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Hastings International and Comparative Law Review

Abstract

The abuse and exploitation of children is a major public policy priority for all African countries. Throughout the continent, children are routinely abused and exploited as sex objects; tools in the production of various goods, including cocoa, gold, and various minerals, as well as, services, such as pornography and prostitution; and, as child soldiers to fight in sectarian conflicts and civil wars. Children in Africa are exploited and abused by both domestic and external or foreign actors and these include, but are not limited to, family members and community leaders, foreign tourists who seek the continent’s children for sex, and international criminal gangs who are engaged in the production of child pornography, sex trafficking and the illegal harvesting and sale of organs. With respect to the use of African children in military conflicts, exploiters include state- and non-state actors. In several African countries, religious and customary practices account for a significant amount of the abuse that children, particularly girl children, are subjected to. In addition, many children are also subjected to servitude labor in cocoa plantations, mines, traditional religious shrines, and the homes of rich urban dwellers. International actors involved in the abuse and exploitation of African children also include UN peacekeepers and aid workers belonging to various non-governmental organizations. Effectively combatting the abuse and exploitation of African children must begin with institutional reforms within each African country to provide democratic institutions, which can adequately constrain the State and prevent those who serve in it (i.e., civil servants and political elites) from engaging in activities (e.g., corruption and failure to enforce the laws) that contribute to the exploitation of children. With a governing process undergirded by the rule of law, each country can then develop the capacity to bring all perpetrators of child abuse and exploitation to justice. Although making certain that all African countries have legal and judicial systems that are fully capable of effectively prosecuting all individuals and organizations that commit crimes against children must be the first line of the fight against child abuse and exploitation in Africa, it is important to acknowledge the important role that international law can play in the protection of the rights of children in Africa. In addition to the fact that international legal instruments can help African countries in their efforts to make certain that customary and traditional practices involving children do not offend international human rights norms, international law is also critical in efforts to minimize the exploitation and abuse of children across international borders.

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