By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
ChildFund International is participating in Blog Action Day, which encourages a worldwide conversation on an important topic. This year’s focus is human rights.
For ChildFund, human rights often mean children’s rights: the freedom to grow up with basic resources like food, water and health care, as well as education and peaceful homes. In the 30 countries where we work, child protection is a significant part of our mission, including exposing children to knowledge that helps them stand up for their rights.
In Uganda, ChildFund has taken on a major role in the new Center of Excellence for the African Child, or as it’s more commonly known, the AfriChild Center. The purpose of this institution is to help improve practices and inform policy through a systematic process of scientific research, analysis and knowledge development. The center was started in May in Kampala through a partnership of Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Makerere University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNICEF Uganda, TRP Uganda, Columbia University and ChildFund Uganda.
The center has eight full-time employees (from Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States) overseeing mentorship, research, business development and other areas, and it is currently focused on Uganda’s child protection needs. Its first major project is a national survey about violence against children, funded by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The questions, which are being finalized this month, are about “all kinds of violence: physical, sexual and emotional, in all settings,” says David Mugawe, the center’s executive director. He expects the survey to be completed in 15 to 18 months, after the questionnaire is finished and poll takers are trained. In each region of Uganda, 1,800 men and 1,800 women will participate, and Uganda’s National Bureau of Statistics will use this data in reports that will help determine national policies for children.
This survey is expected to be an important tool for advocacy of children, Mugawe notes. “If we want to engage with the government, we need to have our facts right.”
AfriChild’s future aim is to influence East African public policy through current and accurate research, which has been a shortcoming in the region. “AfriChild Center is for Uganda [now],” Mugawe says, “but the intent will be for it to have a regional and ultimately global outreach.”
Its researchers, assisted by doctoral students in child development who will be mentored, will also examine ways to improve family livelihoods, assist children with disabilities, prevent child trafficking and strengthen inter-country adoption policies, Mugawe says. “By and large, we’re looking at the family framework,” which has changed in recent decades from mostly extended families to largely female-led or child-led households because of the effect of AIDS and political conflict.
Girls ages 10 to 18 are at particular risk of exploitation and violence, he adds, so this segment of the population will receive special attention. But younger children, too, will be part of AfriChild Center’s work. “We recognize that we need to prepare children for adulthood.”
The AfriChild Center may one day become a powerful influence for all of Africa, bridging gaps between academia, the private sector, aid organizations and policymakers, particularly as Uganda vies for the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly this year. Notes Mugawe, “AfriChild is aiming to be a center for information on children of the whole continent.”