By Amie Sanneh
The Voice of the Young, under the auspices of the Child Protection Alliance (CPA) in collaboration with the National Youth Council, recently commemorated the Day of the African Child and Children’s Bantaba. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “A Child Friendly Quality Free and Compulsory Education for all Children in Africa.” The commemoration took the form of a procession from the Buffer Zone to Nusrat Senior Secondary School where the celebration was held.
Officially opening the forum on behalf of the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Basic Education, Amie Colleh Mbaye, the Director of Basic and Secondary Education, said the 2004-2015 revised National Education Policy strives to ensure that the right to quality education for all is upheld and that education for all is achieved. The Day of the African Child, she said, is a day that gives them another opportunity to mobilize all efforts towards the welfare of children who constitute the backbone of the continent’s future. She added that the day seeks to draw attention of all actors involved in improving the conditions of children on the continent and to unite their effort to combat the tribulations that plague the daily lives of children.
Madam Mbaye assured them that her Ministry will continue to ensure that the right of children to child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education is realised within the shortest possible time as indicated in their revised policy and strategic plan. “Due to our School Improvement Grant and other initiatives, our Gross Enrolment Rate at the Lower Basic level is 97.1 per cent and we are narrowing the gender gap at the Upper and Senior Secondary levels,” she said.
She added that they have also developed effective oversight mechanisms to ensure that standards in their education system are respected and that the newly launched READ project is expected to be a gateway to fulfilling the theme of 2014 Day of the African Child.
She said in ensuring children’s right to quality, free, accessible education is fulfilled, they are fully aware that more needs to be done if they want the Gross Enrolment Rate at the Lower Basic to surpass 100 per cent. “We would ensure that every child in the Gambia, no matter where he or she is, enjoys the benefits of education. We are alive to the fact that factors such as child marriage, corporal punishment and sexual abuse and harassment in and around the school, unavailability of basic health facilities especially for girls, can lead to drop out,” she remarked.
She however stated that they have zero tolerance for corporal punishment, sexual abuse and have put in place appropriate measures to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence. “We will also ensure the effective implementation of the Women’s Act 2010 provision which prohibits parents from withdrawing their daughters from school for the purpose of marriage,” she said.
She said there is no better and more worthwhile investment than investing in education and therefore called on parents to fulfill the right to education of their children by educating them.
Madam Mbaye also took the opportunity to urge children to take their education seriously, excel in their academic pursuits, obey school rules and regulations and respect their teachers.
For her part, Fanta Bai Secka, the Director of Social Welfare, described the theme as appropriate and relevant. In the Gambia, she said, education is critically linked to the national agenda. She stated that quite a number of children are unable to have access to quality education. She stressed the need for the availability of free, compulsory and non discriminatory education for all level of basic education.
The Social Welfare Director also stressed the need for the infrastructure to be put in place for every child to have access to quality education by 2015.
Speaking on behalf of the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Youth and Sports, Adama Sabally, the Senior Youth Coordinator, said the theme for this year’s commemoration is a process of attaining and fulfilling children’s rights to free quality and compulsory education in The Gambia for all. The day, he continued, is an opportune moment to take stock of progresses made and the outstanding challenges towards the full realization of the rights of children in the Africa Region.
In a brief statement, Mr. Karamo Bojang, the Principal of Nusrat Senior Secondary School, remembered young people who are being enslaved or suffering in other countries and thus prayed for their wellbeing. Commenting on his school, he said the main aim of his school is to educate young people. He explained that he has a total of 1,800 students and 42 percent of whom are girls.
Mr. Bojang said young people are lucky that they have people who are protecting; standing beside them and making them know their rights.
The President of Voice of the Young, who chaired the ceremony, said the day is meant to commemorate the 1976 Soweto Uprising in South Africa where hundreds of children were killed for demanding to be taught in their own language. The day, she said, is commemorated annually since June 16, 1991. She added that the day is meant to create awareness on the situation of children in Africa on the need for continuous education and motivate for behavioural change in the minds of young people.