Protecting the rights of the child at all costs

 

Samba Mwanas

In Gabon, the Samba Mwanas Organisation is working to promote and protect the rights of the child. Fighting against child sexual abuse, it aims to break the taboo by raising awareness and welcomes young victims who benefit from medical, legal and social assistance. Samba Mwanas has received the support of the AEDH as part of the DEFI project. Here are a few statements from its president, Hortense Nname, who was forced to flee the country after the presidential elections of August 2016.

AEDH : What is the situation in Gabon as it relates to the rights of the child?

Are the rights of the child respected in Gabon ? The State has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, however, education for all remains a broken promise. Too many children cannot go to school because of poverty, social exclusion and endless political conflicts. Birth registration is not systematic either, depriving many children of an identity.  

The State must be able to guarantee children the right to grow up in an environment that protects them from violence, sexual abuse, exploitation, mistreatment and discrimination. Each of us must feel concerned about the protection of children and work towards this objective within the community. It is a long-term fight to change mentalities, customs and laws.

To quote Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General : “There is no task more important than building a world in which all of our children can grow up to realise their full potential, in health, peace and dignity”.

AEDH : What was the context that led to the founding of Samba Mwanas ? What are your main objectives ?

Samba Mwanas is a humanitarian organisation that was founded in 2009. This young association had as its central focus children, with no specific vision or goal outlined. Since 2012, the significant number of sexual abuse against children, the casualness with which the media has been relating these facts and the indifference felt amongst the population started to alarm the organisation. This observation led us to go into schools to talk with the students, away from their families.

We then partnered with an international civil society mobilisation campaign with the aim of eliminating all violence and abuse against children and young people. Within three weeks, we had raised awareness among 1620 students throughout 20 schools and identified 160 victims of sexual abuse. We also worked with the children to produce a prevention TV spot, broadcast on the national channel Gabon TV. The UN Special Rapporteur has showed its support for our initiative. We then extended the reach of the initiative throughout the entire country and made an alarming assessment of the situation. 

Today, Samba Mwanas’ main objectives are to promote and protect the rights of the child and young people ; to make an assessment of sexual abuse and violence against children ; to raise awareness among the population ; to speak to the authorities on behalf of child victims and provide them with psychological and legal support.

AEDH : What is the current political situation in Gabon ? How does it affect the organisation’s initiatives ?

This question is disconcerting. By answering it, I put my colleagues in Gabon and myself at risk. However, the risks involved in accepting this interview is a means of once again raising international awareness about the situation regarding the rights of the child, in order to implement concrete actions in favour of this distressed youth.

Since the violence that followed the contested elections of 2016, Gabon seems to have been playing it by ear. It is not easy to have faith in the future. I cannot remain indifferent to violence against young people and the difficulty to obtain reparations encountered by victims when they have to face the deficiencies of the justice system and the non-compliance of the rules prescribed by both international and domestic law. 

Samba Mwanas needs to remain on alert and avoid getting into politics, even if passion at times overcomes wisdom. Our actions have therefore been very limited over the past year. We have stood powerless, bearing witness to the sacrifice of the Gabonese youth that we promised to protect !

AEDH : What has Samba Mwanas learnt from the collaboration with the AEDH ?

The AEDH has provided us with a multiform support. It assisted us in training, follow-up, and assessment. The AEDH also mobilised its contingency fund for my relocation. I want to express my gratitude to the team, the volunteers, the board of directors and especially to Joël Phalip and Faouzi Boujnaih.

 

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Witness statements