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Africa’s Children lend their voice to the continent’s future

Africa’s children continue to have their voices heard in impactful policy-making forums across the continent with the launch of the second annual Africa Children’s Summit (ACS), set to take place between 9 and 12 August 2024.

 

Facilitated by The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF), the ACS will be organised, hosted, and attended by approximately 500 children aged 10-17 from as many as 28 African countries in a hybrid event (250 in-person and 250 online) at St John’s College and Roedean School for Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa.

 

“Africa is experiencing sustained population growth of nearly 2,5% a year, while most of the developed world is in a state of population decline or stagnation,” says Dr Linda Ncube-Nkomo, Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund chief executive.

 

“With over half of the population on the continent under the age of 15, the well-being and development of African children cannot be ignored, as this is the generation set to be the world’s leading labour force in coming generations. As leaders of today, we need to do everything we can to fully understand our children’s needs and involve them in charting a future that ensures the health, safety and optimism of all children,” Ncube-Nkomo says.

 

This year’s summit will focus on education while also addressing the myriad health and safety threats that millions of African children face, especially as these affect their ability to enjoy a quality level of education and success.

 

The latest World Bank State of Global Education Update found that almost 9 out of 10 children in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot read and understand a simple text by the age of 10. Globally, 70% can’t perform this task, up from 57% before the 2020 pandemic. Children who missed school due to the pandemic failed to reach their scheduled learning targets and, in many cases, forgot the skills they had previously learned.

 

Around 160 million students in Eastern and Southern African countries missed significant portions of their education due to school closures, and an estimated 34% of adolescent girls remain out of school today. This troubling state of affairs has serious knock-on effects, as many children are then exposed to the outside world and risks of abuse, neglect, exploitation and even trafficking.

 

The ACS aims to bring these and a host of other concerns to the fore directly from children’s first-hand accounts, helping to unearth insights that might not have been realised otherwise. For instance, the role that technology plays in the exploitation of children may not have been adequately addressed by technology providers and policymakers.

 

Online platforms are widely used tools for grooming and trafficking in law enforcement, not to mention the prevalent misinformation that could adversely affect education outcomes or the addictive nature of technology and study its impact on study habits.

 

In the inaugural ACS held in April 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya, a child-led steering committee was formed through a democratic election process, active in various countries to determine the content, agenda and format of the ACS in 2024, with support from facilitators.

 

After sharing and discussing challenges compromising child well-being in Africa, the 2024 ACS was enhanced to be entrenched into regional mechanisms active in children’s rights and welfare and receive their endorsement.

 

As such, the Summit has already been endorsed by and received participation from civil society organisations (across all regions), the African Union, the Africa Children’s Committee, South Africa’s Department of Social Development, a committee of experts and various country government representatives.

 

“By working with regional mechanisms, the Summit aims to reach hard-to-reach children, including children on the move, those in forced labour, children on streets and LGBTQIA+ children,” Ncube-Nkomo says.

 

Dr Najat Maalla (UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children), Professor Anne Skelton (head of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child), and Honourable Wilson Almeida Adão (head of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child) will participate in discussions and assist in reporting back on the Summit and its outcomes.

 

The 2024 ACS will be the first that will be led by a girl child, Tara Hendricks, a Western Cape child with a disability, emphasising the need to include marginalised groups – 20% of child delegates are children with disabilities.

 

The entire Summit will also be translated into 8 languages, including English, Portuguese, French, Kiswahili, Arabic, Sesotho, isiZulu, and South African sign language, to broadly include all regions of the continent, especially North, Central, and West Africa.

 

“While the 2023 Summit yielded many valuable insights, we realised the need to ensure that the children’s committee would be able to continue with local campaigns in the various participating countries,” Ncube-Nkomo adds. “By encouraging a Pan-African Summit by children, we are creating a platform as a continent for them to be seen, heard and engaged about what they need for policy-makers to create an Africa that is fit for children.”

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