Child rights and protection are universal concerns, but they carry particular significance in the African context, where millions of children continue to face numerous challenges and violations.

According to the 2020 Global Estimates of Child Labor, Africa is home to 23.9 percent of the world’s child laborers, totaling a staggering 86.6 million children. Despite global progress in eradicating child labor, sub-Saharan Africa has seen an alarming increase in child labor numbers since 2012.

In 2021, Human Rights Watch uncovered a range of issues affecting children in African Countries, from barriers to education and child marriage to gender-based violence in educational settings, corporal punishment, and discrimination against children with disabilities.

To address these pressing issues, FMSI ETS, together with the Secretariat of Solidarity, have devised this regional program that aims to develop the institutional capacity for child rights, child protection, and child safeguarding for the five Marist Provinces of Africa, comprising 79 schools in 18 Countries.

It is not merely an isolated intervention but a systemic one, with a ripple effect that will impact leaders across the African continent. The program – and the Marist Institute – extends its invitation to other Congregations and organizations willing to actively participate in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.

The primary objective is to ensure that every child the Congregations come into contact with, either directly or indirectly, is treated with respect, dignity, and protected from harm, neglect, or abuse.

Africa, with its unique demographic challenges, is home to more than an eighth of the global population. It is the region with the highest birth and death rates, and the child protection challenges it faces are immense. Child marriage, physical abuse, female genital mutilation, and teenage pregnancies are prevalent in many African Countries. Additionally, sub-Saharan Africa experiences high rates of child exclusion from education and the most elevated out-of-school percentages globally, with girls, children with disabilities, and those from low-income households facing the worst consequences. The challenges have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for those already facing societal and discriminatory barriers. This initiative by the Marist Brothers Institute represents a pivotal step in fulfilling their mission and commitment to child rights. The Marist Institute aims to transform its members into influential advocates for child rights and safeguarding.

The training’s value extends beyond the immediate beneficiaries, as its ripple effect is expected to influence those who did not attend directly. It will lead to a significant enhancement of human resource capabilities across African Marist Provinces and fortify existing Child Protection Policies.

The regional program is closely connected to the calls of the XXII Marist Brothers General Chapter, particularly the fourth call, “to journey with children and young people living on the margins of life” and the fifth call, “to respond boldly to emerging needs”. In this regard, the regional program aims to empower those who have no voice, be present in more significant ways among the children and young people on the margins of the world and make a firm commitment to promote and defend the Rights of the Child.

The program benefits from the participation of the Institute; indeed, on March 19th, Brother Luis Carlos Gutiérrez Blanco, the Vicar General of the Marist Brothers, will deliver a presentation on “Servant Leadership”, while Brother José Sanchez Bravo, Director of the Secretariat for Education and Evangelization of the Institute, will present the document “Stand Up, Speak Up, and Act” a guide on the right to child and youth participation in the Marist Institute.

The Programme serves also as a bridge for collaboration and the creation of synergies between the Solidarity Secretariat, the Secretariat for Education and Evangelization, and FMSI ETS. The regional program proposed is a significant step toward addressing the urgent need for child safeguarding and child rights in Africa creating a lasting impact on the Continent’s most vulnerable population. It aims to enhance child safeguarding and child rights across all African countries and lay the groundwork for projects in the 2025 cycle focusing on rights in the African Region. This initiative reflects a commitment to ensuring a safer and more supportive environment for children in Africa and sets a powerful example for organizations and institutions globally. The regional program has the endorsement of the CSAC – Conference of Superiors of the African Continent (CSAC), and it can become a pilot phase for strategic initiatives, both within the regional context (such as the creation of a network of child rights clubs in the African Continent) and for potential replication in other Marist regions.

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