UNICEF calls for "more protective environments" for African children

10:56, June 17, 2011      

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The United Nations Children 's Fund (UNICEF) on Thursday called on the African governments to provide "more protective environments" to keep children safe and free from harm and exploitation.

In a statement to mark the annual Day of the African Child, UNICEF called on "governments to strengthen support systems, which provide the basis for a more protective environment in families and communities to keep children safe and strengthen families through the provision of basic social, health and education services."

The Day of the African Child commemorates a 1976 march in Soweto, South Africa, when thousands of local children demonstrated against the inferior quality of their education and demanded the right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of boys and girls were shot and in the two weeks of protests that followed more than 100 people were killed.

"Thousands of children in Africa are experiencing violence, exploitation and abuse on a daily basis. The situation is especially stark for children living and working on the streets," the statement said.

"These children have already been forced from the protection of their homes, only to be subjected to even greater risks on the streets," said Anthony Lake, the UNICEF executive director. "On the Day of the African Child -- and every day -- we must do all we can to address the reasons why so many children are separated from their families, and invest in new efforts to protect them, no matter where they live."

Widespread poverty, conflicts, HIV/AIDS, climate change and violence in the home are forcing more and more children to live and work on the streets, exposed to harm and exploitation, UNICEF said. Many others end up in less visible exploitative situations, working in households, on farms, in mines or even in armed groups.

In sub-Saharan Africa, about 50 million children have lost one or both parents, almost 15 million of them due to AIDS. Some are forced to grow up on their own, with limited or no support from adult caretakers. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of child labor in the world with more than one third of children aged five to 14 engaged in the hardest forms of labor, UNICEF said.

"The issue of children working and living on the streets in African towns and cities is only the visible face of large-scale violations of rights," said Agnes Kabore Ouattara, the chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

"It is a consequence of socio-economic factors such as poverty, demographic explosion, rural-urban migration, political crises, as well as inter-personal problems such as violence and rejection at home in dysfunctional families," Ouattara said.

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