Today, 16th June, is the International Day of the African Child, honored worldwide since 1991, the day is set in which to celebrate the life of an African child. The day was founded in remembrance of the massacres of the innocent children and adults who participated in the June 16th Soweto Uprising, in South Africa in 1976, when some ten thousand children marched in protest of the quality of their education and demanding their right to be taught in their native languages. During the Soweto Uprising hundreds of those children marching were shot, another hundred plus people were killed and thousands injured over the following weeks as protests continued. The day was thus established to mark not only the courage and sacrifice of those in Soweto, but to give a voice to the plight of all African child. Thirty-three years later the day still gives continued awareness of the still vital need for the improvement of education for all African children.
Today’s major event is the 11th session of the Children’s Parliament, held in Cameroon. This years focus is on child and maternal mortality, according to the United Nations (UN) Millennium Campaign some 50,000 African children under five years old die from preventable and, or curable diseases. Yesterday the campaign called on all African states, civil society organizations and the private sector to not only tackle the issues of; child and maternal mortality, high school dropout rates and poor quality standards of Universal Primary Education. According to the campaign 38 million children of primary school age in Africa continue to remain out of school.
“Child survival, protection and development are not only universal aspirations enshrined in the MDGs; they are also human rights issues ratified in the International Convention on the Rights of Children and the African charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child,” said the UN Millennium Campaign Communications Coordinator for Africa and Acting Deputy Director for Africa, Ms. Sylvia Mwichuli. “Investing in the health and education of African children and their mothers is a sound economic decision and one of the surest ways for a country to secure its future. Reducing child mortality and ensuring universal primary education requires strong political commitment.” (Day of the African Child: The Unending Plight of African Children)
Children of Africa’s 54 countries are all unique and diverse, nonetheless they share the same struggle for daily survival, as disease often run rampant, child labor and the use of child soldiers impacts most of the continent. Their diversity aside the children of Africa are more often displaced by force or urbanization than another continent, they suffer more than any other nations from HIV/AIDS, education is a right all too often missed, while child labor and trafficking often surpass it in demand. The Day of the African Child leaves one to reflect on the often dire needs of children across Africa, and give focus on the need to increase equal access to suitable education, health, and the protection against abuses such as physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, the recruitment of child soldiers, child labor and child marriages.
While children across the vast expanses of the Africa continent have received an international day of recognition, the true day of recognition has yet to be seen. Recognition and value for the true worth of the African child will come only when their voices are truly heard and an investment in their collective future is seen; when one sees and end to gender inequality, when their little bodies are no longer seen as disposable and an end to demand is seen for their use as tools of the sex trade, labor and weapons of war. Until that day children across the continent of Africa continue to suffer unjustly, their abusers receive little recourse for their actions, and the majority of the governments sit idly by. Therefore take a moment today to share their stories of suffering and hope, for then tomorrow may be a better day for children around the globe.
For more information on the legal framework regarding child participation see Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which includes the right of the child to be heard and have his or her view given consideration in all judicial and administrative proceeding affecting him or her. For further information please see the African Charter on the Right and Welfare of the Child, for which article 4 states, how is in the best interest of the child and thus provides for the right of the African child to have his or her view considered in all proceedings affecting him or her.