The historical root of the Day of the African Child stems from the brutality and cruelty inflicted on children in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976 during apartheid.
Thousands of black schoolchildren went to the street to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down, and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 were killed and more than 1,000 injured.
To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity, now known as the African Union.
The day also draws attention to the lives of African children among policy makers and those working in the area of child development and protection. Thematic topics are selected every year and shared across the African continent, with the ultimate goal of bringing children's issues into the public eye.
This year's theme is “Let Us Care for Children and Respect Their Rights.”
Significant achievements have been made in many countries to improve the lives of children by ensuring their needs and rights through improved access to child-focused basic social services. For instance, in Ethiopia infant mortality rate has declined by 19 percent over the past 15 years and under-five mortality has gone down by 25 percent. Basic education has seen significant improvements as well, with primary school enrollment rate growing by 25 percent between 2002 and 2007, from 54 percent to 79 percent.
With these significant successes, challenges remain. More than 20 years have passed since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in 1989, yet children continue to be deprived of their basic developmental needs and suffer from lack of proper care and protection in many parts of the world, including Ethiopia.
Globally, an alarming number of children continue to die from preventable diseases, have limited opportunity to attend school and lack access to quality education. Although headway has been made in the battle against AIDS with improved access to anti-retroviral therapy, children remain the most vulnerable. As parents or relatives succumb to AIDS, children are left without the love, care and support of their family and thus more likely subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse against which they are unable to protect themselves.
ChildFund Ethiopia is dedicated to the healthy development and protection of children. Operating in Ethiopia for almost 40 years, ChildFund has collaborated closely with families, communities and government stakeholders and has positively impacted the lives of more than a million vulnerable children, siblings, parents and communities in four regions.
Seven-year-old Hana is only one of the many thousands of children who has benefited from early childhood interventions carried out by ChildFund. Hana has a twin brother Tesfeyesus. They were born into high-risk family environment, as the seventh and eighth births for their mother. The family has little means to support the twins. For Hana, a healthy beginning was made more difficult due to multiple medical problems, including low hemoglobin and marasmus (protein-energy malnutrition) that threatened her life.
With programs like ChildFund Ethiopia’s integrated community management of childhood illness and nutrition program, Hana’s life was changed for the better. Focusing on a low-cost, easy-to-treat approach, this program supported existing clinics to better manage childhood illness and deliver immunization for children and mothers as well as nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, safe motherhood and neonatal health education.
Through such practical responses, millions of infants and young children around the world have avoided premature death and are able to experience a joyful childhood. “I will never forget the day I joined the project,” Hana’s mother relates. “I have received nutritional support for my children and training that helped me and my family to survive. Right now my twins, who turned 7 years old, are healthy and are learning in grade one. I am happy with all my family and our dark life has been changed to bright future with the help of ChildFund Ethiopia.”
Building on similar successes in communities around the world, ChildFund is an active member in the ongoing global fight to strengthen families, communities and local capacities to protect and secure the lives and well-being of children.
The Day of the African Child is an important reminder for all of us to celebrate the many achievements and recommit ourselves to the future where we seek a world where children are healthy, educated, confident, skilled and secure to pursue their dreams.