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The history behind the Day of the African Child

School children sit in chairs at a Day of the African Child celebration in Benin.

Children take part in Day of the African Child celebrations hosted by Plan in Benin.

On June 16, 1976, nearly ten thousand black students from Soweto, South Africa, marched the streets to protest the poor quality of their education. They marched as a way to demonstrate their disapproval of the Black Education Act, which segregated students based on their race.

Hundreds of innocent students were shot by security forces. And in the 2 weeks of protest that followed, dubbed the Soweto Uprising, more than a hundred students were killed and thousands were badly injured.

A day to honour those who marched

Since 1991, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 to commemorate those killed during the Soweto Uprising in South Africa, and to recognize the courage of the students who marched for their right to an education.

The Day of the African Child is also an opportunity to raise awareness for the ongoing need to improve the education of children living across Africa. It’s a need that still very much exists today. Of the 57 million primary school age children currently out of school around the world, over half are from sub-Saharan Africa.

Educating children lifts them out of poverty

There are a number of reasons why children go uneducated. Their parents may not be able to afford school fees, the distance to the nearest school may be too far, or early marriage may keep girls especially from the classroom. These and many more barriers to education have an enormous impact on children, especially girls.

“Girls are active members of society,” explains Eden, a young girl from Ethiopia. “Society should understand them better and understand that they need the support of everybody to achieve their potential.”

Though progress has been made since the Soweto Uprising, 1 in 10 children are still missing from the classroom. Much more work needs to be done to ensure all children are receiving a quality education. We know the transformational power education can have on children, and it’s proven that with an education:

  • Children, especially girls, are more likely to stay healthy, be more independent and become a force for social change.
  • If all children in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty.
  • When a girl in the developing world receives 7 years of education, she marries 4 years later and has 2.2 fewer, healthier children.

Help us put children where they belong: in school.