United Nations officials are today marking the Day of the African Child by highlighting the need to ensure that the voices of young people are heard in their schools, communities and countries.
“Right to Participate: Let Children Be Seen and Heard” is the theme of this year’s Day, observed annually on 16 June, which is being commemorated in countries across the continent with events including songs, dances and drama presentations.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has marked the Day by drawing attention to the importance of the active involvement of children in schools, community action, media and governance.
“Every year, the Day of the African Child reminds adults of the importance to include children in the planning and decision making processes in Sudan,” UNICEF Country Representative Ted Chaiban said, calling for greater efforts to listen to the voices of children and to protect them from harm.
“With an estimated 20 million Sudanese under the age of 18 – half of the population – it is vital that the views and aspirations of this generation form a central pillar in the recovery and development of Sudan, and that these children can live in an environment free of fear,” he added.
The commemoration in Sudan includes events drawing attention to the ongoing problem of the recruitment of child soldiers. UNICEF estimates that there are still some 8,000 children associated with armed forces and groups across the country, the majority in the strife-torn Darfur region.
At a ceremony in Rwanda, UNICEF’s Officer in Charge congratulated both the Government and children of that country “for leading Africa in promoting children’s participation.”
Patrice Demoustier told the gathering of children, Government officials and development partners that through their participation in district forums and their initiative to write a separate chapter on children in Rwanda’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy, “the children of this country have shown how important it is for all of us to listen to children’s concerns.”
UNICEF is also supporting the 4th Junior 8 Summit in Japan next month that will give young people the opportunity to share their views directly with world leaders gathered for the Group of Eight (G8) Summit on issues such as global warming, HIV/AIDS and development in Africa.
The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now African Union) in recognition of the day when, in 1976, thousands of black school children in Soweto, South Africa, took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language.
Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot, and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured.