THE STAR KENYA: Save Africa’s children now or forget sustainable future | Kailash Satyarthi US

Between 2012 and 2020, child labourers in Africa increased by 30 million. By Collins Ajuok.

In Summary

  • Governments in Africa have often left the task of women and youth empowerment as well as children’s welfare to NGOs
  • It is now impossible to ignore the national stability risks posed to many countries by huge uneducated populations, created by massive school dropouts and child labour

The great Nelson Mandela aptly declared “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.

And yet, according to 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, many parts of Africa experience the sad phenomenon where parents unable to overcome poverty or to feed their children, give them off into child labour.

Unwittingly, the cycle of poverty then becomes a perennial burden on not just today’s children of Africa, but also the future generation adults.

Picture this: Africa’s riches, represented party, but in no small way, by the massive mineral wealth of the DRC depart the continent to enrich many parts of the world, especially in weapons manufacturing, jewelry and technological advancements.

The sustained exploitation leaves behind not only a dirt-poor continent sinking deeper into debt while evacuating raw materials abroad, but child labour is prevalent in the mines and plants where these minerals and raw materials originate.

The irony of it is mind-boggling. On Wednesday last week, Gbowee was among a group dubbed Laureates and Leaders for Children that launched the Justice for Africa’s Children 2023 report.

The wide-ranging report, a serious indictment on the conditions of living of a large portion of Africa’s children, indicates that between 2012 and 2020, child labourers in Africa increased by 30 million.

Child labour – and if I may add, the enlisting of child soldiers in conflicts across the continent – remains a perennial tinderbox, for which, as Gbowee added, the lack of political will from African governments leaves a gap that makes the search for tangible solutions a major challenge.

The report does not only shine the focus on child labour. Indeed, it delves into the multiplicity of factors that pose a risk to the wellbeing of Africa’s children and by extension, the long term ability of their generation to secure a sustainable future, given these current challenges.

Among the items examined critically include the debt burden on Africa, the negative impacts of climate change, the growing number of out-of-school children, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, unjust immigration policies, corruption and recent Covid-19 vaccines and response discrimination. In many ways, for the African child, there is danger wherever he turns!

There is a global angle to it. To a large extent, it is easy to state that exploitation of Africa’s minerals and raw materials, Covid-19 support discrimination, capital flight to offshore tax havens and the debt burden are issues largely with a foreign face. But in all these, the lethargy or nonchalance of African leadership towards the welfare of the children has to be condemned.

Indeed, Sudanese-British billionaire businessman Mo Ibrahim, one of the Laureates and Leaders for Children, while addressing the online launch of the report last week, stated that some of the problems we experience are self-inflicted.

In his view, the illicit funds outflows from Africa break the $100 billion barrier, which he reckons is three times the amount needed to effectively address key issues around the welfare of Africa’s children.

Governments in Africa have often left the task of women and youth empowerment as well as children’s welfare to NGOs. But it is now impossible to ignore the national stability risks posed to many countries by huge uneducated populations, created by massive school dropouts and child labour.

By the same measure, inequalities promoted by the global community in Africa by its lack of climate justice, exploitation of the continent, flawed pandemic responses and unfair debt burdens on Africa, help breed a skewed world bereft of solidarity and equality. There is, therefore, a call for legislation to promote children’s welfare, a position echoed by Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Martin Chungong of Cameroon.

Chungong was a speaker at the same report launch and committed to mobilize parliaments to help address the injustices highlighted in the report and to offer the support of the global parliamentary community in this.

I am persuaded that to uplift the status of Africa’s children, we here in Africa must be on the frontline. The global community may bear its responsibility for certain failures here, but the cancer of marginalisation we ignore will eat us in Africa the most.

It should concern all of, in and out that the numbers of child labourers and out of school children continue to rise in the continent.

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, who was a keynote speaker at the launch of the Justice for Africa’s children 2023 report last week, urged African governments to increase investments in children’s health, immunization and school feeding programs as a way of encouraging school enrolment and enhancing the chances for a “healthier, safer, fairer Africa”.

There is no question that even with existing budgetary allocations, African countries can provide a shot in the arm to children’s welfare by pushing not just greater school attendance but sealing the corruption holes that divert resources meant for schools and children’s facilities.

I have to conclude by quoting 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who brilliantly observed at the launch that “Africa is the mirror of global civilization, and this report dares to challenge the systemic inequalities and the conscience of the world. We cannot achieve sustainability under an environment of discrimination”.

I am sure that every government in Africa, if interested, can get a hold of this report, just like I am sure the global community, if it wanted to end unsustainable discrimination, would do it once and for all.

I totally agreed with several speakers from the Laureates and Leaders for Children, when they stated that the time for speaking was over, and we now have to chase actual implementation. Africa is a land where politics tends to override all else.

But clearly, the next big players on the legislative and leadership platform across the continent will be the ones who will stand up for the children and set a new agenda geared to children’s empowerment and welfare. The Laureates and Leaders for Children is already a stellar cast of widely respected global citizens, taking an unequivocal stand to protect Africa’s children.

Our leaders here at home must surely do a bit more to align with these aspirations. At least as far as school dropouts and child labour are concerned.

There is no doubt in my mind that we can keep paying lip service and end up with a scarred generation in future, or we can do something once and all to secure the generation we love to refer to as our “future leaders”. The choice, ladies and gentlemen, is quite easy.

Originally published at The Star, Kenya, 5 February 2023, available here. Image: Child soldiers in Rumbek, South Sudan, courtesy UNICEF/OLS Mann