By Amisom Public Information
SOMALIA: As the world commemorates the International Day of the African Child in memory of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, the children of Somalia stand in solidarity with other African children, under this year’s theme Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development.
First initiated by the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity) in 1991, the Day of the African Child has been marked every year to raise awareness of the continued need to improve the education provided to African children, and discuss challenges and opportunities facing the full realization of the rights of African children. Ironically for Somalia and her children, 1991 was the year the central government fell following years of fighting , triggering over two decades of displacements, and denying the children many of their basic rights. According to UNICEF, close to two million Somali children are currently affected by conflict, displacements and drought or famine.
In 2015, Somalia became the 196th nation to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that year, commemorations of the day were introduced throughout Somalia. This first commemoration gave a platform to Somalia’s children – possibly for the first time – to be seen and heard as the primary beneficiary of all state-building initiatives being undertaken by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and other partners.
This year’s celebrations come at a time when significant developments have been made in Somalia at a political level, with particular emphasis on the education sector. The FGS’ Ministry of Education has recently launched its first National Curriculum after 28 years, signaling the revival of the public education system in Somalia. Prior to this launch, Somalia’s was an unregulated private education system, whose curriculum was imported from other countries – with no uniformity. Going forward, all schools will teach one curriculum and subjects will be taught in Somali – except Arabic, and Islamic studies. AMISOM has ordered 50 000 books from the new curriculum to donate to the education departments around Somalia, as a sign of confidence in the process, and as part of its Peace Strengthening Projects (PSP) that extend beyond the Mission’s military interventions.
Another achievement of the Ministry of Education has been the successfully held Unified National Examinations for secondary schools, which were held for the fourth consecutive year in May 2018. These exams are critical as they enable high school students to join institutions of higher learning. A total of 27 600 students sat for the examinations at 120 centers across Mogadishu, HirShabelle, South West, Galmudug and Jubbaland states. The number of students sitting for the examinations has grown from 3 500 in 2015, to 23 000 in 2017, and 27 600 in 2018. Security was deployed at the examination centers by AMISOM Police and the Somali Police Force (SPF), to ensure the safety of the students. This achievement is evidence of the gradual return to normalcy, and restoration of peace and stability in many parts of Somalia.
However, in order for Somalia’s children to fully enjoy the developments in education, the fulfillment of their other basic rights is also necessary, in areas such as access to clean drinking water, access to healthcare, and the right to peace and security. AMISOM’s Quick Impact Projects help in addressing these basic needs, from the provision of clean drinking water in communities, through to the construction and rehabilitation of hospitals. AMISOM regularly sets up medical camps where children have access to basic health care, and from where medication is administered. Children – from birth through to school-going age – can access these camps at no cost, to ensure their medical needs during the critical formative years are met, in order to increase their life expectancy, especially where in the past, epidemics like measles, resulted in casualties that could have been avoided.
Where water, food, and medical services have been provided, children can consider the option of their right to an education. In Mogadishu, the Mohamud Hilowle Primary and Secondary School, in Wadajir District, continues to grow with support from the Mission. “We are grateful to AMISOM for building our school from scratch and providing us with all our furniture requirements. Before this we did not have a school in our district, and we now have over 500 students in primary and secondary school. And this year was the first time our students sat for the national examinations,” said Hawa Jimale, the school principal.
She added, “Our school also offers adult basic literacy programs and technical skills training in areas such as tailoring, building, and bag-making among others, and we have about 300 adult-students attending these courses.” The adults in these classes, are possibly the children of the 90s, who lost their opportunity to an education – but who, today, have found their way back to the classroom, to make up for those unfortunate losses. At the time, their right to protection fell away – however their children are growing up in an evolving Somalia, where they see the evidence of protection in their streets.
All around Somalia, police stations are being rebuilt in conjunction with AMISOM Police, in order to restore the rule of law at community level. There are communities that have historically been terrorized by Al-Shabaab’s cowardice acts of targeting children as the most vulnerable members of societies, for forced conscription into their terrorist structures. AMISOM, through its Child Protection Unit, has been working with the FGS, to capacitate its administration to advocate for children’s rights. Training and awareness campaigns have been carried out, and reintegration and rehabilitation centers have been set up to offer vocational training, counselling and support to the young defectors who have managed to escape from Al-Shabaab, in order to offer them the hope of a future.
The presence of SFP across regions has allowed communities to come together and challenge these terrorists who infringe on the rights of their children to a childhood. A Ministry of Education official highlighted that most schools in the Gedo region were closed as the education structures in that region refused to adopt the terrorist curriculum that was forced on them – opting that children would rather stay home, than to be taught in this way. The motivation of that region that has mobilized itself and stood in unity against oppression is encouraging, as the foundations of fear that existed before, have clearly been destroyed.
It is this motivation that Somalia has in common with the children of Soweto 42 years ago; and to which AMISOM remains committed to, in facilitating an environment that protects the rights and lives of Somali children – for the hope of a future with options, where no child is left behind.