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Is Malawi’s No vote in Human Rights resolution sacrificing rights of children and parents?


By Janet Karim

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” — Gen. 1:28a

The decisions we make when we vote have effects on society beyond us, long after we are gone, the impact continues to affect us. So our votes matter. —  Lawrence O’Donnell, The Last Word, MSNBC on April 10, 2024

Numerous international and local documents have guided policies on the rights of the child and the role parents enjoy and governments and institutions have championed their work, projects and campaigns to uphold these. Ironically, while the majority of the western world, including, the European Union, UK, and the US have very strong laws that protect and promote the rights of these, in recent decades they have tried to soften the language of these in international instruments, forcing nations with weak protections in the international documents. It comes as a surprise that Malawi and other African and Caribbean countries voted NO on an amendment in a Bi-annual  UN Resolution on the Rights of the Child. Does this No vote signal a change in Malawi policy?

During the 55th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the world’s top human rights forum, countries from around the world, including Malawi, were negotiating on a draft resolution entitled “Rights of the child and inclusive social protection”, drafted, as is the tradition by the EU and GRULAC (Group of Latin American and Caribbean States). The Friday (April 5, 2024) voting raises eyebrows as Malawi voted against the proposed Parental Rights and Responsibilities Amendment to the Resolution. I asked the powers that be: was there a country policy-change on the rights of the child and the rights of parents that Malawi has galloped around international conference halls? The No vote to the amendment on the surface appears as if the country’s official position has changed.

Due to fact that the draft resolution omitted language on the role that parents play in protecting the rights of the child, the Russian Federation and Nigeria tabled an amendment to the draft resolution, calling on countries to support the inclusion of a new preambular paragraph taken verbatim from Article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC):

“Reaffirming also that, in accordance with Article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of his or her rights….”

A look at instruments guiding all members of the global community of countries, of which Malawi is a party to, Malawi has signed, and through the years endeavored to localize, promote, and championed in its international and national platforms and blurted out loudly, showing support for the rights of the child, and promotion and protection of the rights of parents and the natural family. On its part, the UN has an entire agency promoting and has through the years, worked to ensure that the rights of the child is an enshrined global reality; to this end, the UNICEF has offices in over 190 countries. UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan championed the call for the creation of a world fit for children. This creation of a world fit for children appears to be repeatedly shoved to the back burner by the initial promoters of this clarion call; attempts to downplay the role of parents is also a chief action point in international conference halls.

During the famous April 4, 2024, Malawi voted NO, while the majority of African Member States of the HRC voted YES. A few ABSTAINED. The EU was engaged in extensive lobbying (using bribery, threats, and blackmailing delegates), convincing African States to vote NO or at minimum ABSTAIN. The vote tally was 15 YES, 7 ABST and 24 N0.

One of the international instruments, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, (G.A. res. 1386 [XIV], 14 U.N. GAOR Supp. [No. 16] at 19, U.N. Doc. A/4354 (1959) has 10 principles on the rights of the child, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1948] promotes the rights of the child and specifically mentions the role parents play in the family (in one section mentioning the family as the natural family (man and woman.) Malawi has been the promoter and champion of these two documents in all the six administrations.

The CRC’s Principle 6a states that “the child, for the full and harmonious development of his personality, needs love and understanding. He shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents, and, in any case, in an atmosphere of affection and of moral and material security; a child of tender years shall not, save in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother. ….”

Principle 7a and 7c state that “the child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages.

The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents….”

On its part Article 1 of the UDHR states that All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood….” WhileArticle 25 states that (1) “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age….”

Malawi’s NO vote against the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Amendment to the Bi-annual Resolution on children’s rights is contrary to national policy, law, and matters leaders have and still parrot. It is mind-jarring and questions have been tossed to various quarters in the captains that are guardians of these issues. At the forefront was the question “Has the country policy-changed on the rights of the child and the rights of parents that Malawi has galloped around international conference halls promoting and boasting that it champions? The No vote to the amendment on the surface appears as if the country’s official position has changed.

Although the rights of the child resolution, is not binding on Member States, it is doubly significant, because:

(1) it binds UN entities and agencies engaged in advocacy especially in their regional offices and gives them a greenlight, and

(2) it represents soft law, which, if not opposed by States is capable of developing into binding customary international law.  Such issues like sexual and reproductive rights, sexuality education of the comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that promotes sexual and gender identity and rights to abortion and gay rights.

The parental rights amendment would have been crucial in ensuring that all elements of the resolution are interpreted in a manner that is consistent with the CRC.

o   As observed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its recent October 2023 statement on Article 5, “children have a right to receive appropriate direction and guidance from their parents or persons legally responsible for them.” In this context, it is worth noting that not only are some of the provisions contained in this draft resolution, such as those dealing with children’s access to sexual and reproductive health information, education, and care-services, are inconsistent with the CRC, but also that the current text does not reaffirm the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

o   The proposed addition of the amendment paragraph would have aligned the text more closely to the recently adopted UN General Assembly resolution on the rights of the child (A/RES/78/187), which explicitly recognizes the responsibility of States to considers the rights, responsibilities and duties of parents in the context of measures undertaken to ensure children’s protection and care. 

Analysts say that Malawi’s NO vote is sacrificing the country’s children and rights of parents on the altar of gay rights and the sexual and reproductive health rights (which includes the right to abortion) and contraceptives to young people. (In other articles, questions surface on what the need is there for children to have access to contraceptives? What has happened that a young child should need an abortion? Another question is, did the delegation understand what the country was voting for?)

The votes the country casts today is sacrificing the protection of children and rights of parents, and the effects will be impacting Malawians long after we have gone to the next world.

Let us vote wisely, knowing that our children’s and parents’ (natural family’s) futures are at stake.

Malawi, SADC, and position is the protection of the rights of the child and the rights of parents has been clear. How did Malawi vote against the suggested amendment? The country’s No vote does not align and does uphold its positions, which are similar to AU and SADC.

The Human Rights Commissioner knows But sometimes people either do not listen or the EU delegates get to them The EU and WEOG are paving the way to introduce language that will then get it into UN documents. African countries that vote with the west on human rights, are a danger zone for African countries. This is because human rights has morphed to include other issues; issues that are contrary to African values.

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