The Day of the African Child: Commemorating Courage and Urging Action

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

African cities are marking a meaningful and emotional remembrance: The Day of the African Child. Created in 1991 by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now called the African Union (AU), this day pays tribute to the courageous pupils who participated in Soweto Uprising’s pivotal event that occurred in 1976. Remembering this day across Africa is remembering youthful South Africans’ sacrifices as they stood up for their right to receive quality education in their native tongues— an act met with severe brutality resulting from hundreds losing their lives during schoolchild protests.

Additionally, it’s a time to honour and recognize Africa’s children and their inherent potential. The occasion prompts people to reflect seriously on the obstacles that still confront them while also inspiring practical efforts to tackle these problems head-on. In preparation for this day, discussions are facilitated around initiatives geared towards enhancing living conditions for young Africans, all guided by input sourced from consultations held between leading members across various regions within the continent.

This year’s theme was “Education for All Children in Africa: The Time is Now,” which was meant to highlight the pressing call to action as critical deadlines related to global and regional education commitments approach on the continent. 

National and Continental Commemorations

Countries around the continent commemorated the day through diverse activities such as community congregations, educational seminars, generational exchanges, and policy consultations. The AU also arranged training sessions on the African Charter regarding Child Rights and Welfare while issuing a declaration that encompasses today’s deliberations and forthcoming commitments at the continental level.

In Nigeria, the founder and president of African Scholars Care Initiatives, Queen Joy Onumajuru, partnered with the Nigerian Bottling Company Plc (NBC) and held an inter-school quiz competition to commemorate the day. In Ethiopia, UNICEF reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that every child has access to quality education, regardless of their circumstances.

Education: A Pivotal Right Under Threat

Although Africa has made many pledges, it still has the highest number of children not attending school in any region. In 2021 alone, about 98 million kids and youths who should be enrolled were absent from class. The issue is especially acute for young ones before the primary level; many cannot access early education as needed.

Despite advancements in providing free education in countries such as Zambia, Madagascar and Sierra Leone, a gender gap remains, with more girls than boys out of school. Additionally, financial barriers and indirect costs continue to impede access for the poorest households. As a result, many students are unable to complete their education.

Merely availing education is insufficient, as girls in several African nations have to confront substantial hindrances that impede the continuation of their studies. Predicaments like child marriage, adolescent pregnancy and sexual assaults intensify the likelihood of young women dropping out of school. Sub-Saharan Africa has eighteen countries with the highest rates of underage marriages, which pose additional challenges towards retaining female students in educational institutions.

The issue of sexual violence related to schools continues to persist. In several nations such as Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Senegal, girls are frequently subjected to mistreatment and harassment by those in authoritative positions, including their teachers. This exploitation worsens the difficulties already faced in guaranteeing a safe learning environment for these young girls, thereby jeopardizing their prospects of continued education.

Commitments and Calls to Action

Ambitious targets have been established by the AU and its member states to ensure that every child receives free, high-quality education. The Continental Education Strategy developed by the AU strives to attain these objectives before 2025, while the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim for a deadline of 2030. Nevertheless, prompt progress is necessary if these pledges are to be fulfilled within the deadlines.

Human Rights Watch, an organisation committed to addressing the issues facing African children, stressed the importance of African governments eliminating legal and policy obstacles that hinder girls’ access to education. The organization proposed removing fees and costs associated with schooling as well as tackling overarching societal challenges that unfairly impact girls.

The governments in Africa must intensify their endeavours to offer unrestricted and excellent education services to each child. This encompasses not only complying with their duties towards human rights but also aiming at overcoming multifarious impediments hindering numerous children from benefiting from the proper education system to which they are entitled.

“Africa’s future is clearly dependent on education,” stated Mausi Segun, the Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. “African governments must act urgently to fulfil their commitment of providing free and high-quality education by 2030 in accordance with human rights responsibilities.”

Written by Dr Florence Akano

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Dr. Florence Akano

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