Every year the International Day of the African Child (IDAC) on June 16 celebrates children in Africa, while inspiring a sober reflection and action towards addressing the plethora of challenges that African children face on a daily basis. On this day, governments, NGOs, international organizations and other stakeholders gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the full realization of the rights of children in Africa.
The IDAC, which was first initiated in 1991by the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union, honors those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 in South Africa. In what became known as the ‘Soweto Uprising’, thousands of black school children took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education as a result of apartheid and demanded the right to be taught in their own language. The authorities responded by gunning down hundreds of young boys and girls participating in the march and, in the nearly two weeks of protest that followed the firing, hundreds more were killed and thousands injured.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child adopted by the African Union in 1999, sets out the rights of children in all aspects of life – civil, political, economic, social and cultural.
More than 15 years after the Charter was promulgated, according to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, of the 40 countries with the highest child mortality rates in the world, 38 are located in Africa. The continent is also home to 6 of the 7 countries with an under-five mortality rate above 100 deaths per 1000 live births. Data from WHO also shows that the risk of a child dying before completing five years of age is highest in Africa (81 per 1000 live births), about 7 times higher than that in Europe (11 per 1000 live births). Moreover, in sub-Saharan Africa, one in every six children (160 per 1,000 live births) fails to reach his or her fifth birthday.
Other sobering data show that nearly 30 million children are out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, half of them will never get to enroll and 11 million leave school before completing their primary education. In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, 8.7 million children are not attending school, mainly as a result of lack of investment and conflict in the country’s northeast. It estimated that 39 percent, or 3.4 million, of Nigeria’s out-of-school children live in conflict-affected states.
This year's theme, ‘Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting all children's rights’ is a stark reminder that more than a quarter-century after the establishment of IDAC, children continue to be main victims of conflicts and crises on the continent. In the devastation that accompanies conflicts and crisis, children are the most vulnerable segments of the civilian population.
Africa currently has the highest growth rate in the use of children in conflict and sadly, on average, the age of those forced to enlist is decreasing. It is estimated that up to 120,000 children are currently used as combatants or support personnel, representing 40 percent of the worldwide total.
These glaring facts are a reminder that despite 25 years of IDAC celebrations, the world continues to fail the African child.