In 1976, thousands of black school children took to the streets of Soweto, South Africa. In a march more than half a mile long, they protested against the poor quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot dead by security forces. In the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and a thousand more injured.
To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated worldwide every 16thof June since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union).It will be the same this year too.
With nearly 44% of its population under the age of 15, the saying that ‘children are the future’ rings more true in Africa than any where else. The protection of children’s rights is not only an investment in the future, but also crucial to the present.
Globally, violation of children’s rights is characterized by children’s exploitation as solder’s, laborers, sex-workers, and illegal trafficking. But depressingly Africa is also where all these are found in a stunning unison. In a bid to fight these problems,in 1989 the UN has adopted an important binding instrument-Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Pursuant to the Convention, every child has the right to grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity. Ensuring the rights of children to health, nutrition, education, and social, emotional and cognitive development is crucial for every country and entails obligations for every government.The CRC has three core concepts: protection – againist violence, abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation; provision – name and nationality (Article 7), social security, adequate standard of living and education and participation; and participation – through the right of a child to express its views, to freedom of thought and to freedom of association (Articles 12 to 15).
For obviouse reasons, children’s rights are closely tied to women’s rights. Even before being born a child’s survival and development is dependent on the mother’s health and opportunities. Women are still primary care-givers for children, so ensuring women’s rights is positively linked to children’s enjoyment of human rights.All countries in Africa, except Somalia, are party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The signatories are under obligation to implement the rights enshrined in the convention.
But according to the Right to Education Project (UNICEF), many African countries lack legal guarantees of free education and have policies that charge fees for schooling. Some countries do have constitutional guarantees of free education, but laws are not implemented in government policy.
At national level, article 36 of the country’s constitution provides a number of rights to children. Among others, the right to life, name and nationality, and to know and be cared for by his or her parents or legal guardians.
The Ethiopiangovernment has recently announced that by 2015 the country will be able to achieve a universal primary education, which is one of the millennium development goals. In fact there has been tremendous change in educational sector in Ethiopia in the past ten years.
But judging from the deep rooted traditional practices related to child labor, Ethiopia has a long way to go before it sees its children treated with dignity. This is something the constitution alone can’t beat in a short term.