Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First - A Call for Practical Action

By Richard Kgomotso Montsho

There is an emerging narrative that seems to emphasize that children’s rights must not be presented as exclusive but should also come with responsibilities for the children. While this school of thought is reasonable, there is a need to draw our attention to the fact that, the African continent is not even halfway towards realising Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040. Africa’s Agenda for Children presents ten (10) aspirations that require practical and deliberate actions to translate children’s rights into a reality. These aspirations speak to the fundamental rights of children living on the continent.

These aspirations will once again come to the spotlight as we commemorate the Day of the African Child this June 16. The theme for this year; “Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First” places emphasis on countries to ensure that ‘every child is protected against violence, and ‘every child is free from the impact of armed conflicts and other disasters or emergency situations. Both these issues are critical in the African Agenda for Children 2040.

While the entire continent is celebrating the Day of African Child; the reality for an African Child is still shocking and disturbing. The statistics and reports reveal disturbing facts that should not be ignored.

In South Africa,the estimated child homicide rate is 5.5 homicides per 100 000 children, which is more than twice the global average. This is a glaring statistic that illustrates the need for urgent action in addressing child protection in South Africa. In Mozambique, 1 million children were affected by Cyclone Idai and subsequent floods. This means 1 million more children who have been left homeless, orphaned, or out of school on the African continent and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance for their survival and development.

The violence in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso andNiger has left 1,478 schools closed. This presents a huge challenge in so far as access to education for children in that region is concerned. In northeast Nigeria, armed groups, including Boko Haram abducted 110 girls and one boy from a school. In the Central African Republic, a dramatic resurgence in fighting has enveloped much of the country, with two out of three children in need of humanitarian assistance.Not only are they at risk because of the conflict in the region but they are going to be left behind with limited access to skills that could have improved their future.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

In South Sudan, more than one million children under age 5 are estimated to be acutely malnourished, including more than 273,600 who are severely malnourished due to drought. (OCHA, 13 Feb 2017). In Uganda, almost one-third of children under 5 years are stunted. Stunting increases with age, peaking at 37 percent among children 18-35 months. (UBOS and ICF 2018). Stunting is the result of growing under limited provision of food, health, and care. Research has shown that stunting has a huge impact on not only the children’s development but the continent’s progress in the long term.

The glaring statistics shared above do not present a caring ‘Mother Africa’ that is fit for her children. This demonstrate that Africa requires a lot of practical actions to protect her children. Thus, as we celebrate the 2019 Day of the African Child, we should always remember the brave action children took in defence of their rights on the 16th June in Soweto, South Africa. The fundamental question is, what should we do to lessen the sufferings experienced by children across the continent?

The effect of humanitarian crises leads to hunger, malnutrition, abuse, lack of access to education and health care, which pause a serious threat to the survival, development and protection of the children on the continent. Therefore, the 2019 Day of the African Child should highlight the huge task ahead of the African leaders, child rights actors and all key stakeholders in promoting and protecting the rights of children and facilitating unlimited access to comprehensive care and basic services to all affected children. The 2019 DAC should also be a moment of reflection on the continent’s commitments in fostering an Africa fit for Children. But most importantly, a moment to call for urgent practical actions that prioritise children’s safety, wellbeing, protection, education and health in the country budgets, policies, prevention and response programmes.

Richard Kgomotso Montsho is the Children’s Rights Manger at the Graça Machel Trust. He has 15 years’ experience in promoting and protecting children’s social, economic, protective, civil and political rights. He actively participates in the child rights reporting processes to the treaty bodies such as the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. He is an active member of the Civil Society Organisation forum in the continent. He is a great advocate for meaningful child participation; to this end he initiated South Africa’s first Children’s Complimentary report to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and initiated the development of the South Africa’s National Child Participation Framework.