Today June 16th is the International Day of the African Child, and this has been celebrated on this day each year since 1991. On June 16th 1976, thousands of South African school children marched from their schools in Orlando to Soweto, peacefully protesting for better standards of education. This act of defiance against the Apartheid regime was met with hostility as the police opened fire, which caused mass injury and loss of life. This event drew attention to the dismal state of education in South Africa and also had ramifications for the ANC in their struggle against Apartheid. The schoolchildren’s cause was seized upon by those wanting to commemorate the uprising in Soweto in 1976, and has led to the International Day of the African Child. The African Union Assembly chose this date not only to honour those who lost their lives that day, but also to raise awareness of the continued need to improve the rights of all African children to education.
Every year on this day NGO’s, international organisations and other stakeholders gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead. It is an opportune moment to take stock of the progress made and also a time to think about the outstanding issues in working towards the full realisation of the rights of children in Africa.
Each year the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (The Committee) whose mandate is to monitor the implementation of the rights contained in the African Charter in the Rights of the Child, selects a theme for the DAC (Day of the African Child), and this year’s is “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa”. Other children’s rights could be considered themes for the DAC, but this focus was underscored by the expressed wishes of children in Africa who were consulted to help decide the focus for the day.
This focus is timely for a number of reasons but mainly as although the aim of having education for all was included in the millennium development goals under MDG2, with the aim of having all children in school and learning by the end of 2015, progress on this has stalled and the number of children out of school is on the rise. In order to help draw the attention of the African governments to their responsibilities in ensuring the child’s right to education, there are global events going on today. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, young people are taking over the African Union to discuss issues of most importance to them, and schools in Australia are expressing their support for the 250 children abducted in Chibok, Nigeria. In Accra, Ghana, there is a presentation on how far they have come in achieving the millennium development goals. For more information about the global events of the DAC see: www.aworldatschool.org.