By Kailash Satyarthi and Leymah Gbowee - Nobel Peace Laureates
The might of Africa to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world remains untapped. Exploited and discriminated against for generations, the people of Africa have been systemically denied their freedom and wealth. As a result, 92 million children in Africa are in child labour today, more than the rest of the world combined. They are working in slavery like conditions to survive through the poverty and instability that they have inherited. One in 5 children in Africa are in child labour.
Raising the alarm on this crisis, Laureates and Leaders for Children comprised of Nobel Laureates, and political, religious and moral leaders from across the word, have come together to speak as one to demand that world leaders take urgent and corrective action.
In the run up to the AU-EU Summit, the Justice for Africa's Children Statement states that "We, Laureates and Leaders for Children, stand with the children, youth, citizens and leaders of Africa to fight for our shared vision and responsibility to give every child in Africa a free, safe, healthy and educated childhood. It is time for justice for all of Africa's children. It is time to stand with Africa." The international community can no longer afford to look the other way as our children suffer.
The new and ambitious Africa-EU partnership, which we expect to be cemented during the upcoming Summit, will achieve influence or impact only when its foundation is a real commitment to equality, respect and accountability on both sides. However, this may not be the case today. European countries, that have built immense wealth using and misusing the resources of African countries, invest the majority of their budgets in social protection programs for their own citizens, but allocate only a miniscule part of their overseas development assistance into social protection for the same countries.
This is unconscionable given the massive wealth that the world has accumulated in the past decade. Additionally, with limited financial resources, African governments and agencies have to make unfair and difficult choices of prioritising the survival of some over others, with even the basic human dignity that comes from adequate social protection taking a backseat.
It is our children who face the consequence of the absence of social protection most severely, which is clearer today than ever before. As we enter another year of the destruction from the COVID-19 pandemic, we see how communities with social protection had the buffer to absorb some of the damage of the pandemic and resume a close-to-normal life. Generations of communities in low-income countries have been condemned to severe poverty, conflict and slavery.
Child labour is not a challenge in isolation, but evidence of the greater faults in our global economic, social and political priorities. Child labour and slavery are not only the consequence of poverty, conflict, illiteracy and malnutrition, but are also a cause for the perpetuity of these challenges.
We are witnessing the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the resultant halting of access to rights and humanitarian aid leading to long-lasting vulnerability, injustice and instability for its children, many of whom are at the brink of starvation.
With the AU's theme for the 2022 Summit being 'Building resilience in nutrition on the African continent: Accelerate the human capital, social and economic development', it is critical to recognise that the 92 million children in child labour across Africa means 92 million empty classroom seats. 92 million children out of school feeding programmes, and 92 million children not covered by health and nutrition schemes.
These 92 million children, who are presently being left behind, must be freed and mainstreamed to receive access to government social protection programs that they are entitled to. Efforts for peace, stability and sustainability are essentially meaningless if future generations that will both inherit and carry on these efforts are unsafe, uneducated or unempowered.
Universal and direct benefits for children have had immediate and measurable impact in African countries. In Senegal, for example, programmes such as child-focused cash transfers to reduce child vulnerability, support for children on the street, or free healthcare for children under age 5 saw a tangible impact on poverty levels. Other parts of the world demonstrate similar impact. In India, for example, the midday meal school feeding programme contributed to reaching an almost 100% enrolment of children in primary education. The Bolsa Familia programme of Brazil, which extended education and health benefits for children in poor families, led the poverty levels coming down by 13% in the country. Direct benefits for children and their families work.
The solution, therefore, lies in a setting up a global social protection mechanism that includes a direct and fair share for children in low and middle-income countries. This mechanism will take a step forward from the traditional donor/recipient relationship creating a universal platform that facilitates long-term cooperation and international solidarity.
This commentary originally appeared in All Africa