The Day of the African Child 2019 – Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First

Today we commemorate The Day of the African Child (DAC) 2019 with the theme : “Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First “.

In 1991, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the then OAU instituted the DAC in memory of the 16th June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa. At that time, students marched in protest against the poor quality of education they received and demanded to be taught in their own languages.

The DAC serves to commemorate these children and the brave action they took in defence of their rights. The DAC thus celebrates the children of Africa and calls for a serious introspection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges facing children across the continent.

Humanitarian crises result from various factors or events or from a combination of several factors, and pose significant risks and threats to the lives, safety, security, health or general wellbeing of a large number of people at a time – with little or no capacity to cope with the impacts of the crises.

Humanitarian crises may be natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and health epidemics. They may also be man-made, resulting from factors such as armed conflicts, tensions, or strife, or the result of human error or action, such as large scale industrial accidents.

Humanitarian crises may also come in the form of complex emergencies, that is, usually, a combination of both man-made crises and natural disasters. This broad understanding of humanitarian crises also calls for humanitarian action by States that may not be experiencing (armed) conflicts but other disaster or emergency that requires humanitarian action.

These crises often lead to the violations of children’s rights. These violations include failure to provide education, health or an adequate standard of living for children to enjoy their rights, and the effects of these violations may affect boys and girls differently. For example, boys may, to a great extent be subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other inhuman treatment and forced recruitment; while girls often suffer slavery, sexual exploitation like forced marriages, physical and sexual violations like rape and forced prostitution during or after a crisis. Children in vulnerable situations suffer most from these crises. A case in point is the plight of children who are missing ,lost or displaced, having been separated from their families.

Humanitarian crises have far-reaching implications and affect all strata of society, with children being the most vulnerable to the impacts, as ‘they have fewer resources to draw on to plan for, cope with, and recover from disaster.

The purpose of humanitarian action is to uphold, as much as possible, the human dignity of those affected by humanitarian crises, by among others, taking measures to save lives and alleviate their suffering. ‘Humanitarian action provides life-saving services and facilitates the return to normalcy for people and communities affected by natural and manmade disasters. It also seeks to lessen the destructive impact of disasters and complex emergencies.’

According to UNHCR, children constitute a significant proportion of populations on the move across international borders globally, with a large number of those children moving from and across Africa, especially children in West and Central Africa.

In Africa, 50% of refugees are children, with about 3 million children forced out of their origins due to various humanitarian crises. Among migrants, nearly 1 in 3 is a child, which is more than twice the global average.

Due to this significant number of affected children, UNHCR recognizes that children face unique protection risks, that require that States and other partners work together to reduce these risks through the strengthening of child protection systems.

In 2016, the ACERWC prepared a 25- year Agenda “Agenda 2040: Fostering an Africa fit for children”, with the objective to restore the dignity of the African child through assessing the achievements and challenges faced towards the effective implementation of the African Children’s Charter. With a focus on the African child who is affected by emergencies such as natural disasters, conflicts, tensions and strife, the restoration of his/her dignity lies in how the States Parties are prepared for, and deal with challenges during, and after an emergency situation.

At its core, the selection of the 2019 DAC theme recognises that children in Africa endure the most consequences of armed conflict, tension, strife, and other humanitarian disasters/crises. This phenomenon depicts a greater problem – the inadequacy in the protection of the child even before a humanitarian crisis takes place.

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