ECOWAS Commission through its Gender Development Centre (EGDC) alongside the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights convened a high-level meeting of Ministers responsible for Gender and Child Protection and Ministers in charge of Human Rights.
The meeting took place in Banjul, the Gambia, on Thursday 26 May 2022. In attendance were Ministers from ECOWAS Member States and beneficiaries of the Support Project for Children Victims of Human Rights Violations (PAPEV).
The ministerial meeting was officially opened by H.E Badara A. Joof, Vice President representing H.E Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of the Gambia. In attendance were Commissioner Siga Fatima Jagne, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Gender Ministers from the Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Niger, and Senegal; Senegal’s Secretary of State for Human Rights, the Resident Representative of the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR), the ECOWAS Resident Representative to the Gambia and representatives of partner institutions (HCHR, UNICEF, Italian Cooperation, United Nations, Plan International, etc.).
The meeting’s deliberations centred on the theme “Assessment of Experiences on Transnational Collaboration in the fight against Child Trafficking, the example of the PAPEV project, and the implementation of strategies to support legislative processes for the protection of children victims of human rights violations and abuse in West Africa” and was preceded by a meeting of Directors and Experts responsible for Child Protection and Human Rights from the 23rd to 25th of May 2022.
At the end of the meeting, the Ministers from the beneficiary Member States adopted the Banjul Declaration with an aim to create a safe and just environment for child victims of human rights violations and to address their legal, judicial and social needs in the ECOWAS sub region.
The opening ceremony of this high-level meeting featured several speeches. In her welcome address, Gambia’s Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare, Fatou Sanyang-Kinteh, having thanked ECOWAS and the partners involved in the project, recalled that the meeting is in direct response to a request by the Gambia and Guinea Bissau’s Ministers for Gender and Child Welfare.
Both countries had expressed the need to forge stronger partnership in the fight against child trafficking in Member States. According to her, it is an opportunity to assess achievements in child protection, chart the way forward through new initiatives, and reemphasize joint efforts for the protection of children in the subregion.
Subsequently, the speeches by Mrs Eugenia Pisani, Programme Officer for Gender and Human Rights at the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and Mr Andrea Ori, Resident Representative of the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) highlighted the latest UN statistics on human trafficking, which indicates that more than 75% of victims in West Africa are children.
Hence the support from international partners and institutions for this meeting, which aims to discuss and adopt priority actions to be carried out by PAPEV beneficiary countries to strengthen the institutional, political, and legislative framework against child trafficking in West Africa.
Speaking on behalf of H.E Jean Claude Kassi Brou, ECOWAS Commission President, Commissioner Siga Fatima Jagne, in charge of Social Affairs and Gender stated that child abuse and violence slows the pace of economic growth and adversely impacts the ECOWAS regional integration process, which is largely driven by human capital.
She concluded by reaffirming the unwavering commitment of ECOWAS Management to work in close collaboration with the Member States and partners, to not only eradicate child human rights abuse and violations, but also resolve all problems of inequality, discrimination, and marginalisation in the region.
The opening address for this High-Level Ministerial Meeting was given by H.E Badara A. Joof, Vice President, on behalf of H.E Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of the Gambia. He began his speech by quoting Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”.
He then reiterated the particular importance his country attaches to the legal and institutional measures against child abuse, violence, and exploitation. For Vice President Joof, the reintegration of children into families should be based on a comprehensive strategy that will keep the child in the family. He concluded by launching an appeal for continued collaboration among the PAPEV beneficiary countries for the well-being of children in the sub region.
Funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS), the PAPEV project has been launched by the HCHR and ECOWAS in six countries, namely the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, and Senegal.
The project aims to support the beneficiary countries to strengthen their respective legal frameworks for the promotion of child rights, facilitate access to child protection services for child victims of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and to strengthen regional cooperation and collaboration on child protection.