The Day of African Child marks the March 1976 Soweto student uprising, in which thousands of black school children took to the streets to protests against the inferior quality of education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Instead of being listened to, hundreds of these young, armless boys and girls were shot down. During two weeks of protest that followed, about 200 hundred people were killed and more than a thousand injured in that part of South Africa.
On 16 June every year, the African Union and its Partners celebrate the Day of the African Child (DAC), in commemoration of the 1976 protests by school children in Soweto. These students protested against an education designed to further the purposes of the apartheid regime. The brutal response of the apartheid security agencies to the unarmed students’ protests resulted in the deaths. The 1976 protests contributed greatly to the eventual collapse of the apartheid regime. In 1991, the African Union Assembly passed a resolution designating 16 June as a Day for the celebration of the African child.
The Day of African Child presents an opportunity for all Stake-holders on children’s rights, including government, non-governmental and international entities, to reflect on issues affecting children in the region. The Day of African Child is an opportune moment to take stock of the progress made and the outstanding challenges towards the full realization of the rights of children in the region. To this end, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the treaty body vested with the mandate to monitor the implementation the rights contained in the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), annually selects a theme for the commemoration of the Day of African Child.
A focus on the right to education for children in Africa is timely for a number of reasons. To begin with, the African Children’s Charter recognizes a right to education for all children, and calls upon States Parties to ensure the fulfillment of this right. Also, education is critically linked to Africa’s quality and magnitude of development and is therefore a key component of Africa’s development agenda. Furthermore, education is at the forefront of Africa’s role in the global future and its competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world.
Also, education is a tool of empowerment for children in Africa, enabling them to achieve their maximum potential and enhancing their capacity to benefit from other entitlements that promote their wellbeing. Indeed, universal and quality education is a global concern reflected in numerous global agreements and investment plans. Yet despite this acknowledgement of the importance of education and the considerable investment into education by African states and partners, scores of children are still unable to access or benefit from education in a meaningful way. There is therefore need to kindle debate on the success thus far made and the challenges that stand in the way of achieving the right to education for children in Africa.
However, in order to honour the memory of those killed and to give courage to all those who participated in the march, the Day of African Child has been celebrated on the 16th June every year since 1991. This day is a special day being dedicated to all African’s Children, which was first initiated by the organization of African Unity. It should be a day for celebrating and acknowledging our Children as Africa’s most valuable asset. It is a day on which nations, families and communities should reflect on the challenges and threats that compromise the healthy growth and development of children, and their health and well-being of African Children in the diaspora. It is also a day on which all of us, as adults, should assess opportunities for enhancing Children’s lives, individually and collectively, in the home, in schools, communities and other institutions that potentially make a positive difference in life a Child.
The year’s theme: “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa” During its 21st Session, the Committee of Experts deliberated upon and adopted the theme “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa” as the DAC theme for 2014. Significantly, the theme of 2014 DAC was drawn from consultations with children in the region which were conducted with the help of partners to the Committee. Thus whereas there are other equally competing aspects of children’s rights that would be considered as themes for the DAC 2014, a focus on education is underscored by the expressed wishes of children in Africa.
On the Day of the African Child, which draws attention to the need to improve the wellbeing of African children, we should also turn our thoughts to Africa’s street children.