In an effort to raise the profile of education and child mortality the International Day of the African Child has been celebrated every year since 1991 on 16 June.
The day came about as a result of the massive protests in the Soweto township in South Africa in 1976 when thousands of black schoolchildren took to the streets to protest against the apartheid regime’s stance on education. They demanded better quality education and the right to be schooled in their own language. However, police shot dead hundreds with thousands more injured.
The Organisation for African Unity decided, in 1991, to mark this day as the Day of the African Child. Primary education is compulsory in many countries and the right to free elementary education is set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 26). However, governments in Africa do not always prioritise education, so public funding is sometimes lacking.
As a result, according to UNICEF, around 38 million African children are missing out on schooling.
In addition, the international day seeks to highlight the plight of infant deaths in Africa. UNICEF estimates that half of the world’s under-five deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa from preventable or curable diseases.
Major deterrents that keep primary school children out of school include large school fees, armed conflict, unregistered births, child labour and HIV/AIDS. However, with political commitment, getting those 38 million African children into school is still possible. For example, Malawi, a country which suffered from food shortages, has become a regional food supplier and has subsequently cut child mortality by a third.
Another example is Kenya, where tribal nomads complained of lack of access to education. As a result, the Kenyan government came up with the innovative solution of creating mobile classrooms.
UNICEF singled out Liberia as a particularly good example of how to slash child mortality rates when it suspended health care fees in 2007. It remains one of the few countries on course to meet its child health goal by 2015.
The EU finances a Fund of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative with €22m in 2007, €5.6m in 2008 and €4.5m in 2009, which benefits 21 African countries. The initiative is a partnership between recipient and donor countries which aims to accelerate progress towards achieving primary education for all by 2015.