The Day of the African Child (DAC) is celebrated on 16 June every year in commemoration of the 1976 massacre of Soweto children in the then apartheid South Africa. The theme for this year is “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting all Children’s Rights”. The background to 16 June as the Day of the African Child lies in the 1976 Soweto Uprising and Massacre. On this day, a protest by students in South Africa against apartheid–inspired education resulted in the public shooting of unarmed young protesters by the apartheid police in South Africa.
Nigeria joined the rest of Africa and the world to commemorate the day which was spearheaded by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development.
Hon. Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan represented at the occasion by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Binta A. Bello, highlighted the importance of the day thus; “There is no doubt that celebrating the day will facilitate a deeper understanding of the impact of armed conflict on children as well as raise consciousness on the devastation that accompanies conflicts and crisis, children being one of the most vulnerable”.
The Minister observed that the impact of conflicts and crises on children in Africa is enormous and advocated for urgent action to reverse the trend. She singed out wars and conflicts as situations where the rights of children are violated, which includes; the right to life, the right to live in a family environment, the right to health, education and to survival and development.
She stated that the United Nations Secretary General identified six grave violations of children’s rights in times of armed conflicts that include; recruitment and use of children as child soldiers, killing and maiming of children, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, abduction of children and denial of humanitarian access.
She admitted the federal government commitment about protecting the rights of children. “This Administration is committed to protecting the rights and privileges of all Nigerian children by refocusing attention on issues of Vulnerable Children in the Country. A national Priority Agenda for Vulnerable Children 2013-2020 has been developed as an eight-year strategic frame work to guide the multi sectorial operationalization of the vision 20:20:20 strategies and objectives, which aimed to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable children in Nigeria and reduce poverty”, she said.
She reiterated the federal government resolves in working tirelessly through security agencies to address the issue of insurgency and other acts of violence across the country. Also, she said the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and other stakeholders as well as Non-Governmental organizations are working hard to provide the much needed succor to the teeming population of internally displaced persons across the country especially the North East.
The Minister made a promise as a mother to the children thus; My promise as a mother and Child Rights Advocate is that, I will continue to work hard to ensure that legislative and other measures necessary to stamp out practices that are at variance with the provision of the rights of the child are put in place and made functional in your best interest”.
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development was represented at the event by the Director Child development, Mrs. Georgette Azogu who read her speech. This was because the Permanent Secretary represented the Hon. Minister at the occasion. According to the message from the Perm Sec, the sole aim of selecting this year’s theme of this year’s Day of Africa the African Child was to draw the attention of government, development partners, Non-Governmental Organizations, Religious and Traditional rulers. This according to her include other duty bearers and well-meaning individuals who continually advocate for peace and the need for peaceful co-existence in the country as no nation can develop optimally in war and crisis situations.
“Women and children are the worst hit and suffer the most during crisis situations. A sizeable number of children loss their lives, are traumatized, become orphans and are subjected to various forms violence and sexual exploitation during such crisis situations”, she admitted.
To commemorate the occasion, the ministry had lined out wonderful series of activities to mark the day thus; Ouiz Competition, Drama Presentation, Rendition of Songs, Recitation of Poems, Cultural Performances and Parade of African Flags etc. These activities were performed to the admiration of the audience by some of the school children invited from: Goshen School, Gwarimpa; Awa Basic School, Wuse Zone 4; Christ Foundation Orphanage, Kuje, among others.
High point of the occasion was a presentation by 10 year old Miss Splendor Joe King, a Child Right Ambassador who out of concern for the plight of children wrote a book titled: “Effect of Terrorism on Children”. She wrote the book when she was 9years old. In her message highlighted the Basic Principles of Child Rights as follows; 1, Every child is entitled to good health, protection from illness and proper medical attention for survival, personal growth and development; 2, Every child is entitled to a name, family and nationality; 3, Every child is free to belong to an association or assembly within the law, etc.
The Chief of communication for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Doune Porter said her organization was partnering with NGO’s and other care giver agencies to commemorate the demonstration and killing of African Children in Soweto, South Africa in 1976. She said the Day of the African Child is an avenue to highlight the plight of children affected by conflict as it always gives opportunity for change and improvement in the lives of children in Africa.
According to her ‘’the theme of this year’s celebration helps us to shed a much-needed light on the terrible impact of conflict on the most vulnerable members in the North East , we have witnessed, and continue to witness grave violations of children’s rights- killings, abductions, sexual violence and the use of children in so-called ‘’suicide’’ attacks.
She posited that Nigeria has the largest number of people who are internally displaced in Africa and one of the largest globally, adding that of the more than 2.4 million people displaced from their homes by the conflict in the country more than half are children. And that more than a quarter of the displaced are no older than five years old.