A reflection on the theme of the 2014 Day of the African Child
June 16 is the Day of the African Child – a day that was set aside 23 years ago by the African Union, then the OAU, in line with resolution CM/Res. 1290 (XL), to remember and commemorate the lives of the innocent children who were massacred in the Soweto uprising of 1976, while demanding their rights to racism-free education, in the then apartheid South Africa.
The commemoration of the Day of the African Child gives us the opportunity to reflect on the plight of children in Africa. It is a day for us all to think about those children who are caught in conflict or trapped in abuse and exploitation, and about the daily violations of their basic rights as children, as well as to think about the future of a hopeful African society. Thus, the Day provides us the space and opportunity to mobilise all our efforts towards the welfare of children, who constitute the backbone of our continent’s future.
More than just a commemoration, the Day of the African Child seeks to draw the attention of all actors involved in improving the condition of children on the continent and to unite their efforts to combat the ills that plague the daily lives of children. It is also an occasion for Governments, international institutions and communities to deal with this delicate condition of children by organising activities to promote the rights of the child.
The theme of the 2014 Day of the African Children, chosen by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, is, “A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa”. Its general objective is to call the attention of African governments to their responsibilities in respect of ensuring children’s right to education in accordance with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children’s Charter).
The 2014 theme is even more significant in light of the fact that the Soweto uprising which DAC commemorates was a protest for an appropriate education. It is further significant in the sense that the theme is on one of the most important rights of the child, the key to appreciating and utilising all other rights. Education, in the broader sense, is of prime significance in the communication of that which is central to the transformation of the human mind. It sets in motion the latent faculties of a person and enables him or her to become self-critical and observant. Through education children learn to cope with their immediate environment and life’s challenges; are equipped to understand the world around them and how to access knowledge, skills and information which may provide them with the means of earning a living.
A cursory look at the ‘Education Statistics 2013/2014″ of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education shows that The Gambia, as a State Party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, is striving tremendously to fulfil children’s right to education. Access to basic education has improved in leaps and bounds – a school is within the reach of every child. The Gross Enrolment Rate at the Lower Basic level is 97.1 per cent and the gender gap has narrowed greatly. The Ministry has developed effective oversight mechanisms to ensure that standards in our education system are respected.
The School Improvement Grant at the primary level is taking off parents the financial burden of their children’s education. The newly launched READ Project is expected to be a gateway to fulfiling the theme of 2014 Day of the African Child.
To consolidate the gains made in the provision of basic education, however, we should all ensure that those factors that impede children’s access to education or totally deny them that right are removed. Child marriage, corporal punishment, unavailability of sanitary facilities and or sanitary towels, and violence and sexual abuse and harassment in and around the school can lead children to drop out of school. We should also ensure that vulnerable children, in particular children with disabilities, enjoy their right to education in full.
Parents and communities should take greater interest in the education of their children and in the welfare of schools. Children and young adults who are not able to be absorbed into the formal job market should have access to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes. A school is only truly child-friendly when both boys and girls find it a safe, welcoming and healthful environment, centred on the rights of the child, where teachers demonstrate respect for those rights and where students discover that education is not only relevant to their lives but also a source of joy.
The ability to claim and enjoy the rights of an informed and responsible citizen rests squarely on a child’s access to a good basic education. A quality education- one that encourages children’s participation and critical thinking and is infused with the values of peace and human dignity- has the power to transform societies in a single generation. Furthermore, the fulfilment of a child’s right to education offers protection from a multitude of hazards, such as a life consigned to poverty, bonded labour in agriculture or industry, domestic labour, commercial sexual exploitation or recruitment into armed conflict. Investing in children’s education is therefore the surest, most direct way a country can promote its own economic and social welfare and lay the foundation for a prospeous and developed society. Julius Nyerere aptly said “Education is not a way of escaping the country’s poverty, it is a way of fighting it.”
“First of all things I place education,” said Antiphon the Sophist. For in the modern world the person who lacks education is bound to be the slave of others. Citizenship has been defined as the contribution of one’s instructed judgement to the public good, and only education will fit the person for the tasks of citizenship. Every child must be provided with the instruments which make possible the understanding of life. Every child must be able to give and articulate expression to the wants he/she has, the meaning of the experience he has encountered. A child who lacks education will not be able to rise to the height of his or her personality. That child will go through life a stunted being whose impulses have never been ordered by reason to creative experiment. Every child must be made to feel that this is a world in which he/she can, by the use of his mind and will, shape at once outline and substance.
June 16 should not end with our remembrance of innocent children afflicted by war, hunger, disease, abuse, and lack of parental love. Instead, it should be a day that will begin with these thoughts, and end with the commitment to work harder for children’s rights, advocate better for their issues, and be more determined to succeed in our fight together against those who would deny those rights.