The Commonwealth must work together to end the institutional care of children and reform protection services to ensure: “every child is safe, protected and able to reach their full potential”, the Commonwealth Secretary-General has said.
Her comments came during a roundtable meeting of government officials, stakeholders and experts on Thursday, to discuss the implementation of the Kigali Declaration on Child Care and Protection Reform – one of the four declarations unanimously agreed upon by Commonwealth Heads of Government in Rwanda last June.
The Declaration is a historic agreement among Commonwealth countries that focuses on ensuring and restoring the rights of children following the COVID-19 pandemic, paying particular attention to the most marginalised and excluded.
It contains commitments to phase out orphanages in the Commonwealth and opt for community care of children; to tackle the underlying causes that lead to separation of parents and children, to establish sustainable and effective safeguarding systems and to eliminate child labour in all its forms, including forced labour, trafficking, and sexual exploitation.
Commonwealth Secretary General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, said:
“More than five million children around the world still live in institutions. Most of these children are not orphans – around 80% of them have at least one living parent.
“But their institutionalisation disproportionately exposes them to vulnerabilities and marginalisation, which can inhibit their development and life chances.
“The truth is that growing up in a family environment is critical to a child’s well-being and development, and every child is entitled to a happy and fulfilling upbringing under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
She added: “This is just one of many areas where the Commonwealth can make a real difference.
“We can all work together to prioritise support for, investment in, and reform of childcare and protection services – to enable children to live without abuse or discrimination of any kind; to enjoy their civil, political, social and cultural rights; and to flourish as equal, valued and productive human beings.
“We cannot afford to fail our children, so we must give their wellbeing the priority it deserves – and act together to ensure that every child in Commonwealth is safe, protected and able to reach their full potential.”
The far-reaching Declaration recognises that child protection and safeguarding are cross-cutting issues that have strong links to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work on youth, disability, health, education and early childhood development.
Youth-focused action is being given a spotlight in 2023 as it is the Year of Youth – a seminal 12 months designated for the empowerment and inclusion of the 1.5bn under-30s living in the Commonwealth.
The roundtable meeting was set to build a consensus on a focus for the effective implementation of the Declaration and to agree on collabroation between Commonwealth governments and civil society organisations, with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Other speakers at the meeting included Joseph Kabakeza, First Counsellor from the Rwandan High Commission, Mark Waddington, CEO Hope and Homes for Children – a civil society organisation working with the Rwandan government on the Declaration initiative, and David Jones, Chair of Commonwealth Children Interest Group, Children of the Commonwealth.
Mr Kabakeza said: “The Kigali declaration on Child Care and Protection Reform highlights many of the areas where we must bolster our efforts.
“Rwanda will continue to collaborate with partners, and the Commonwealth network to champion the Kigali declaration, during our tenure as Commonwealth Chair-In-Office and beyond.”
Mr Waddington said: “Eliminating orphanages is a precondition of developing effective child protection and care systems and a key to unlocking the hardest to reach Sustainable Development Goals.
“The Kigali Declaration, agreed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in 2022, recognises this imperative for action and places the Commonwealth at the centre of this global movement. Countries across the Commonwealth are demonstrating that care reform is possible and there is much learning and experience to share. Today’s roundtable is an important step.”