Ahead of the commemoration of the Day of the African Child (16 June 2019) under the theme ‘Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First’, and as a leading Centre for Justice and Forced Migrants, Refugee Law Project (RLP) in consultation with leaders of refugee-led community support groups, organised a roundtable discussion on the theme of the day to explore how humanitarian workers can strengthen and promote the protection of rights of refugee children. The 2019 Day of the African Child (DAC) coincided with Sunday – a weekend in Uganda. The urban refugee children and their caretakers braved a cold and drizzly Saturday morning to participate in a roundtable dialogue on children’s rights and protection in humanitarian settings.
The humanitarian crisis confronting Africa and elsewhere as a result of natural and or human error has seen millions of people uprooted from places they call ‘home’. Many are internally displaced, while others dare perilous journeys across international borders. As of 30 April 2019, 60 percent of the 1.25 million refugees in Uganda are children (UNHCR & Office of the Prime Minister, 2019a). Whether accompanied or unaccompanied, children have become the face of forced migration – perhaps one of the reasons UNHCR refers to the contemporary refugee crisis as a ‘children crisis’ (UNHCR, 2012). But where are children in conversations that concern them? Guided by the principle of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’, RLP, which has long-standing experience working with and mentoring refugee-led support groups, dedicated the day to urban refugee children – who form 67 percent of the 63,125 refugees living in Kampala (UNHCR & Office of the Prime Minister, 2019b) – and their care-takers
Why the roundtable? As one of the events tailored to honour and respect all children affected by gross forms of human rights violations and abuses, we agree with the African Committee of Experts on the Rights & Welfare of the Child in arguing that the DAC should not be commemorated as a one-off event but rather, as a process that builds on previous events (African Union, 2019). Building on last year’s commemoration, RLP in May 2019 organised roundtable discussions with children and with their parents/guardians to discuss sexual violence in conflict. These discussions were held simultaneously in separate and parallel spaces. After long but fruitful deliberations on bridging the sexual violence – torture divide, it was both a request from the children and their care-takers and the deliberate effort of RLP to organise another dialogue on child protection, this time with a focus on children’s rights in the context of humanitarian and development work. This roundtable was therefore developed as part of the commemoration of the DAC.