This day reminds me of a visit I had a few years back to one of Save the Children International – Nigeria supported community managed acute malnutrition center, where infant and young child feeding interventions and micronutrient supplements are provided to children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. There were nearly hundreds of them at the center. I wanted to talk to some of the beneficiaries and understand their life and situation. The story of one of those I have talked with really took my attention. Aisha*, 24, was one of the youngest mothers among beneficiaries. She was carrying her three years old girl. I have asked her a few questions. She said, she got married at the age of twelve. She has never gone to school. She is originally from Niger, lived around the boarder of Nigeria and she had to come to Katsina State to survive and get a treatment for her girl, who has been very ill and weak.
The draught and displacement in her home village made it difficult to farm and produce enough food for her family. She has five other children at home. She still wants to have more children to impress her husband. She said her oldest daughter is married and about to deliver a child. In less than couple of months, Aisha* was excited and proud that she will be a grandmother at 24. How could that be possible? I was shocked and talked to myself, this is impossible and too soon to be a grandmother. But that was a real life of Aisha*. I am a witness, that child marriage can be transferable. It can be inherited. It is like a spider-web, a life cycle for many – unless it is cut somewhere and by something.
Aisha* was not privileged to go to school and she also was not able to send her children to school. She has no future plan for sending them to school. Her life time goal is competing with the second wife of her husband and bit her by having more number of children than her. Due to the lack of knowledge and education, she was urged to make uninformed decision about herself and about her children as well. Poverty did dictate the poor decisions she has been making in life. She missed enjoying her childhood as a result of child marriage. There are millions of other children like Aisha* and her children who need better tomorrow, bright future – as we commemorate the Day of the African Child today.
The Day of the African Child (DAC) is celebrated to remember hundreds of school-children who lost their lives during a peaceful protest for their right to quality education in Soweto, South Africa, on June 16, 1976. The children were demanding to learn in their local language. To honour their courage and in memory of those killed, the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), established The Day of the African Child. First celebrated on June 16, 1991, the Day has continued to be a popular opportunity for African children to advocate and campaign for their own rights. It is time to give back, respect, the rights of children and empower them to advocate and campaign for themselves – like what they did in Soweto.
The theme for the Day of the African Child (DAC) 2021 is “30 years after the adoption of the Charter: accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children”. The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), established under Articles 32 and 33 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) selected this theme for the commemoration of the DAC2021.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, although similar to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in many respects, gives a unique African context by addressing child rights issues which are not covered by the UNCRC, including but not limited to the responsibilities of the child and protection from harmful cultural practices. The Charter is believed to have contributed to a number of big wins and achievements on child rights over the last 30 years – but there are more to do yet, so that children are fully recognized as right holders whereas states and governments are duty bearers with the responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill child rights across the 50 countries in the continent that are party to the Charter.
It was in 2016 that the ACERWC established a 25-year Agenda named, “Agenda 2040: Fostering an Africa fit for children”. The Agenda aims to restore the dignity of the African child through assessing the achievements and challenges faced towards the effective implementation of the African Children’s Charter and intends to establish long-term strategies that will contribute towards sustaining and protecting children’s rights in Africa.
The Agenda 2040 states that no form of violence against a child is justifiable. Children have a right to be protected from violence. According to Agenda 2040, children “have to be the drivers of Africa’s renaissance”. Meaning, what we invest today on children will bring results in 2040 – based on how best or bad we perform in the next nearly two decades.
The Agenda sets out ten “aspirations”, to be achieved by 2040, including, “The African Children’s Charter, as supervised by the African Children’s Committee, provides an effective continental framework for advancing children’s rights; An effective child-friendly national legislative, policy and institutional framework is in place in all member States; Every child’s birth and other vital statistics are registered; Every child survives and has a healthy childhood; Every child grows up well-nourished and with access to the basic necessities of life; Every child benefits fully from quality education; Every child is protected against violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse; Children benefit from a child-sensitive criminal justice system; Every child is free from the impact of armed conflicts and other disasters or emergency situations; and African children’s views matter”.
– Amanuel MAMO, the Advocacy and Campaigns Director for Save the Children writes from Abuja.