Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am profoundly honoured to have been invited to join tonight’s commemoration in honour of the multitudes of African children who are yearning for peace, freedom from want, disease and ignorance. Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the African Day of the Child, which was declared by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1991, in honour of the heroes and heroines of the June 16 1976 uprising in Soweto, South Africa.
This was a defining and epochal moment in the history of the anti-apartheid liberation struggle. It drew a groundswell of international condemnation of the Apartheid regime and galvanised the global anti-apartheid movement to more intensified, decisive action against the apartheid regime. The iconic image of a young, 13year-old Hector Peterson, one of the first victims of the brutal repression unleashed by the apartheid security machinery, remains in the minds of many today as a symbol of the struggle against apartheid, oppression and discrimination.
The ‘class of 1976’ were conscious when they embarked upon their struggle that it was linked to the broader struggles of young people in particular and oppressed people in general, the world over. This was a struggle for the restoration of human dignity and the recognition of political and civil rights, hence it resonated with the struggles of others facing similar conditions. The liberation of South Africa in 1994 has almost completed the total liberation of the African continent. In spite of modest progress with regards to the welfare of the African child and the integration of young people generally in the socio-economic and political life in Africa, major challenges still remain.
The theme of this year’s Children’s Day Celebration is “The rights of Children with Disabilities: The Duty to Protect, Respect, Promote and Fulfill”. Millions of children in Africa live with some sort of disability. These children are subject to discrimination, violence and neglect. This scourge must be brought to end! Our governments need to step up efforts to provide these children with access to all facilities and services they need in order to grow up healthily and live up to their full potential, like all other children. While most African countries have adopted legislation and strategies to respond to the needs of children with disabilities, many lag behind in terms of implementation and the allocation of resources. Rwanda is one of the few countries that have invested significantly in specialised education for children with disabilities. The number of children benefitting from special education increased from 632 in 2000 to 17000 in 2010.
Disease is another factor that continues to stunt the development of the Africa child. According to UNICEF millions of children, mostly in Sub Saharan Africa, die every year from largely preventable causes before reaching their fifth birthdays. In 2012 this translated to 57 children dying for every 1000 live births. Unicef’s call to action challenges the world to reduce child mortality to 20 or fewer births in every country by 2035. Reaching this historic target will save an additional 45 million child lives by 2035 bringing the world closer to the ultimate goal of ending preventable child deaths.
Adverse weather conditions, drought and the current crisis in the Sahel region is already affecting children. Nearly a quarter of a million of these children are already suffering from acute malnutrition. They are at risk in terms of abuse, access to education and recruitment into armed groups.
In this age of Africa’s rebirth and renewal, characterised by increased democratisation and an unprecedented resource boom, Africa has the best chance more than ever before to leapfrog its growth trajectory. The commodity boom, coupled with the boom in the construction sector, retail and services has launched Africa into an age of prosperity. In addition, with almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. Since 2000 Africa’s youth population has been growing at a rate of 2.7% per annum. If the trend continues, the continent’s labour force will be 1 billion strong by 2040 making it the largest in the world surpassing both India and China. According to the World Bank, between 2000 and 2008 Africa created 73 million jobs but only 16 million for young people. As a result many young people are unemployed or under-employed in on formal jobs with low productivity and pay. Of Africa’s unemployed 60% are young people and youth unemployment rates are double those of adult unemployment.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we stand on the threshold of an auspicious moment in Africa’s development. We owe it to our children, our youth to use the endowments bestowed to us to push back the frontiers of poverty and under-development.
Finally, I wish you convey my gratitude to Briggitte Mugiraneza for her passion, commitment and dedication to the cause and development of the African child and the African youth. Tonight you have pulled off an extraordinary event to mark a very important day in the calendar of humanity.
I thank you for your attention.