Secretary-General’s message to panel discussion marking the Day of the African Child – 17 June 2014

New York, 17 June – I am pleased to join you in marking the Day of the African Child, an initiative of our good partner the African Union.

This week more than 100 events are taking place in 45 countries to focus world attention on the demand of young people in Africa for education for all.

Today we should also pause to remember the kidnapped girls of Nigeria, who only wanted to go to school. We demand their immediate release.

This year we celebrate 24 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the entering into force of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 1999.

Progress is being made, but there is a lot more to do.

Africa accounts for more than half of world’s 57 million primary age children who do not go to school. Three-quarters of African countries are a long way from reaching the universal primary education target adopted as part of the Millennium Development Goals. Children who are not in school face severe barriers. These are compounded for those living in poverty, those with disabilities, girls and children living in countries affected by conflict.

At the same time, there has been a remarkable rise in primary and secondary school enrolment across much of the continent over the past 10 years.

Gender parity in primary enrolment has been achieved in many of the countries that had been lagging behind.

We need to make sure that the crucial objective of education for girls figures prominently in the post-2015 development framework. We need to continue calling for all girls and boys, regardless of gender or disability, to have equal access to free and compulsory education. And we need to encourage African countries to continue investing in education.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown, continues his efforts to promote the Global Education First Initiative. Not only do we need to get all children into school, we need to protect the gains we have made.

We also have to create safe and supportive learning environments to stop violence against children, especially girls. And we need to encourage gender-sensitive sanitation and hygiene, and to integrate sexual and reproductive health education into the curriculum.

Countries should also place renewed focus on enhanced access to lower and upper secondary education for girls and women. Evidence demonstrates that the multiplier effect of girls’ education on development only becomes evident when girls complete secondary education.

Thousands of young people throughout Africa and the world are demanding faster progress from the United Nations, the African Union and their governments. In the UN’s My World survey and other polls, young people consistently highlight the importance of quality education. Let us listen to these empowered young people who want what we all want: a child-friendly, free and quality education for every African child.