16 June 2023
The Day of the African Child (DAC) was first launched by the Assembly of Heads of State of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1991 and is commemorated annually on June 16. The day is significant as it honors the 1976 student-led uprising in Soweto, South Africa, that resulted in the killing of numerous unarmed students and young protesters by the apartheid regime. The day is, therefore, a reminder of the costly price these children paid for demanding respect for their fundamental rights to education and freedom. Over the years, DAC has also served as an opportunity for all stakeholders and actors committed to the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Africa to come together, consolidate common goals, and address obstacles impeding the realization of an Africa fit for its children.
In line with the theme, it is important to note that, Internet access and usage have been increasing globally. As of May 2022, there were about 590 million internet users (43% internet penetration) in Africa. These figures include children, who represent a third of all internet users in the world and are increasingly exposed to the virtual environment. The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) notes that the digital era has fundamentally changed the way in which children exercise and realize their rights. Noting that the lives of children are mediated by the digital environment in ways that impact how they can enjoy their rights and how their rights may be improved or transgressed, it is clear that the effect of the digital environment on children needs to be considered in the context of rights set forth under the African Children’s Charter. The relevant rights include not only children’s rights to protection from all forms of violence but also their rights to participation and provision. In the absence of proper mechanisms of protection, children will be susceptible to greater risks of harm online. A child acting in the online environment is not different from a child acting offline, and the same rights that children have offline must be protected online.
The overall objective of the DAC 2023 is to raise awareness about the promotion and protection of children’s rights in the digital environment and to encourage Member States and other relevant stakeholders to make commitments towards the realization of children’s rights in the digital environment. It has now been widely accepted (and rightly so) that protecting children from harm, abuse, and violence online is imperative. As an organization that is working on natural resource governance and environmental justice, we have also realized the importance of empowering children and young people to be active digital rights holders in calling for good natural resource and environmental governance. Education through environmental clubs is one of the strategies we are utilizing to raise awareness, engage with duty bearers, and access remedies using digital technologies, our Envirobot being one of them.