This year’s theme for International Day of the African Child, which is based on South Africa’s Youth Day, has been marked across Africa since 1991 to create awareness on the continuing need to improve the education provided to African children, is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals principle “Leave no one behind”, and it calls on Africa to ensure that no African child is left behind in the development agenda.
The Sustainable Development Goals principle was adopted in recognition of the inequality, discrimination, unequal access to resources, services and basic necessities existing in the world and the need for concerted efforts in addressing such challenges.
Likewise, the theme “leave no African child behind for Africa’s Development” recognises the different realities of children on the continent including inequality, poverty, lack of access to education and basic necessities such as food, water and sanitation. Save The Children’s Report, Every Last Child, shows that recent progress in reducing extreme poverty is often not reaching children in need because of where they live, or because of their gender, ethnicity, or a disability, or because they are victims of conflict.
According to Unicef, primary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa is at 78%. What happens to the other 22%? We need to ensure that no child, including the 22% currently left out of primary school enrolment, is left behind.
The same report estimates that more than 2 million children in Africa die because of preventable causes including malnutrition and hunger, children are exposed to violence including harmful cultural practices, and some have to walk long distances to access education. And girls continue to be more susceptible to sexual and gender-based violence.
Inadequate and ineffective public spending on child-focused programmes remains a barrier for the fulfilment and enjoyment of rights by all children in Africa.
Only seven countries in Africa have at some point in time met the Abuja target, a pledge made by African Union countries in April 2001 for African governments to allocate at least 15% of their budgets to health.
Also, it would seem no African country has so far met the Dakar Commitment on Education for All to allocate at least 7% of its GDP to education, which should have increased to 9% in 2010. In 2014, with the exception of Malawi, Niger and South Africa, who have come close by spending between 5.5% to 7%, the rest of African states were spending below 5% of their GDP on education, well below the Dakar Commitment.
While the theme of this important day of recognition acknowledges the importance of upholding the rights of every African child, including the marginalised and ensuring that none is left behind in addressing the diverse challenges faced by children on the continent – without investing resources and taking sufficient and effective steps in addressing the structural barriers that affect children such as lack of access to education, such a theme remains political rhetoric.
Governments need to be resolute in fulfilling their commitments. It is one thing to make them and another to fulfil them. Failure to do so will mean that come 2030 many African children will still be left behind.
Benefits of investing in children are manifold, including achieving peace, sustainable development for current and future generations and building a more prosperous continent. Investing in education is one of the crucial steps towards addressing poverty, hunger and building a generation that is liberated from deeply entrenched inequality.
As we celebrate the International Day of the African Child, may our leaders remember the importance of investing in the well-being of African children and may they avail resources for child-focused programmes and services. May they make sure that the needs of marginalised children on the continent are addressed and, indeed, that no African child is left behind.