The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) is established by article 32 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). It is mandated under article 42 of the ACRWC to promote and ensure the protection of the rights of the child enshrined in the ACRWC.
The core aspects of the ACERWC’s mandate are:
- Promotion and protection of the rights enshrined in the ACRWC, particularly to collect and document information, commission inter-disciplinary assessment of situations on African problems relating to rights and welfare of the child, organise meetings, encouraging national institutions working on the rights and welfare of the child, and where necessary give it views and recommendations to governments;
- Formulation of principles and rules aimed at protecting the rights and welfare of the child;
- Monitoring the implementation of the ACRWC; and
- Interpretation of the ACRWC at the request of a State Party, institution of the AU or any other person or institution recognised by the AU.
It is noteworthy that the English and French versions of Article 42 (c) of the ACRWC are not identical. When naming those entitled to seek its interpretation before the ACERWC, the English version uses the term “person”. It also uses the term “any other state party” at the end of the paragraph, in addition to “a state party, an institution of the [African Union] or any other […] or institution recognised by the [African Union]”. However, the French version does not have the term “person”. Furthermore, at the end of the paragraph, the term “Etat membre” appears, which would seem to imply a conscious difference with the earlier used “Etat partie”.
The ACERWC is composed of 11 members elected by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. Like the Commissioners of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACmHPR), they serve in their individual capacities for a term of five years but unlike the ACmHPR, may not be re-elected.
The Committee members are to be persons of high moral standing, integrity, impartiality and competence in matters of the rights and welfare of the child. In serving in their individual capacities, they are independent and do not represent any government. They also serve voluntarily and on a part-time basis. Members of the ACERWC come from different backgrounds which include civil society, non-governmental organisations, academia and state institutions. However to preserve their independence and impartiality, they cannot be part of an inter-governmental organisation, United Nations agency or hold any politically-binding position such as a minister of State or member of parliament.
The first members of the ACERWC were elected at the 37th Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), held in Lusaka, Zambia in July 2001.
The ACERWC is empowered to receive and examine the reports submitted by State parties on the measures they have adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Charter as well as the progress achieved in the exercise of the rights recognised. The initial reports are expected to be submitted two years after the ACERWC starts its work, and every three years thereafter.
The ACERWC commenced examination of State Party Reports during its 11th Session in May 2008.
The ACERWC is the only child rights treaty body in the world with competence to receive complaints against States. Grievances against States parties may concern any issue covered by the Charter, and may be submitted by any individual, group or non-governmental organisation recognised by the AU, a member State or the UN. The complaints procedure provided for by the Charter is a significant step forward compared to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) which has no such procedure.
The ACERWC has developed its ‘Guidelines on the Submission of Communications under Article 44 of the ACRWC’ and the ‘Guidelines on the Conduct of Investigations under Article 45 of the ACRWC and Article 74 of the Rules of Procedure’. In 2005, it undertook its first investigative mission to Northern Uganda. The Committee has received two communications which it is yet to consider.
The ACERWC is also empowered, under Article 45 of the Charter, to resort to any appropriate method of investigation in respect of any issue covered by the Charter. This is a further protective function afforded to the Committee.
Development of “Soft law”
On the establishment of principles and rules, the ACERWC is yet to develop any. These principles would be similar to the General Comments developed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Regarding its interpretative role, it is also yet to receive any request for interpretation of the provisions of the Charter.
Cooperation with the African Human Rights System
Being similar to the ACmHPR in mandate and structure, the two bodies of the African Human Rights System will continue to attract comparative analysis. Like the ACmHPR, under the new Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, adopted by the AU Assembly in 2008, the ACERWC is eligible under article 30 of the Statute to submit cases to the Court. Cooperation between these two bodies that have standing before the African Court of Justice and Human Rights will be mutually beneficial and therefore critical to their development.
The steps taken by these two to enhance cooperation are commendable. The ACERWC attended the 44th Ordinary Session of the ACmHPR in Abuja in November 2008. Further to that, the ACmHPR in its 45th Ordinary Session in Banjul in May 2009 passedACHPR/Res144 (XXXXV) 09: Resolution on Cooperation between the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in Africa.
The ACERWC held its inaugural meeting from 29th April to 2nd May 2002, during which the members discussed their Draft Rules of Procedure and Guidelines for the Initial Reports of States Parties. On thematic issues, this first meeting discussed among others, children in armed conflict, orphans affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.
With regard to collection, commissioning and documentation of information on the rights of the child, the ACERWC commissioned research on the ‘Best Interest of the Child’ principle and on ‘Article 31’ of the ACRWC regarding the duties of children. The research findings were presented during the 10th and 12th Sessions of the Committee in November 2007 and May 2008 respectively.
Civil society engagement
Beyond engagement with such bodies, the Committee has worked a lot with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) since its creation. To strengthen its relationship with NGOs, the Committee has adopted its Guidelines on the Granting of Observer Status to NGOs. The Committee however is yet to formally engage with national human rights institutions (NHRIs). The first NGO Forum preceding the Session of the Committee was held prior to the 13th Session held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 17th to 19th April 2009.
IHRDA Work with the African Committee of Experts
- Nubian children in Kenya v Kenya (read more about the case)
- Nubian children in Kenya v Kenya ( read updates about the case)
IHRDA statements before the ACERWC