International Day of the African Child 2017: children and young people at the heart of ending the cycles of poverty and violence

On the morning of 16th June 1976, around 20,000 South African school children left their classrooms and took to the streets of Soweto to protest against the proposed enforcement of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in schools. By the next day, hundreds of people – many of them children – lay dead following police brutality. The Soweto Uprising was a catalysing event in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, galvanising communities, political movements, and international solidarity. And it was started by children and young people fighting for their education rights.

16th June is now known as the International Day of the African Child, and as we commemorate the children who gave their lives in Soweto, it is also a day to remember that, 31 years later, many African children are still being denied their most basic rights. In Somalia, the majority of children living in rural areas have little or no hope of entering schools which are prohibitively costly, or simply non-existent. In countries such as South Sudan and DRC, children are facing the ongoing horror of armed conflict. In countries now in the aftermath of conflict, it can take years to re-establish infrastructure, leaving children out of school and at risk of entering child labour, or perpetuating a cycle of violence by joining armed groups.

Children, young people, and education are at the heart of ending the cycles of poverty and violence. Youth groups are flourishing and demanding their rights across the world – particularly in South Africa – and many civil society groups working in education are using the day to advocate for the right to free, quality, inclusive and equitable education. For example, in Nigeria – regions of which remain in the grip of armed conflict – GCE’s national member coalition, the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA) is speaking at a major event in Abuja on equal rights for children. In Tanzania, GCE member ActionAid with partner KINGONET is holding a one day advocacy meeting for children to demand they are represented in school governance, with 200 children and 50 district officials are participating throughout the day.

Ensuring that children and young people have a voice in the delivery of their rights and the determination of the structures which will shape their futures remains more critical than ever, yet it is clear that the fight continues. On the International Day of the African Child, the Global Campaign for Education pays tribute to the children who have fought for their rights, and stands in solidarity with the many youth groups inside and outside the education movement who continue to do so.

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