Press Statement by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
in Commemoration of the Day of the African Child,
16 June 2008

Banjul, 16 June 2008 – In 1991, the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union or “AU”) declared 16 th June as the Day of the African Child in remembrance of June 16 1976, when hundreds of black school children in Soweto, South Africa, were massacred when they 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; and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than 100 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured.

Since 1991, therefore, the 16 th of June of every year has been commemorated across the continent as The Day of the African Child.

In commemoration of this Day, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“the African Commission”) is drawing public attention to the plight of children all over Africa. This year’s theme, “Right to Participation: Let Children be Heard and Seen,” particularly resonates with the origins of the Day which was really about children’s participation; the theme also underscores the efforts of the African Union to ensure the full participation of children in processes that shape and determine the conditions of their life, work and future.

In Africa today, children and youths routinely experience abuse of their rights because of a complex web of political, economic and social factors which impede their effective development. Conflicts in Africa have exposed children to violence and exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation, rape, trafficking and child labour.They bear the brunt of armed conflicts as they are usually caught in the crossfire and are used as child soldiers to commit all sorts of atrocities. Children are also faced with the dilemma of harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and child marriages .

The African Commission recognises the positive measures taken by some States through the adoption of legislative, judicial and administrative measures to protect the physical and mental development of children, including the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (“the Children’s Charter”) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“the CRC”).

However, to effectively protect the rights of children, Member States need to complement legislative efforts with other measures to provide children with a voice and an appropriate space and forum to participate in decisions that directly affect them. Involving children in the formulation and development of policies empowers them and enhances their understanding of the rights they are entitled to.

Consequently, the African Commission is calling on Member States of the African Union who have not already done so, to ratify and implement the Children’s Charter, and support the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in the discharge of its mandate.

The African Commission also calls on all major stakeholders, in particular, Member States of the AU, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Educational Institutions, United Nations Institutions and Civil Society Organisations (CSO) to do more to alleviate the situation of children in Africa.