South African children on their way to school South African children on their way to school 

Int'l Day of the African Child: 'The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow'

The International Day of the African Child is celebrated every year on June 16 with a theme based on the views of children collected from various consultations with children themselves. It was instituted in 1991 and aims to celebrate children of Africa and promote their rights, as well as encourage reflection and action towards addressing the challenges they face on a daily basis. This year's observance marks an epochal shift for the world.

By Linda Bordoni

The 2023 theme of the International Day of the African Child is “The Rights of the Child in the Digital Environment,” and that is clearly relevant seeing the epochal shift caused by the digital revolution.

But it’s not the only profound geopolitical shift we are gearing up for as 2023 is set to be the year when sub-Saharan Africa leads the world as the region with the most young people, a reality with far-reaching consequences imbued with challenges for today.

And while technology and times have changed since the establishment of the annual observance, too many African children still lack the fundamental human rights that drove young South African students in Soweto to protest against education injustice and inequality in the apartheid regime, only to be ambushed and massacred by police on 16 June 1976.

This date was chosen to honour those students, but almost fifty years down the line, a staggering 244 million girls and boys, between 6 and 18, worldwide are out of school. Almost 100 million of them are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Pope Francis himself has repeatedly raised the crucial issue by expressing support and encouragement for the African Compact on Education, inspired by the Global Compact on Education launched by the pontiff in September 2019.

And that is because it is universally accepted that education is crucial not only in empowering children and young people to build fulfilling lives; it also educates them to fraternity and teaches them to overcome divisions and conflicts and to guide their nations on paths of hospitality, justice, and peace.

Children: our collective responsibility

When the Organization of African Unity established the International Day in 1991,  it rooted it in the pledge to “eliminate harmful social and cultural practices affecting children: our collective responsibility.”

While the Day of the African Child continues to raise awareness of continuing ills such as the recruitment of child soldiers and genital mutilation, to which millions of African girls are subjected, together with food insecurity and widespread lack of schooling, this year’s observance shines the light on a revolutionary factor in our ageing word: by the year 2050, almost one in three of the world’s children under 18 years of age will be African.

An epochal shift

Thus, this International Day of the African Child is arguably the most significant on record, as 2023 is set to be the year when sub-Saharan Africa leads the world as the region with the most young people.

The answer to the question of the significance of this shift, both for Africa and the world, will depend on the action or inaction of leaders to embrace an immense opportunity or let it slip by.

As Nelson Mandela observed, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow”. For Africa and its international partners, these words resonate with hope and more challenges than ever before.

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16 June 2023, 14:02