by Wantoe Teah Wantoe
Since I was a teenager, the Day of the African Child has held a special meaning in my life, because of the bravery it represents. I was personally moved and largely motivated by the courageous stand Hector Pieterson and his 10,000 peers took against prevailing injustices in their country. Their sacrifices that resulted in the death of more than a hundred people and thousands more injured, coupled with my personal obstacles, has lit a fire in me that made me a staunch advocate for children. These challenges created the tenacity in me to strive for a better life for children around the world. They inspired me to brave extreme situations and enhance life through participation in national protest, global forums and policy making. I realized that fighting for quality and inclusive education is a gateway for every African to be vigorous, robust and vigilant on issues of national concerns.
In Liberia, the Day of the African Child is observed with a national theme promoted through a series of facilitated discussions, educational plays, charitable fundraising, parades, and speeches. I tend to question however, whether the Day of the African Child has achieved its intended purpose. Have we made the sacrifices and deaths of those that came before us worthwhile by addressing and attacking Africa’s pressing issues?? Are our leaders truly responding to the established commitments they make at each gathering on the Day of the African Child?
This day was established in 1991 by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to commemorate the student uprising on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa. It is an opportunity for the entire continent to honor the children who lost their lives that day as well as to reflect upon the numerous challenges that children in Africa still face today.
Dedicating a particular day on this significant issue provides a great opportunity to highlight and resolve the situations that African children are facing every day. This year, the theme selected by the African Committee focuses on “Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Africa by 2030.”
Since its inception, The Day of the African Child has led to numerous commitments from the leaders of African countries to improve the state of children’s wellbeing across the continent. These commitments are directly influenced by the theme of each year’s commemoration. Below are the themes since 2009:
- 2009 – Africa Fit for Children: Calling for Accelerated Action Towards Child Survival
- 2011 – Urgent Action in Favor of Street Children
- 2012 – The Rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote, and Fulfill
- 2013 – Eliminating Harmful Social and Cultural Practices Affecting Children
- 2014 – Providing a Child-Friendly, Quality, Free, and Compulsory Education for All Children in Africa
- 2015 – Accelerating Our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa
- 2016 – Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting All Children’s Rights
Despite their eloquently-put commitments to action, the question remains: Has the Day of the African Child achieved its intended purpose?
This year, the European Union revisited and amended the guidelines for the promotion and protection of children’s rights globally. The EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child, which was formed through public consultations regarding the needs and concerns that children from all EU Member States, serves as a model of commitment towards children’s rights. While the western part of the world creates and implements meaningful policies, Africa remains a crisis zone for many children.
Unless the necessary action is taken, our current trajectory indicates that almost 70 million children will die before reaching their fifth birthday, with more than 3 million children in 2030 alone – the deadline year for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. What makes this statistics more devastating is that 9 out of 10 children in extreme poverty will live in sub-Saharan Africa. Children in this region will be 10 times more likely to die before their fifth birthdays compared to children in high-income countries.
In Africa, the rate of child marriage among the poorest has remained unchanged since 1990. In Liberia, the ratio of skilled birth attendants to population in the best-covered county is over three times higher than in the county with the least coverage. According to a UNICEF 2016 Report, West and Central Africa has the highest proportion of married adolescents (27 per cent), followed by Eastern and Southern Africa (21 per cent), and the Middle East and North Africa (14 per cent). Unless we act now, by 2030, more than 60 million primary school-aged children will still be out of school with more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 247 million children are deprived of their basic rights. In Liberia, disabled children lack basic social services and access to national structures. There's also a high increase in the discrimination of children living with disabilities, as their inclusion and participation in governance and decision making process remains far from reality. Liberia cannot report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) because their ratification lacks local and national implementation.
Lack of continental commitment towards addressing the future and current welfare of African children has cast a dark shadow over today’s commemoration. Our continent remains in despair as it continues to be a hostile environment for the basic survival of children. I encourage the leaders of our collective countries to return, reflect, and truly act upon their commitments that emerged from previous years’ celebrations rather than continuing to make unfulfilled promises. Ratifying international policies such as the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) will expedite the process of protecting our country’s children. I specifically encourage implementing legislation that will classify female genital mutilation and child marriage as first degree felonies as well as designing future policies according to a sustainable development framework focused on children’s wellbeing. While we have celebrated the Day of The African Child for over 26 years, I believe we have yet to truly honor the sacrifice and suffering of past youth such as Hector Pieterson. While there has been minute progress for children’s well being on a smaller scale, there is still so much left to address and accomplish for our respective countries and as a continent.
Wantoe Teah Wantoe has been selected by Friendship Ambassadors Foundation as its first scholarship awardee to attend the Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Learn more about Wantoe here.
Jonathan Meier and Raina Kadavil have contributed to this article.