Leiden Law Blog

Abraham Keita: ‘I want to be a light for children in the darkness’

Posted on by Apollonia Bolscher in Private Law
Abraham Keita: ‘I want to be a light for children in the darkness’

All around the globe, children become victims of violence far too often. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the almost universally ratified human rights treaty for children, and other international children’s rights instruments, justice should be achieved to offer children who are victims of violence opportunities to recover and reintegrate into society. Monday, November 9, 2015 was a very special day because this day showed that children themselves can also play an important part in this.

Every year the International Children´s Peace Prize is awarded by NGO KidsRights, to a child, whose courageous or otherwise remarkable actions have made a difference in improving the situation of children. This year the award was presented to Abraham Keita, a 17-year-old boy from Liberia during an inspiring ceremony in the Ridderzaal in the Hague. His work tells a powerful story about how to tackle violence so that this world can become a place that is safe and just for children. For example in his fight against gender-based violence, and in particular, the rape of girls: a serious concern in Liberia. As part of a national anti-rape campaign in 2014, Keita started his own project to focus on the rape of children, demanding justice for the many young victims of sexual violence. Moreover, Keita pushed for national legislation on children’s rights. In 2012 Liberia became one of the first African countries to adopt comprehensive legislation for children, the Children’s Law, incorporating both the CRC and the African Charter.

The International Children´s Peace Prize was also an occasion to emphasise the importance of the right to recovery and reintegration for child victims of violence by presenting the report, entitled: The Silent Majority: Justice for child victims of violence, with a focus on Liberia, undertaken by the Child Law Department of Leiden University (under the supervision of UNICEF Professor of Children’s Rights Ton Liefaard) in partnership with KidsRights.

Worldwide 6 in 10 children

As already mentioned, children throughout the world become victims of violence. Violence comes in various forms and occurs in different settings including the home, school, community and on the internet. According to a recent UNICEF Report, worldwide, roughly 6 in 10 children between the ages of 2 and 14 are subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers on a regular basis. One quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 report being victim to some form of physical violence. About 120 million girls - around 1 in 10 of all girls who are victims of violence - have experienced forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. This is just the tip of the iceberg and such numbers can only be estimated, because violence against children remains largely hidden due to a host of reasons including social norms, shame and fear of reprisal.

KidsRights Report 2015 – The Silent Majority

This year’s KidsRights Report, The Silent Majority: Justice for child victims of violence, with a focus on Liberia, is about the rights of children as victims of violence, and how justice can be achieved to offer these children opportunities to recover and reintegrate into society. The Report could be a useful source of information to improve the rights of children who are victims of violence. Article 39 CRC plays a pivotal role in this Report, since it addresses the position of child victims explicitly by asserting their right to physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration. The Report analyses appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery, such as care and victim assistance services, family support and child protection units. The Report also demonstrates essential elements of a social reintegration of child victims of violence, such as the recognition of victimhood, the accountability of the perpetrator, and compensation. Moreover, the Report shows that child victims should have access to justice and effective remedies to redress violations and let their voices be heard. As a result the Report shows that child victims will feel legally empowered and a member of society again.

The Report goes on to take a closer look at Liberia, a post-conflict country recovering from a deadly Ebola crisis, where violence against children, and especially sexual violence against girls, is an issue of serious concern. Although Liberia has a strong legal framework to protect and promote children’s rights, including the new Children’s Law, there is a marked discrepancy between Liberia’s legal framework and the day-to-day reality on the ground. The Report examines government action and the part played by NGOs in Liberia, but also the role of children themselves, who should be involved in decision-making and policy development in the areas of violence against children and their recovery and social reintegration.      

The Report concludes by highlighting what still needs to be done to achieve justice for children who have suffered violence globally and in Liberia. For example at a global level, Governments should review the environment in which recovery and reintegration takes place to ensure that it fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child. This includes addressing attitudes towards violence against children, girls and other stigmatised or disadvantaged groups of children. In Liberia, it is highlighted that the Government should ensure a strong prevention effort that focuses on changing societal norms and increasing awareness of views on sexual violence against children, especially girls. Because if violence remains pervasive and socially accepted, recovery and social reintegration will stay out of reach for children who are victims of violence.

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