Reporting by Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Ethiopia, and Christine Ennulat, ChildFund staff writer
Each year on June 16, along with many other organizations, ChildFund recognizes the Day of the African Child. Across the continent, children and adults affiliated with our programs will perform songs, skits and other presentations to call attention to children’s rights.
Despite the festivities, the Day of the African Child marks a tragic anniversary, when at least 176 children and youth were killed during a massive protest in Soweto, South Africa in 1976. Forty years later, African children still face many trials, including hunger, illiteracy, terrorism, civil warfare and gender-based violence.
The theme of this year’s Day of the African Child is “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting All Children’s Rights,” which focuses on child protection in regions where there is civil conflict. There are many well-known cases now, such as the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, ongoing civil war in Sudan and the rebel insurgency in northern Mali. Other countries are still tending to wounds from previous decades.
ChildFund works in Liberia, which suffered destructive civil warfare from 1989 to 2003, with a brief respite from 1997 to 1999. The impact of war, particularly the use of child soldiers, still echoes today as its government works to rebuild schools, infrastructure and a fractured society.
Armed conflicts, we’ve seen, make children less safe and more likely to be hurt, killed or exploited. Even in peaceful nations, though, children’s basic rights can be in jeopardy. Early marriage, forced labor and other corrosive practices cause harm all over Africa.
On our website, we have a photo story of 29-year-old Zambian mother Mavis, who was married and had her first child at age 13. Zambia’s child marriage rate is one of the world’s worst: 42 percent of Zambian women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 18. As we well know, many girls who marry and become mothers early lose out on a lot of things that make life worth living: education, leisure, civic participation, fulfilling work and self-determination.
Their dreams for themselves often transfer to their children.
Mavis told us, “I want my children to be educated. I don’t want my children to experience what I went through. Because I don’t know many things — I don’t know how to read or write my name. I don’t want my children to earn a living by selling tomatoes like me.”
On the Day of the African Child, we need to consider Mavis and all of the girls and young women in similar positions. We owe it to them and their children.