Education Cannot Wait Executive Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on the Day of the African Child

NEW YORK, June 16, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- As we speak, millions of crisis-affected girls and boys across the African continent are being denied their human right to a quality education. In the absence of financial means to provide a quality education, or still suffering the brunt of protracted conflicts, Africa's children do not enjoy the same rights as the rest of us. As an immediate consequence, girls are forced into child marriage, boys are recruited into armed groups, millions of children are hungry, and millions more are illiterate. Few of them have any means to move beyond such an existence without receiving an inclusive and continuous quality education.

As we commemorate the Day of the African Child under this year’s theme of “Education for all children in Africa: The time is now”, we need to follow the lead of the African Union and the African people in receiving their long-awaited right to a quality education across the continent. Long delayed and overdue, the time to empower an Africa fit for the 21st century is now.

As we commemorate the Day of the African Child under this year's theme of "Education for all children in Africa: The time is now", we need to follow the lead of the African Union and the African people in receiving their long-awaited right to a quality education across the continent. Long delayed and overdue, the time to empower an Africa fit for the 21st century is now.

A panoply of interconnected challenges undermines local and national initiatives to deliver on the collective goal of 'education for all' in Africa. Extreme poverty and conflicts over resources expose children and adolescents to armed conflict and violence on a daily basis. There are 35 recognized armed conflicts across the continent that continue to rage in countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

Forced displacement is on the rise as a result of conflict, climate change, extreme poverty and instability. In all, 44 million people are displaced in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNHCR statistics from 2023, up from 38.3 million in 2021.

In Africa, the climate crisis is also an education crisis. Over the past 10 years, an estimated 42 million crisis-affected children in Sub-Saharan Africa have faced climate shocks amplified by climate change. In 2023, Cyclone Freddy left a path of chaos and destruction. Approximately 1,500 classrooms were destroyed, disrupting learning for half a million students  and forcing 1.4 million people on the move across six countries.

Extreme poverty and economic losses add to the collected risks that are pushing children and the young generation out of school and derailing efforts to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Four out of 10 children in Sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty. With high class fees and limited resources in the household, children are forced to join the workforce, get married, gather water, or simply stay home from school because their families can't afford a school fee.

These collective challenges have resulted in the single largest education crisis in the world today. According to UNESCO, 98 million children are out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even when they are in school, the quality of learning is often severely lacking, and Africa has the highest illiteracy rate in the world today.

This education crisis is having vast impacts on Africa's social and economic development, and perpetuating further non-virtuous cycles of conflict, hunger and displacement.

Sudan is on the brink of the worst education crisis in the world today. Since conflict began in April 2023, a staggering 18 million children have been pushed from their schools. Even before the conflict, there were 6.9 million out-of-school children. In Nigeria, 20 million girls and boys are out of school. In Ethiopia, conflict, drought, poverty and other factors have resulted in 13 million children out of the classroom. This adds up to 51 million children out-of-school in just these three countries alone. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a resource-rich country, among many in Africa, economic interests force African children into child labour rather than into attending school.

We Live in the 21st Century

What's wrong with the world? All of us need a new vision that is based on human rights for all, and education is at the core of such a vision. Not just education for the few or the privileged, but education for all of Africa's children. To deliver on this, we need to embrace human rights in action, based on the promises outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

It starts with resources. In the face of such blatant inequity, we, as a global community, need to shoulder our responsibility by urgently and substantially increasing funding for education in Africa. Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is calling for US$600 million in additional resources to reach our US$1.5 billion resource mobilization target. This will allow us to reach 20 million crisis-impacted children worldwide, and to scale-up our investments in Africa.

Addressing the injustice towards Africa, we also need to support African leadership. As outlined by the African Union, member states across Africa are expected to ensure free, inclusive primary education, reduced costs for secondary education, and substantial investment and support for early childhood education. Financial resources are key to providing action-oriented and results-driven support.  

Given its power to lift-up entire generations and transform minds, education is the single most powerful tool we have in delivering on each and every one of the SDGs in Africa. Some of our greatest role models for humanity were educated and thus able to help all of us to advance cooperation and human rights worldwide.

National ownership and localization are imperative to our efforts. By connecting global donors, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector with national governments and local non-profits, we can scale-up the impact, for Africa and the world, of each and every dollar we invest in education in Africa.

The Day of the African Child commemorates a student uprising in 1976 in Soweto, South Africa. At that time, students marched en-masse to protest the poor quality of education and apartheid. Hundreds of students and innocent bystanders were killed, many more were injured.

While apartheid came to an end under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, nearly 50 years later, after the attacks on students in Soweto, children across Africa are still being denied their inherent right to a quality education and schools are being attacked. How many more children must die or must be pushed into the shadows, generation after generation? This is the 21st century and the long-awaited time for education for every child in Africa is NOW.

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