1 Sep 2003

Legal reform launched to protect children

An initiative that strengthens the legal system to better safeguard children's rights was launched on Monday by the Mozambican government, supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). "We have followed the process of a comprehensive law reform initiated by the government of Mozambique with great interest", UNICEF Representative Marie-Pierre Poirier said in a statement. "We welcome the work done so far. But we think greater emphasis should be given to strengthening the safeguards for their access to education, to health and other social services, to improve the legal protection of all children from neglect, abuse and exploitation, and to give them opportunities to participate in decisions which affect their lives."

UNICEF spokesman Michael Klaus told IRIN: "We think this is a very important initiative because it aims at translating international documents like the Convention on the Rights of the Child CRC) into Mozambican reality, and are optimistic that by the end of the day, we can really improve the situation of children in Mozambique."

The initiative will start by analysing the existing legislation, the customary laws (which usually have primacy in rural areas) and judicial practice, to find out whether they are in accordance with the CRC and other human rights treaties to which Mozambique is a party. "This study will be a first and important step. But it is not sufficient by itself. The overall aim of this process is the formulation of a comprehensive Children's Act, which will address all aspects of children's lives, based on the principle of the 'best interests of the child', as enshrined in the CRC," Poirier said.

The review process "will be a consultative and participatory exercise", involving interviews with government officials, NGOs, children and their families, and members of the judicial system. "UNICEF will support this national debate," the statement added. Klause said initial findings from the review and first draft of the children's act should be ready by the end of the year.

Although Mozambique's economy has shown a decade of strong growth, wealth is unevenly distributed and children remain vulnerable. According to UNICEF, most Mozambican children are still not registered after birth; only half of all children aged between six and 10 go to school, with girls especially underrepresented; and more than 1 million children aged under 14 are subject to exploitative labour. Moreover, almost 300,000 children aged under 15 have lost a parent to AIDS, and this figure is expected to rise to almost one million by 2010. (IRIN)

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