NEW YORK (June 15, 2011) — Thousands of children in Africa are experiencing violence, exploitation and abuse on a daily basis. The situation is especially stark for children living and working on the streets.
On the 21st annual Day of the African Child, whose theme is "All together for urgent action in favor of street children," UNICEF calls on governments to strengthen support systems, which provide the basis for a more protective environment in families and communities to keep children safe, and strengthen families through the provision of basic social, health and education services.
"On the Day of the African Child—and every day—we must do all we can to address the reasons why so many children are separated from their families, and invest in new efforts to protect them, no matter where they live, " said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director.
Many factors, including widespread poverty, conflict, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and violence in the home, are forcing more and more children to leave their homes to live and work on the streets, exposed to harm and exploitation. Many others end up in less visible exploitative situations, working in households, on farms, in mines or even in armed groups.
In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 50 million children have lost one or both parents, almost 15 million of them due to AIDS. Some of them are forced to grow up on their own, with limited or no support from adult caretakers. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of child labor in the world with more than one-third of children aged 5–14 being engaged in the hardest forms of labor.
"The issue of children working and living on the streets in African towns and cities is only the visible face of large-scale violations of rights," said Agnès Kabore Ouattara, Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. "It is a consequence of socio-economic factors such as poverty, demographic explosion, rural-urban migration, political crises, as well as inter-personal problems such as violence and rejection at home in dysfunctional families."
These challenges reinforce the need to strengthen the role of families and communities in promoting and protecting the wellbeing of children. As a consequence, governments, with support from partners, need to invest adequate resources in disadvantaged rural or provincial communities, to reduce disparities between regions and income groups, as well as to fight discrimination based on sex, age, and ethnicity, among other factors.
Over the past several years, a number of African countries have achieved important gains in the implementation of the child rights framework. Many countries have introduced social protection mechanisms including cash transfers, which play a key role in supporting vulnerable families and preventing children from leaving their homes to secure some income on the street or in other exploitative labor conditions.
UNICEF is collaborating with governments throughout the continent to create a protective environment by both fostering social welfare programs and engaging in advocacy efforts to protect children from exploitation and abuse.
The Day of the African Child commemorates a 1976 march in Soweto, South Africa when thousands of African school children took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand were injured. To honor the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16th every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity. The Day also draws attention to the lives of African children today.
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's workthrough fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.
UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from 13 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008. But still, 22,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.
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