𝘉𝘺 𝘋𝘳 𝘑𝘰𝘢𝘯 𝘕𝘺𝘢𝘯𝘺𝘶𝘬𝘪, 𝘌𝘹𝘦𝘤𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘷𝘦 𝘋𝘪𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘰𝘳, 𝘈𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘊𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥 𝘗𝘰𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘺 𝘍𝘰𝘳𝘶𝘮 (𝘈𝘊𝘗𝘍)
In 2003, the newly-established African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) called on “Africans to recognize our responsibility to own our destiny and to collectively provide for the realisation of all rights to all our children.” Our founders believed that Africans could – and should – take responsibility for the rights and well-being of their children.
When I joined ACPF as its Executive Director in 2020, I was well aware of its reputation as a respected and independent organisation. Our advice is sought – and heeded – by African Union and United Nations bodies. Our research, analysis and recommendations have been adopted into international treaties and national laws and policies. Our flagship reports, studies and conferences influence academics, international non-profits and grassroots civil society organisations.
I am particularly proud of our work with the AU Commission (AUC), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), regional economic communities (RECs) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Having a seat at those tables means we can give a voice to Africa’s children at the heart of the continent’s most influential institutions.
Since our first IPC in 2004 we have welcomed more than 12,000 participants to ACPF events including Heads of State, government ministers, UN, AU and ACERWC representatives and leading CSOs, experts and academics. Our ground-breaking Child-Friendliness and Girl-Friendliness Indices rate the performance of every African government and tracks their movement up or down the rankings. The Africa Report on Child Wellbeing is listed by the ACERWC as a reference in the drafting of Agenda 2040.
It’s not always been easy. As ACPF marks its 20th anniversary, I wonder – are African governments really serious about children’s rights and wellbeing? We tread a delicate line between supporting them to do the right thing and calling them out when they don’t. We’ve been accused both of being too friendly towards governments and too critical of them – which makes me think we’re probably getting it about right.
The past two decades have given us plenty of reasons for optimism. For example, African children can expect to live longer, healthier lives than at any point in the recent past. In the decade before the COVID pandemic, school attendance had improved across all age groups, and female genital mutilation (FGM) has declined by a quarter over the past two decades in those countries with national data.
Look harder, however, and a perfect storm of the climate emergency, post-pandemic economic crisis, increasing armed conflict and rising poverty rates has undermined some the limited progress of the past two decades. The work of ACPF and its civil society partners across Africa and beyond is needed more than ever.
We can no longer take it for granted that life for children in Africa is getting better, albeit far too slowly. I am greatly alarmed that the statistics for children impacted by infant and child mortality, malnutrition, poverty, child labour, armed conflict, climate change, physical and sexual abuse, and child trafficking are all either flat-lining or getting worse.
Yet as I reflect on ACPF’s first twenty years, and look forward to the next twenty, I remain optimistic. I refuse to accept these challenges are insurmountable or that we should simply shrug our shoulders and say that in Africa, that’s just the way it is.
Over the years, we have given a voice to children and young people and ensured their opinions are taken into account. We have established networks, movements and partnerships which bring together like-minded organisations and activists. We are proud of our work with numerous African civil society organisations, experts and scholars, without whose passion and relentless efforts, gains would not have been made.