Day of the African Child

16/06/2011

On June 16, we commemorate the Day of the African Child, established in honour of the courageous protests by thousands of school children in 1976, in Soweto, South Africa, who were demanding an education of quality and the right to learn in their own language. That moment was the beginning of a dream for the recognition of children’s rights everywhere and at all times, a dream we remain committed to pursue!

The Decision of the Executive Council of the African Union to devote this year’s celebration to the theme: “All Together for Urgent Actions in Favour of Street Children” is a critical recognition of the enormous challenges faced by millions of children living and working in the streets, around the world and across the African continent. But it is in addition an important reminder that these children stand as a genuine indicator of social progress in any given nation. This was also the spirit behind the recognition, earlier this year, of an International Day for Street Children.

As stressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, street children are amongst the most vulnerable victims of the most extreme forms of violence, including at the hands, or with the encouragement or tolerance of law enforcement officials. Perceived as a curse, labelled as delinquents, and ignored in their individual identity and history, these children are met with neglect and contempt.

Their life is surrounded by stigma, indifference, invisibility and fear; associated with high levels of violence and abuse, and also with weak, ill-resourced and fragmented efforts to protect their fundamental rights.

Victims of harassment, humiliation, ill-treatment and abuse, for these children the challenges of reporting and complaining about incidents of violence are insurmountable. Powerless to make their case, lacking information about who might help, frightened to approach authorities, fearing they will not be trusted and may be blamed for what has happened, they face a complex labyrinth which most of the time is further aggravated by unprepared and ill-resourced services.

This is a serious governance gap we need to address! For this reason, I share and strongly support the commitment of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child to protect the rights of children living in the streets, and to safeguard them from all forms of violence.

On this auspicious day, let us take action and make a real difference in the life of children living and working in the streets. Let us promote, in all African countries, the adoption of legislation banning all forms of violence against children, and abolishing any status offences and criminalization of survival behaviour, such as begging, truancy or vagrancy.

Let us make widely available and well publicized, safe, child sensitive and confidential counselling, reporting and complaint mechanisms to address incidents of violence, to reach out and support child victims in the streets.

Let us develop robust and well-resourced child protection systems, supporting families in their critical child rearing role, and fighting impunity for the harm children may suffer.

And, in our resolve to make a genuine difference, let us promote solutions with street children themselves, understanding their perspectives, investing in their genuine empowerment, and enabling them to make informed choices. Children are key agents of change. Capturing their views, experience and resilience is vital to shape decisions and to inform data and research, and policy making so desperately needed in this area.

Let this Day of the African Child be the start of an era where the fulfilment of the rights of street children, and their effective protection from violence, shape the daily universe of all children.