While the vast majority of participants reified education, findings show that parents in contexts of poverty need the income or produce their children can generate simply for the family to survive; parents develop strategies to ‘rotate’ children through school and to avoid the judgement of the authorities. The outcomes of available education do little to promote employment or opportunities to escape poverty.

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