n African Human Rights Law Journal - Who does the law seek to protect and from what? The application of international law on child labour in an African context

Volume 10, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



Since time immemorial, African indigenous societies have viewed childhood in terms of intergenerational obligations of support and reciprocity, and deemed the period of childhood as that for acquiring the social and technical skills necessary to perform the future roles of adulthood. Children represent lineage continuity and, most importantly, the material survival of their families and the communities at large. International human rights instruments embody a contemporary approach to childhood which views it as a distinct and separate stage of innocence, physical weakness, mental immaturity and general vulnerability - a period ideologically excluded from the production of value. With these differences in the approaches to child development, the potential for discordance between African customary laws and practices on the one hand and the objectives of the international children's rights instruments, on the other hand, is real. Can a world of such social and cultural diversity possibly attain universal interpretation, application and acceptance of the international norms of children's rights? The article highlights the challenges involved in applying the international prohibition on child labour to traditional societies of Southern Africa and offers a few compromises for a relevant regime for the region.

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