Monrovia, Liberia – When thousands of black school children took to the streets in Soweto, South Africa in 1976, to protest the quality of education they were receiving, and demanding that they be taught in their own language, they were sending a message. Although hundreds of those kids were shot down, and several wounded by security forces, their message was simple: Equality. The bravery of those children heralded a period and pricked the consciousness of the rest of the world to honor the memory of the African Child, dedicating June 16 each year to that effort. The rest of the world should continue to observe the plight of African children.
Today, there are enormous challenges to the lives of children in Africa. According to estimates developed by the UN interagency group for child mortality report 2013, the highest rates of child mortality are still in sub-Saharan Africa, with an under-five mortality rate of 98 deaths per 1,000 live births – more than 15 times the average for developed nations. Sub Saharan Africa, with the highest risk of death in the first month of life, is among the regions showing the least progress in reducing the neonatal mortality rate. This is scary. The United Nations Millennium development Goal 4 calls for reducing the under-five mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015. Children in Africa remain vulnerable.
According to UNCESCO, nearly 30 million African children living in sub-Saharan Africa were out of school in 2011. This is half the total amount of 57 million of children worldwide who were out of school in 2011. According to a new analysis by the UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, 22 percent of African children have never attended primary school or have left school without completing primary education; this is more than one child over five. According to UNICEF, sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest share of child laborers in the world. With a survey of 18 countries with data on child labor, 38 percent of all children between 7 and 14 are engaged in work that can be considered harmful to their development. Among these children, slightly more than half (20 percent) also attend school while another 18 percent are only engaged in labor.
This is scary for a continent that is considered the world’s youngest continent with over 70 percent of its people under the age of 30. According to the Chief Economist for the World Bank’s Africa region, Shantayanan Devarajan, “The current youth of Africa are not only important for Africa but also for the world.” The severity of his statement cannot be overemphasized. African governments and the global community have a responsibility to ensure that the continent’s hope is preserved, educated, and prepared to tackle the development challenges that lie ahead.
Most African children are prone to human trafficking because of their vulnerability. When African youths are provided with the right opportunities to quality education, they become less vulnerable. Gender equality and the empowerment of girls cannot be left behind in saving the African child from doom. On April 15, 2014, 230 School girls were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Secondary School by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. Today, all but two remain missing. This is alarming. There has to be a concerted effort ensuring that girls are not the target of terrorist and extremist groups.
The African child is the cadre, poised to take the continent from its current decline to a path of sustainable growth. As the continent makes discovery in oil and other natural resources, the need for proper management of those resources is pivotal to the continent’s development goal. As the rest of the world await Africa to achieve the post 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), her future leaders should be leading that drive. Africa can only progress when Africans take charge of their development drive and economy. Africans need the required skills to conform to the growing challenges that lie ahead. As the continent continues to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the need for the requisite education is paramount.
Most African youths are disillusioned with their public Institutions to provide proper healthcare, quality education, basic social services, opportunities for growth, etc. There are countless youths with untapped talents. These youths are easily mobilized to serve as child soldiers during conflicts, street demonstrations, and remain in a vicious cycle of ignorance and illiteracy. Most of the continent’s youths are illiterate, unable to understand the real issues confronting them, and are often used as pawns in a game they barely understand. This is sad.
There should be a collective responsibility by African governments, families, faith based institutions, the International community, etc., to ensure that Africa does not lose its future. On a micro level, the family as a social institution has to instill a strong value system that stresses honesty, hard work and perseverance. Governments have to provide the minimum social services that seek to cater to the needs of its children. Faith based institutions have to ensure that children are fed with the right information and not extremist ideologies that are intolerant of other value systems. Ethnocentrism should be avoided. The international community should seek genuine efforts in ensuring that African governments adopt the right policies that protect the future of young people. The youths themselves should seek education as a paramount objective. Education paves the way to a successful future. It enlightens the minds and broadens the horizons. Without proper education and enlightenment, youths as civil society advocates don’t have a proper perspective to advocate and are unable to articulate their views in the right context. Governments should adopt zero tolerance policies on child trafficking; attach serious importance to their health care delivery systems. The current statistics are quite appalling. The need for education should be contemporary and should also address the needs of youths with special needs. Those with disability and those with special needs should not be left behind. Schools curriculums should be revised to reflect current realities. To paraphrase the words of Sir Eric Williams, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, “To your tender and loving hands the future of the Nation is entrusted. In your innocent hearts the pride of the Nation is enshrined. On your scholastic development the salvation of the Nation is dependent, as we remember the day of the African Child, African children should remember that they carry the future of Africa in their hands. Africa will rise, believe it.”
Lekpele Nyamalon lives in Monrovia, Liberia and can be reached at [email protected]