By James Kimila
The phrase “in the best interest of the child” holds significant weight in international human rights law, particularly within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Framework. The principle, aiming to safeguard children’s well-being, has become more crucial than ever in the wake of tragic incidents affecting learners in Kenyan schools.
In July 2023, the lifeless body of 17-year-old Eugine Murithi was discovered by the roadside, after his School, Kianjunduthi Boys High School called upon anti-riot police officers to quell student riots the previous night. The police intervention prompted nearly a third of the students, approximating 400 in number, to flee from the school and seek refuge in the nearby village. In September 2023, Steve Rodgers, a 17-year-old student from Trans Nzoia, tragically passed away in a hospital, from a suspected case of ethanol poisoning.
In May 2023, a distressing incident at Sacred Heart Mukumu Girls High School led to the death of atleast three students and one teacher due to suspected food poisoning.
In September 2023, a student at Maseno School lost their life after falling from a dormitory. In 2020, a tragic incident unfolded at Kakamega Primary School, resulting in the unfortunate death of 15 students in a stampede.
Let’s halt the tally, but you can discern the issue at hand. Our children are suffering and facing negligence and recklessness from those responsible for their well-being and security. The safety of learners on school grounds, where they should feel most protected, is now in doubt. The recurring incidents highlight the negligence and carelessness on the part of those entrusted with the welfare and security of our children. It is essential to acknowledge that the “best interest of the child” principle, firmly rooted in international human rights law, mandates that decisions and actions concerning children prioritize their well-being, safety, and overall development. Crucial aspects of this principle include prioritizing the child’s well-being as the foremost consideration, adopting a comprehensive approach, conducting personalized assessments, involving the child in decision-making, and safeguarding them from discrimination and harm.
For schools to truly uphold the child’s best interest, they must be diligent duty holders, ensuring the implementation and effectiveness of child protection policies and procedures. This necessitates establishment of robust structures, imparting necessary skills and attitudes among staff, and fostering a culture of human rights and accountability. Such measures are essential for creating an environment where the safety and well-being of every child are paramount. As we grapple with the unsettling reality of children losing their lives within the supposedly safe confines of schools, it is imperative to reassess and reinforce our commitment to the “best interest of the child” principle.
A call for accountability is not only justified but crucial to preventing further tragedies. Schools, as custodians of learner’s well-being, must proactively enforce the implementation of comprehensive child protection measures to create an environment where every learner can thrive, learn, and grow without fear for their safety.
James Kimila is the Human Rights Education and Activism Officer at Amnesty Kenya. He is a Global Peace Award Winner. Instructional Designer and Innovative Campaigner | Education Governance and Child Safeguarding Specialist. Views expressed in this article are his own personal views. Email: [email protected]