Children of African Descent ‘Not Considered Children at All’, Human Rights Experts


Human Wrongs Watch

(UN News)* — In a report issued on Tuesday [], UN human rights experts outline how discrimination affects black boys and girls worldwide to the extent that they are not considered children, even in the eyes of the law.

Children wait to enter their classroom at a school in Burkina Faso.
© UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau | Children wait to enter their classroom at a school in Burkina Faso.

They said unresolved legacies of trade and trafficking in enslaved Africans, as well as colonialism, post-colonial apartheid and segregation, continue to harm these children today.

The report by the Working Group on people of African descent highlights discrimination in areas that include the administration of justice, law enforcement, education, and health. It has been presented to the UN General Assembly in New York. 

Discrimination, stereotypes and xenophobia  

“Due to racial discrimination, racial stereotypes, systemic racial discrimination and xenophobia, children of African descent are not considered as children at all,” Catherine Namakula, the Working Group Chair, told ambassadors.  

The report found that throughout the diaspora, children of African descent face heavier policing, including more arrests, police surveillance, racial profiling, strip searches and excessive use of force. 

In short, “law enforcement is in conflict with children of African descent,” according to the report. 

Stolen childhoods 

The study details how false racial stereotypes of criminality, culpability and dangerousness, influence decision-making, including by police officers, prosecutors, lawyers and judges globally. 

“The childhoods of people of African descent are stolen by persistent racial disparities in policing and family interventions, including removal of children and termination of parental rights, and racialised decision-making and outcomes,” the authors said. 

The Working Group stated that it is time to take action to end excessive use of force, extra-judicial killings, disparities, racial profiling, racial stereotypes and stereotyping, systemic racial discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes.  

They called for the creation of a racial justice index to measure progress. 

“We must dismantle discriminatory structures and create political space for a dialogue on reparations at the international, regional, national and local levels. Only the truth, accountability and justice can eliminate racial discrimination,” said Ms. Namakula. 

UN called out 

The experts also called for the UN and other stakeholders to stop using images of African children and children of African descent in undignified circumstances, for marketing and fundraising purposes. 

They further urged these organizations to address negative stereotypes, adding that “children of African descent are not synonymous with poverty”

In the wake of their country visit to Switzerland in January, the Working Group has welcomed the 31 October decision by the Zürich High Court ordering the release of a young man called “Brian K.” 

His story represents “a striking example of a stolen childhood and a superimposed adult identity with stark racial connotations”, they said. 

Brian K., now in his mid-20s, was just 10 when he was first arrested on the basis of a false accusation, according to the UN experts.  He had been held in pre-trial detention or preventive detention without interruption since 28 September 2017.  

Dominique Day, a Working Group member, contributed an expert racial analysis to the progression of the case this year. 

Opportunity for change 

“Leaving no child behind requires bringing the issues of children of African descent from the margins to the mainstream in education, health, social services and child justice. Humanity owes the best it has to give to every child without exception,” Ms. Namakula said. 

“The lives of children of African descent are humanity’s opportunity to decisively discontinue centuries of marginalisation of generations of one of the most oppressed group of persons of the world.”  

About UN expert groups 

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. 

Besides Ms. Namakula and Ms. Day, the other members are Barbara Reynolds, Sushil Raj and Miriam Ekiudoko. 

They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.

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