DAY OF THE AFRICAN CHILD – A Reflection
The Day of the African Child commemorates a 1976 march in Soweto, South Africa when more than a hundred school children were killed and more than a thousand injured as they took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16th every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity to honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched.
However, taking into consideration the many issues facing children in the African continent, this special Day also draws attention to the lives of African children today. It presents an opportunity for government, non-governmental and international bodies, as well as all Stake-holders engaged on children’s rights, to reflect on issues affecting children in the region.
The DAC is an appropriate moment to take note of the outstanding challenges facing the children in the continent and ways and means to tackle them. It further draws attention on the progress made towards the full realization of the rights of children in the region. To this end, a committee called the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the treaty body vested with the mandate to monitor the implementation the rights contained in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) was set up to annually select a theme for the commemoration of the DAC.
According to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, a "child" is defined as a human being below the age of 18 years. It is however both a moral and civic duty to recognize the child's unique and privileged place in African society by accepting and acknowledging the fact that children in Africa are entitled to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, thought, religion, and conscience as well as the need for protection and special care.
This year’s theme: “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa", takes us back to the roots of how and why this day was formed. As education is critically linked to Africa’s quality and magnitude of development in this increasingly globalised world, Africa’s competitiveness at the forefront in the global future cannot be effective without the tremendous and continued investment and promotion in education of childfren. As future leaders, this is a tool of empowerment for children in Africa, enabling them to accomplish their maximum potential and enhancing their ability to benefit from other entitlements that promote their wellbeing.
Without a doubt, universal and quality education is a global concern reflected in numerous global agreements and investment plans. Nevertheless despite this acknowledgement of the importance of education and the considerable investment into education by African states and partners, quite a number of children are still unable to access or benefit from education in a significant way.
Although literacy rates have improved in Africa over the last few decades, approximately 40% of Africans over the age of 15, and 50% of women above the age of 25 are illiterate. There is an average of 40 pupils per teacher in sub-Saharan Africa, but the situation varies considerably in the different countries in Africa. In many countries, it is more than 60 to one. Africa loses an estimated 20,000 skilled personnel a year to developed countries.
Statistics have shown that Primary school enrollment in African countries is among the lowest in the world. Globally, 69 million school-age children are not currently attending school and in sub Saharan Africa alone 33 million primary school-aged children do not go to school, 18 million of these children are girls and only two-thirds of these children who start primary school reach the final grade.
There is therefore the urgent need to stimulate and deliberate on the success so far made but above all, the challenges that stand in the way of achieving the right to education for children in Africa. As endorsed in the African Children’s Charter, it recognises the right to education for all children, and calls upon all and sundry to ensure the fulfilment of this right.
The recent despicable abduction of school girls in chibok, Nigeria by the so-called ‘Boko haram’ terrorist group and a number of other reasons also makes this year’s theme indeed timely. Sadly, those young girls can disappear for two months and until now nothing is practically done by the Nigerian government, international organizations and the world at large to bring those girls back to reunite with their families and go back to school.
More so, thousands of children in Africa are experiencing violence, exploitation and abuse on a daily basis including economic and sexual exploitation, gender discrimination in education and access to health, and their involvement in armed conflict. Other factors also include migration, early marriage, malnutrition, malaria, negative social and cultural practices, HIV/AIDS, human rights, war and conflict, homelessness and poverty. As all these issues are inter-related, they pose a big challenge that leaves a lasting effect on the socio-economic, political, spiritual and psychological well being of the child.
With the utmost need, this year’s commemoration of DAC calls on governments to strengthen support systems, which provide the basis for a more protective environment in families and communities to keep children safe, and strengthen families through the provision of basic social, health and education services for all.
It must also aim to protect the private life of the child and safeguard the child against all forms of economic exploitation, interference with the child's education, or compromises his or her health or physical, social, mental, spiritual, and moral development. Children must be protected against abuse and bad treatment, negative social and cultural practices, all forms of exploitation or abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking and kidnapping by all means.
In conclusion, whereas there are other equally competing aspects of children that needs be considered as part of the commemoration of DAC, we all should put our hearts, minds and soul into even the smallest acts to make that positive change in the struggle to promote, safeguard and protect the dignity, rights, hopes, dreams, aspirations of the African child.