April 8, 2009 (JUBA) – The President of the Government of Southern Sudan is expected Thursday to officially launch the Child Act in Southern Sudan.
The legislation is being inaugurated after having passed through some contentious debates on issues like female genital cutting and child adoption – a matter complicated by wide-scale abductions carried out in some areas of the South.
But the director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Southern Sudan, Peter Crowley, ultimately voiced praise for the legislation, calling it “a major milestone in creating a protective environment in which children can enjoy their rights to health, education and other basic services, to access information, to express their views, and to be protected from abuse, neglect, exploitation and harm.”
An independent Children’s Commission will be established by the law to investigate reported child rights violations.
The new law defines the child as any person under the age of 18 years and requires all levels of the Government of Southern Sudan to recognize, respect and ensure the rights of children.
“Any member of the community who suspects that a child’s rights have been violated or are at risk, has the duty to report the case to local authorities,” stated UNICEF on the eve of the Act’s launch.
“In addition the law states that parents have duties and responsibilities to have their children’s births registered, to protect their children from neglect, discrimination, violence and abuse, to provide them with good care and guidance and to ensure that they receive full time education.”
The new law bans and criminalizes the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, and also bans the torture and cruel treatment of children – including the of use corporal punishment in schools, jails and public institutions – as well as early marriage and other negative and harmful cultural and social practices, and the use of children for prostitution and pornography.
According to the legislation, children under the age of 12 can not be held accountable for criminal acts and no child under 12 years can be arrested and imprisoned. Furthermore the law establishes a restorative justice system for children above the age of 12 years accused of crimes, which allows for reconciliation, restitution and compensation without depriving the child accused of a crime of his or her liberty
For children living without parents, the law requires that those children are provided with alternative family care in their community, including care by relatives, or by foster parents or adoptive families.
The law recognizes that children who are victims of abuse, violence, neglect, injury, maltreatment and exploitation, including sexual abuse and exploitation, have the right to treatment and rehabilitation, according to UNICEF.
In turn, children are responsible for respecting parents, guardians, superiors and elders. They should also serve the community, preserve and strengthen social and national solidarity, uphold the positive values of their community and maintaining positive relationships with fellow citizens, says the law.