The Hague, the Netherlands – Every year 3 million girls risk undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and 15 million girls are married before the age of 18.
In response to these harmful traditional practices, the Dutch AWEPA Section organised a parliamentary meeting in celebration of the Day of the African Child 2016. The meeting took place in the Dutch Parliament on 15 June 2016.
Chaired by Hon. Marit Maij, Member of the Dutch House of Representatives and Head of the Dutch AWEPA Section, the meeting provided an opportunity for participants to discuss the role of parliamentarians in the abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage.
“We have to ask ourselves why harmful traditional practices are used as a tool to control the sexuality of women and girls” Hon. Maij
A keynote address was given by Hon. Els Van Hoof, Belgian MP and Political Coordinator for the AWEPA FGM/C and Child Marriage programmes. Placing a special focus on AWEPA’s activities in Senegal, Hon. Van Hoof outlined AWEPA’s efforts to contribute to the abandonment of FGM/C through its extensive network of parliamentarians in both Europe and Africa.
As part of her speech, Hon. Van Hoof described her participation in the recent sub-regional conference in Saly, Senegal, which tackled the cross-border dimensions of this sensitive issue, considered crucial for the abandonment of the practice.
Hon. Van Hoof noted the support that European parliamentarians can provide to these events and stressed the importance of exchange amongst African MPs in the region to learn about progress and interventions in each other’s countries and stimulate follow-up actions. She highlighted the potential of parliamentarians to open doors, and to act as facilitators in the fight against harmful practices.
Hon. Van Hoof also briefly mentioned the recent approval of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Model Law on eradicating child marriage and protecting those already in marriage. This Model Law represents a historic initiative for the fight against child marriage to which AWEPA contributed by implementing parliamentary activities in the SADC region in cooperation with the SADC Parliamentary Forum and Plan.
In addition, Hon. Van Hoof related her legislative work in the Belgian Parliament to protect the victims of FGM/C in her own country.
Ms. Monique Demenint, representative of Girls Not Brides, the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, and Coordinator of the “Yes I do” Alliance in the Netherlands also took the floor. She gave insight into the valuable work carried out by Girls Not Brides against child marriage and provided useful information and advice on the role of parliamentarians.
Ms. Demenint also outlined the causes of child marriage and its impacts, both on the lives of children and on society as a whole.
The panel debate
Among other distinguished guests, Ms. Mekka Abdelgabar of Stichting Vrouwenorganisatie Nederland-Darfur (VOND) related her own personal experience and successful actions in the fight agains child marriage in Khartoum, Sudan, where the marriageable age is 10.
Participants also discussed the role of traditional leaders and the current movement led by elderly men who say no to FGM/C.
To a question from Hon. Helma Neppèrus, Member of the Dutch House of Representatives, on how the issue of FGM/C is tackled on the ground, Hon. Van Hoof described AWEPA’s collaboration with local NGOs, and gave the example of Burkina Faso where the sensitisation of FGM/C has been included in the school curriculum.
Ms. Deminent outlined efforts by local NGOs, and in particular the work of AMREF in Kenya to propose an alternative rite of passage for young girls reaching adolescence.
The way forward according to Ms. van der Steenhoven is to work from two tracks, both bottom-up and through a political parliamentary push.
The role of parliamentarians was further addressed by Hon. Roelof van Laar, Member of the Dutch House of Representatives and Spokesperson on Development Cooperation, who explained a three-tonged approach to the role of MPs in the abandonment of harmful traditional practices: MPs can play a ‘broker role’ by bringing people together; they can make good laws; and they can oversee the budget, ensuring it is child friendly.
In addition, Mr. Herbert Ndahiro of the Rwandan Embassy in The Hague noted the importance of Africans briefing fellow Africans on harmful traditional practices, and addressed the role that social media campaigns can play by targeting young people.
The meeting was brought to an end by Hon. Van Laar, who stressed the importance of education and health services in ending all forms of inequality between girls and boys. Hon. Van Laar urged participants to begin to break the pattern of inequality which he sees reflected in both modern and traditional harmful practices across the world.
About the Day of the African Child
The Day of the African Child (DAC) is commemorated every year on 16 June by Member States of the African Union. This occasion commemorates the 1976 uprisings in Soweto, South Africa, when a protest by school children against apartheid-inspired education resulted in the public killing of these unarmed young protesters by police officials.
The DAC presents an opportunity to focus on the work of all actors committed to the rights of children on the continent, and to consolidate their efforts in addressing the obstacles for realising these rights. It also provides an occasion for governments, international institutions and communities to renew their ongoing commitment towards improving the plight of children by organising activities and raising awareness.