analysis By Bob Libert Muchabaiwa
What is required now, more than ever before, is action. The financing architectures of many African countries need overhauling. They need to engender equity, child rights, transparency and accountability. Unless that is don, the many regional and international commitments that touch on children will remain mere political pronouncements.
Beco (not her real name) is a 15-year-old girl. She is still in her first year in secondary school, despite her advanced age compared to her classmates. At the age of 10 she was forced to dropout from school because her single mother died of birth complications in a rural village in Zimbabwe. Courtesy of one Good Samaritan in her village, Beco is now back in school. The lack of books, teachers and other educational materials in her rural school does not seem to discourage her from attending class every day. Her dream is to finish school, train as a doctor and help her family.
Many children in Africa are like Beco. They are, at some point in time, forced to drop out of school. Moreover, hundreds of thousands are sadly still out of school due to conflict, lack of fees and other factors. Primary school net enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa stands at 78%. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be wondering about what is happening to the 22%, which literally means a lot of children are out school. Many children also live without appropriate parental care. Across Africa, there are millions of children like Beco going to very poorly built schools, with no electricity, poor water and sanitation facilities, no proper library services and often without trained and experienced teachers.
Consequently, millions of children on the continent are being left behind.
Unicef estimates that over 2 million children in Africa die every year mainly because of preventable causes including diseases, malnutrition and hunger. The organization further estimates that 37% of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted. As if that is not enough, both at home and in school, many children in Africa are continuously exposed to several forms of violence. For instance, girls like Beco are forced to walk long distances to access education, fetch water and buy groceries for their families, making them twice as vulnerable to sexual abuse as their urban counterparts.
Insufficient, ineffective and inequitable public spending on child-focused sectors and programmes stands as the biggest barrier to enjoyment of rights by all children. To date, only 7 countries in Africa have at some point in time met the Abuja target for African governments to allocate at least 15% of their budgets to health. Furthermore, no African country has so far met the Dakar Commitment on Education for All to allocate at least 7% of its GDP to education, which should have increased to 9% in 2010. In 2014, with the exception of Malawi, Niger and South Africa, who have come close by spending between 5.5-7%, the rest of African states are spending below 5% of their GDP on education, well below the Dakar Commitment.
The Sustainable Development Goals, Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on Financing for Development and Agenda 2063 of the African Union are therefore timely and strategic. They constitute lifetime opportunities for African governments to mobilize domestic and international resources to increase and improve the quality of public investments in child protection, health, education, social protection, early childhood care and other child-focused sectors. These international commitments are a call to action, representing bold and renewed efforts to ensure no child in Africa is left behind. In view of these policy commitments, there is no better time than now for African states to consolidate gains made for children over the past decade, by taking bold actions to positively transform how they finance development.
Through Agenda 2063 – the African Union’s roadmap for economic growth and sustainable development – African governments made a commitment to “put children first” and to “fulfil their obligation to children as an inter-generational compact in order to develop Africa’s human capital; build effective developmental states as well as participatory and accountable institutions of governance.”