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African Child Day: Don't Just Celebrate. ADVOCATE.

Image via umbertobattista, Pixabay

Also known as the International Day of the African Child, African Child Day falls on Sunday, June 16 this year. While providing an important avenue to celebrate African children's potential and advocating for their rights and development, African Child Day will only be lip service if the systems underlying the continued exploitation of African children remain intact. In this article, we will explain the roots and goals of African Child Day, and how current practices and realities in fact undermine and prevent the objectives of African Child Day from being realized in a meaningful way.

Table of Contents:

What Is African Child Day?

On June 16, 1976, students in Soweto, South Africa, marched in protest against the poor quality of education they were receiving — and the absence of teaching in their languages. To commemorate this student "uprising," the Organization of African Unity, as it was then, instituted the Day of the African Child in 1991. 

Every June 16, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) meets with governments, child/youth organizations, non-government organizations, and other international stakeholders to talk about challenges and opportunities for the children of Africa in areas like education, health, and child protection. ACERWC sets guidelines for African States to take measures relating to a theme it sets for the year — which for 2024 is "Education for all children in Africa: the time is now."

The Disconnect

Sadly, as noble as they are, the goals of African Child Day are in many ways subverted by global consumer/business practices and colonial ideologies that remain strongly in place even today. This highlights the very real predicament many virtuous causes face: if the foundation of a building remains decrepit, no edifice — no matter how magnificent looking — will stand. In order to promote the welfare of children in Africa, we should be ending child labour in Africa.

The Impacts of Child Labour on African Children

We are going to take a look at two instances of African child labour and how difficult it is to make any meaningful progress to remedy the status quo.

The Devastating Case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Ongoing armed conflict — and more recently, environmental disasters — in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has caused the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in recent years, making them refugees in their own country. Internal displacement impacts children in a number of ways — interrupting their education, impeding development, and reducing opportunities for livelihood. This creates a trap of poverty that continues even after the instance of displacement, which forces children into labour in a number of industries, including agriculture and natural resources.

The DRC contains four-fifths of the cobalt supply in the world, extracted to make lithium-ion batteries and electronic components — and there are at least 25,000 children working in those mines. Cobalt mining is an industry rife with human rights abuses and exposure to unsafe conditions. But many tech manufacturers — including Apple, Dell, Google, Microsoft, and Tesla — rely directly and indirectly on DRC's labour trafficking in the name of competitiveness. In 2022, International Rights Advocates took these tech giants to court under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act over deaths and injuries of children in mine collapses in the DRC. Despite the court acknowledging that a number of parties — including the DRC government — perpetuate labour trafficking, it absolved these corporations of liability because forcing them to stop the venture wouldn't affect the people actually perpetuating the unlawful labour. This case shows us that human rights in Africa — children especially — remain secondary to economic gain.

Image as it appears on Africa Up Close

Sudan: A Similar Struggle

In Sudan, there are 3.7 million people internally displaced by continued conflicts all over the country, with more than 415,000 forced to flee their homes in 2022 alone. Rampant poverty also affects the vulnerable. Sudanese children enter the workforce early — herding cattle, brick making, gold mining, and even forced by military groups to fight opposing factions. While many of them do still attend school, working onerous hours and moving heavy loads in hard conditions affects their ability to learn and do their school work. On the face of it, there are a number of initiatives intended to aid children in Sudan, but efforts are hindered by chronic underfunding of the education system, as well as gaps and contradictions in the legal system that make enforcement of many protective initiatives impossible.

How to Combat Child Labour in Africa

Image via jump1987, Pixabay

Acknowledging and celebrating the potential of African children is an important first step, but there is much more distance to cover for the journey to sow meaningful progress in the fight against child labour in Africa. More importantly, we must ask ourselves, how can I support ending child labour in Africa? We have to recognize that the social and economic systems that enable child exploitation to continue need to be challenged in an organized and persistent manner. As consumers, we need to be informed — to research and make smart buying choices. As much as practicable, we need to support ethical sourcing practices, and to persuade others to follow our lead. 

Easier said than done, though. The International Rights Advocates DRC case demonstrates that mechanisms must be put in place to make the so-called captains of industry accountable for their business partnerships. Put pressure on lawmakers to create and strengthen domestic consumer regulations requiring corporations to disclose their partners along the supply chain and to assess penalties against companies that take advantage of child exploitation anywhere in the world. Join or start campaigns to have producers, manufacturers, sellers, and buyers to follow guidelines with the goal of eliminating child labour, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration).

While we cannot directly fill in the legal gaps in other countries' broken systems, we can support the efforts of organizations in those countries to broker peace and to break down the barriers preventing the success of child protection initiatives. Together, with persistence and targeted action, we can make it harder for corporate entities to benefit from practices that continue to exploit our most precious resource: our children.

Beyond Celebration: Taking Action

Learning more about the realities other people face as a result of our own lifestyles and consumer habits can be a hard pill to swallow. But we CAN do something about it. Being informed is a first step, hence why we tackle such uncomfortable topics. Understanding how human rights are still today not a reality for many folks across the world, including in our own North American backyards, is key. The Code of Black Ally (COBA) guide helps put this into perspective in a way you can actually use and digest. Get your own free copy here, so you too can figure out how to stand for issues you care about in an authentic way.


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