STATEMENT ON DAY OF THE AFRICAN CHILD
Amref Health Africa joins the African Union member States and the rest of world in celebrating the Day of the African Child.
The theme for 2021 is “30 years after the Adoption of the Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child: Accelerate the Implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for Children”.
There is great change and growth that is already happening in Africa, which present a great opportunity for children to achieve their full potential. It is estimated that half of Africa’s inhabitants are children. This is fueled by steady growth in births and declining mortality rates, which will see the continent’s population aged under 18 rise by 50 per cent by mid-century, topping 1 billion. This expansive growth will bring about great change across the continent, and a great need to ensure every child is supported to achieve their full potential, sustained by the various investments made by stakeholders in putting the welfare of children at the fore.
While celebrating the investment made on the African Child, there are also challenges African children face because of Gender Based Violence, economic hardship, lack of education and the extra burden of COVID-19, which place new demands on the Agenda 2040 aspirations. This provides us an opportune moment to increase our efforts to address all the issues affecting children in Africa.
At Amref, we remain committed to upholding rights of children by prioritising policy engagements and interventions aimed at addressing all forms of violence, including harmful cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and early/forced marriages, among others. Our programming seeks to protect millions of children across the continent from malnutrition and other preventable diseases by strengthening delivery of cost-effective nutrition interventions through existing community health platforms as well as promoting healthy childhood by supporting and promoting maternal and child health services in their countries of operation.
We take cognisance that the recent and ongoing pandemic, COVID-19 has not only affected public health but also devastated socio-economic systems of communities. Although children do not represent a high-risk group for direct COVID-19 fatality, more than 91% of school going children were affected triggering school closures and secondary impacts such as rise in Gender Based Violence including FGM/C and early and forced marriages all of which heighten risks to African children’s rights and wellbeing. At Amref, we are concerned that the current crisis might undo decades of progress in children’s rights. Besides losing out on education due to disruptions of school calendars, and FGM/C and early and forced marriages, girls, particularly in poor and marginalised communities are faced with increased risks of malnutrition and hunger, child labour and trafficking.
The pandemic has highlighted the need to address a series of fault lines and frailties that are amplifying existing health inequalities and affecting the long-term environment in which African children will grow up.
Amref Health Africa believes that children have a right to live free from abuse and/or neglect regardless of their ability or disability, sex, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. It has therefore, established the NICE Place Foundation that is a rescue and leadership-training centre that offers refuge to girls who are compelled to undergo FGM/C or forced to early marriages. Further, we protect girls’ rights through Alternative Rites of Passage using water and sanitation as entry points to reach the communities.
Amref underscores the importance of a healthy childhood by prioritising healthy nutrition and quality child friendly services. Our programming supports immunisations, Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) and Integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) at the community and national levels. Further, Children Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and a few African states including Governments of Malawi, Senegal, Nigeria and Ethiopia have supported interventions around children to address child malnutrition, specifically stunting, which is a claw back to children’s advancement.
Children are key agents of change whose voices must be heard, and participation acknowledged. Efforts by governments and non-state actors must be urgently reinforced, at all times, to put children issues at the forefront and safeguard their rights to create a better world for all. Priority and attention should be given to marginalised and vulnerable children, particularly girls, children with disabilities, those living in poverty, victims of violence, conflict and crime, as well as children belonging to minorities and indigenous groups.
As we commemorate 2021 Day of the African Child, we call upon all member states to respect their obligations under the Charter; and review COVID-19 response plans to meet the long-term needs of children by guaranteeing access to quality health, education and social protection services, among other rights.
We are calling upon policy makers to scale up investments in health, education and social protection on children. Focus must shift to prioritising Universal Health Coverage within our health care systems so that children access quality healthcare. Education is also a key component in unleashing children’s’ full potential and enjoyment of their rights.
Inaction or measures that undermine the rights and best interests of the child have a long-term negative impact, not only for the child’s development and well-being, but also to the society as a whole.