The day of the African child

Screen idol Brad Pitt was almost in tears when he visited a hospital in Durban in May to be confronted with the young victims of HIV/Aids.

Pitt was experiencing for the first time the circumstances under which millions of children on the continent live and often die.

Disease, malnutrition, and early death hang over their lives right from the start.

The Day of the African Child is marked every year on June 16, in memory of the uprising by the schoolchildren of Soweto near Johannesburg in 1976 that was brutally put down by the forces of apartheid.

An African childhood is marked, above all, by lack. Children face crises every day of their lives, whether with regard to clean drinking water, adequate food, clothing, properly equipped schools or medicine.

Diarrhoea, malaria, measles and HIV/Aids are frequent causes of death, even though there are often simple, cheap and effective remedies, such as vaccination or saline drips to prevent dehydration from diarrhoea.

Even these are often not available because Africa’s poorest cannot afford them.

The United Nations estimates that around three million African children will die from malaria this year. Mosquito nets would be an effective preventive measure, but many people cannot afford them.

Close to half—43%—of the population of sub Saharan Africa does not have access to clean drinking water.

Under these conditions it is little wonder that a fifth of all children die before reaching the age of five.

In Africa being a child means fetching water and carrying it long distances from an early age and helping in the fields or looking after smaller children.

But it also means close family ties and astonishing creativity in making toys from refuse or whatever else comes to hand.

Africa’s children need will to survive.
Mortality is high among babies and mothers alike.

Whereas around one woman in 2 800 dies during pregnancy or in childbirth in the developed world, this figure reaches one in 16 in Africa.

HIV/Aids is rampant particularly in the south of the continent, and it is claiming an increasing number of children. One child dies of HIV/Aids every five minutes in Zimbabwe.

“Around 110 Zimbabweans under the age of 15 will be infected with HIV today. Tomorrow there will be another 110, and 110 more the day after that,” Carol Bellamy, the head of the United Nations children’s organisation Unicef, said during her most recent African trip in May. - Sapa-DPA

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