Focus on the rights of the child

On Friday, 10 November 2017 the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Benin took place at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva. The UPR is a UN human rights mechanism that reviews the human rights record of UN member States every four and a half years.

In total, 82 UN member States took the floor to ask questions and make recommendations to the Government of Benin. The recommendations reflected several concerns raised by Franciscans International and its field partners pertaining to children’s rights, including the issue of ritual infanticide, birth registration, and the right to education.

In this regard, while many States commended Benin for the adoption of the new Child Code, they also advised the Government of Benin to take concrete measures to ensure its effective implementation. Further, States demanded that Benin protect children from harmful practices—in particular, to ensure that cases of ritual infanticide are prosecuted and sanctioned.

Ritual infanticide in Benin involves the killing of the so-called ‘witch children’: children who experience an ‘abnormal’ birth. This can include infants born in the breech position – where feet are delivered first – or those born face down, as a normal birth is one in which the child is born head first and face up. Newborns are also killed if they are born prematurely, with teeth or perceptible disabilities, or if the mother dies during childbirth. These children are believed to bring a curse on the family and the community. Since these deaths are not always registered it is difficult to assess the magnitude of the practice.

Regarding birth registration, States recommended that Benin intensify efforts in view of ensuring universal birth registration of children — a practice that, in the west African state, still lags behind international standards.

The Government also received, and committed to, a number of recommendations on the right to education. These focused on ensuring a completely free primary education for all—no hidden ancillary costs for families—especially for those from disadvantaged households. In addition, the recommendations highlighted the necessity to create a safe environment for all children attending school.

Franciscans International and its field partners, who have been working on the issue of child protection in Benin for almost a decade, welcome the commitment of the Government of Benin to take action to implement these recommendations. Together with other actors of the Beninese civil society, FI will continue its engagement in the country to ensure that these commitments are translated into concrete action on the ground.