Much to learn from Angola's Children's Act

On 22 August 2012, Angola enacted a new Children’s Act, adding to the number of African countries (including South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho, and many others) which have reviewed their legislation focusing on children’s rights.

June 24th, 2013

On 22 August 2012, Angola enacted a new Children’s Act, adding to the number of African countries (including South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho, and many others) which have reviewed their legislation focusing on children’s rights.

The Angolan law, like many other recent African laws on children, is comprehensive. For instance, it protects children’s civil and political rights as well as their socio-economic rights – with the right to life, health and basic education, among others, being protected. In addition, the law entrenches the four principles that form the core of international and regional treaties dealing with children’s rights – such as the (CRC) and the (ACRWC). The principles are non-discrimination (Article 2 of the CRC and Article 3 of the ACRWC), best interest of the child (Article 3 of the CRC and Article 4 of the ACRWC), the right to life survival and development (Article of the 6 CRC and Article 5 of the ACRWC), and the right of the child to participate (Article 12 CRC and Article 7 of the ACRWC). These principles are also part and parcel of other modern African child legislation.

A detailed account of the similarities between the Angolan Children’s Act and other instruments is beyond the scope of this piece but I would like to highlight some of the major contributions of the Act that support efforts to advance children’s rights.

Firstly, the law embraces a list of eleven commitments between the Angolan government and civil society for the realisation of children’s rights. The first four commitments relate to all children under five years of age, and speak to life-expectancy, food and nutritional security, birth registration and early childhood education. Commitment five deals with primary education, while commitment six covers juvenile justice.

A notable development under the new law is the inclusion of measurable goals and timeframes to achieve these commitments. For example, by 2015, the level of literacy among children must rise to 90 percent and gender disparities in schools must drop to less than 80 percent. Similarly, in this same period, infant mortality must be reduced to less than 50%. The incorporation of these goals has the effect of catalysing political action, including resource mobilisation for the realisation of children’s rights.

Other areas of concern highlighted in the law, where goals and time frames are prescribed, include addressing HIV/AIDS (commitment seven), violence against children (commitment eight), child participation and dissemination of children’s rights through the media (commitment ten), and making provisions for sports and culture, as well as making investments for children through budgetary allocation (commitment eleven). Although other African laws focussing on children’s rights include similar goals, they do no prescribe clear timeframes for achieving them. In my opinion, this is a drawback, which hampers the realisation of children’s rights in the region.

And secondly, Angolan law places significant weight on ensuring that there are resources (in the state budget) to fulfil the interests of children. Children’s legislation in other African countries is less expressive of the dimensional relationship between children’s rights and the resources needed for their realisation. Often African law makers omit this critical aspect. This leaves ample space for governments in these countries to decide whether or not to allocate funds to fulfil children’s rights.

However, Article 56 of the Angolan Act unequivocally provides that:

[B]odies of the central administration of the state are required to:
a) …
b) include, in their respective sectoral action plans, a chapter with specific activities budgeted for children, and particularly for early childhood;
c) ensure the incorporation of activities based on this Act in their respective budgets;
d) identify and disseminate budget allocations and expenses on services for children, and especially for early childhood.

Moreover, Article 57 of the Act commands bodies of local administration of the state to:

a) submit to the plenary sessions of the Provincial and Municipal Children’s Councils details pertaining to programmes, projects, actions plans and the respective budgets relating to children which are meant for local implementation, as well as the expected results and the outcomes,; and
b) promote public-private partnership policies with private institutions and civil society organizations.

As can be seen, the provisions mentioned above place clear legal obligations on the Angolan government to ensure that children’s rights are reflected in the country’s budget, showing its strong commitment to advance these rights. The incorporation of such binding commitments for children’s rights in domestic law must be commended for the ultimate effect they have on promoting these rights and for acting as stringent legislative tools to check the powers of the executive on matters concerning the advancement of the interests of children.

In light of the above, it is clear that in the future child law reform in Africa should follow the Angolan pathway. Indeed, the good practices in the law would help to fill the some of the gaps that continue to obstruct the realisation of these rights on our continent.

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