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African Union Commissioner Calls for End to 'Harmful' Traditional Practices

A group of children in the streets of Kano, Nigeria on 17 Nov 2009
A group of children in the streets of Kano, Nigeria on 17 Nov 2009

Bience Gawanas, commissioner for social affairs says some of the harmful cultural practices include female genital mutilation and child brides

Bience Gawanas, the African Union’s Commissioner for Social Affairs and Culture said there is a need to promote positive cultural values and traditions as well as fight what she calls the increasing harmful traditional practices in Africa.

“I believe that as Africans we are proud of being the cradle of human kind and there we have to protect our heritage because without roots you are nothing. But we are also recognizing, especially when it comes to the situation of women and at times children, that we have got traditional practices that we need to fight against,” she said.

Among those harmful traditional practices, Gawanas said are female genital mutilation, trafficking and child brides, children that are made to marry before they reach the age of maturity.

“We cannot continue to romanticize our past without critically also looking at what it puts women and children in. And so the African Union stands ready and it’s ready to promote those cultures that make me who I am today but at the same time also fight against fight against cultures that are putting women and children at a disadvantage,” she said.

Gawanas said the African Union is in the process of finalizing a project to fight against harmful traditional practices in Africa.

“We are launching a campaign on the 25th of May which is always celebrated as Africa Day that will coincide with activities organized in Ghana to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kwame Nkrumah. The campaign is for the African cultural renaissance, and you can rest assured that at the launch of this campaign I will also be appealing to these countries that are practicing the sacrifice of children,” Gawanas said.

She said the African Union has launched a campaign to reduce maternal and child mortality in Africa which she described as unacceptably high.

“Generally speaking I think maternal mortality rates are very high in Africa. Child mortality rates, some countries are doing better than others. But we are saying that if we have to achieve the targets set by MDG (Millennium Development Goals) African countries will have to work much harder to reach those targets,” she said.

Gawanas said the high rates of maternal and child mortality highlight the issue of gender inequality in Africa.

“While we are very glad we have nation-building increase, we seem to fail to take care of the lives of women and children. So the campaign, the slogan is Africa Cares. No woman should die while giving life. But today in Africa women die while giving life,” Gawanas said.

A week-long meeting of the African Committee of Expert on the Welfare of the Child concludes Friday in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Participants have been sharing views on ways to improve the life of the African child.