Children speak up for right to survive

african_childDAKAR - Thousands of children last week participated in various activities across Africa advocating for governments to boost child survival in commemoration of the Day of the African Child. Celebrated on 16 June, this is the same day hundreds of black school children were killed in Soweto, South Africa in 1976 protests for better education.

Half of the world’s under-five deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a recent report by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children. In West Africa, the Ministry of Gender in Liberia helped bus 1,000 children to the country’s northwest Lofa county to celebrate. “We are here to tell leaders that we have a right to live,” Donelle Kokeh, 15, one of the participants told IRIN.

Unknown numbers of children were drafted to fight in Liberia’s civil war which spanned 14 years until 2003. For some child survivors, the transition to civilian life is on-going. “Every day should be African Child Day,” said Kokeh, a leader in the national children’s parliament, which includes 30 youths. “Children should be respected every day. But today is set aside especially to honour those who have died.”

In an effort to improve access to health care and slash neonatal deaths, Liberia’s government suspended health care fees in 2007. The recent UNICEF-Save the Children report named Liberia as one of the few sub-Saharan African countries on target to meet its child health goal by 2015. Under-five deaths have reduced significantly in recent years, according to 2007 government data. One in seven children in sub-Saharan Africa dies before he or she reaches age five, with 43 percent dying in Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Ethiopia, according to UNICEF.

At the African Union headquarter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 17 students from Aster Bette Firkir primary school performed their self-authored song, “Children of Africa”, whose lyrics began: Children must not suffer by the matter [because of] others; they are dying, they are crying, so let’s go to wipe their eyes.

“Most African countries are not at a highly [developed] stage so the majority [of countries] are not taking care of their children,” one of the performers, Dawit Tseniha, 13, told IRIN.

Tseniha and his classmates also performed a play on child trafficking. “Although children want to talk about their abuse, no one wants to hear them,” Tseniha added. “In most African countries, children are not accepted very well with their ideas. When they talk about their problems, they are not heard.”

When asked about his professional goals, Tseniha told IRIN he wants to become a lawyer. “Maybe if I am a lawyer, I can help children get proper judgment.”

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