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June 16 is International Day of the African Child

Every year, June 16 is celebrated as the International Day of the African Child.

It all started in Soweto, South Africa in 1976 during the Apartheid era when black school children launched a peaceful protest by walking a mile to draw attention to poor education quality as well as the right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of children were shot and killed by South African police.

Since 1991, this day was declared as the International Day for the African Child in memory of those children who were injured and killed during the protest.

Another year has come and gone and today, June 16, we are again celebrating the Day of the African Child. Today, the apartheid regime is gone but the African child is facing many other problems which include:

  • poverty – Africa is home to many of the poorest countries in the world and African children are suffering from lack of proper nutrition, clean drinking water, and sanitation facilities. About 50% of the population of many African countries live on less than US$1.25 a day.
  • poor health – The life expectancy of an African child at birth is 50 years, much lower than the world average of 68.Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS. In Eastern and Southern Africa alone, 1.3 million children are HIV positive and 8.7 million children have been orphaned by AIDS.
  • human trafficking – Many children in Africa, but also in other parts of the world, are victims of human trafficking. Young boys are being forced to become soldiers. Young girls are being pushed into child prostitution. Boys and girls alike are engaged in child labor. It is estimated that about 100 million girls worldwide are involved in child labor. Last week, on June 12, the UNICEF celebrated the 10th anniversary of the World Day against Child Labor.
  • lack of education – Although about 66% of children start primary school, only 20% of males and 18% of males ever make it to secondary school. Adult literacy rate is 66%.

This year’s theme is “Africa Fit for Children: Call for Accelerated Action towards their survival”. This is partly based on last year’s report by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) entitled “The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2008: How child-friendly are African governments?”. According to the report, African governments are impressive when it comes to their involvement in child-focused movements, campaigns or treaties.

However, it is not clear how far their commitment really goes. The report says that in many African countries, there are big gaps between words and deeds, between promises and actions. Let us hope that this year’s theme will push African leaders beyond lip service and put the welfare of African children on top of their agenda.


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