June 16 is an important day in South Africa and elsewhere around the continent. On this day in 1976 thousands of black children in Soweto marched to protest the poor quality of education they were receiving and to demand that they be taught in their own languages. It ended in tragedy when police opened fire, killing hundreds. Since 1991, June 16 has been designated Day of the African Child by the African Union. In doing so, its founders hope to bring continued awareness to the dire situation of many children in Africa and the need for improved education systems. In 2019, migrant and refugee children are among the groups at high risk.
The International Day for the African Child celebrates every child’s right to a quality education. Photo Credit: Brian Odwar/Pixabay
It is estimated that 263 million children in Africa do not attend school. This includes 60% of young people, ages 15-17. (1) This plight exists for a number of reasons, but one leading factor is a large number of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons on the continent. The crises that cause this mass migration include natural disasters, health epidemics, armed conflicts and economic woes. (2)
Children are disproportionately impacted. Approximately one in four children live in a country stricken by a humanitarian crisis, and an astounding 50% of refugees are children. (2) When a crisis erupts, children’s rights are often violated. This includes neglect in education, health, and an adequate standard of living.
Across the globe, at least one person is displaced every two seconds, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Photo credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
In the United States, when we hear of refugee crises, we think of the turmoil along the Southern border. We hear about the influx of migrants in western Europe and of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Truly, the world is facing the highest level of displacement in history, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, it is developing countries, mostly in Africa, that have opened their doors to 80% of the world’s refugee population. (7)
Sub-Saharan Africa is front and center in the crisis, hosting 26% of the world’s refugees. The influx has increased in recent years because of critical situations in Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan, Burundi and Yemen. (6)
An estimated 13.5 million African children have been displaced because of economic distress, climate change and armed conflicts. (1)
In the past, Tanzania has welcomed refugees and migrants. Currently, 335,000 refugees live within its borders. A quarter of these displaced persons fled the Democratic Republic of Congo because of an ongoing armed conflict. Most of the remaining refugees fled Burundi after the 2015 elections stoked insecurities. The majority of the refugees live in three camps in the northwestern part of the country. (5)
In 2018, only 27% of needed donations for refugee assistance was raised. As a result, the needs of many, including children, were not met. This included safe water, sanitation, shelter and education. Overcrowding in the classrooms and a shortage of teachers have prevented refugee children in Tanzania from receiving an education. (5)
In 2019, the Tanzanian government began to pull back its welcome mat. New restrictions have been enacted that do not allow refugees to leave camps or make an income in open markets. The government has also begun repatriating Burundian refugees, refusing to grant them citizenship as it has in the past. (6)
For refugee children in Tanzania and elsewhere around the continent, each new movement chisels away at the chance for a deserved education.