EU-Africa Summit: Development begins with children, UNICEF

Almost half of the inhabitants of the African continent are children and young people. The EU-Africa Summit in Abidjan must look at their opportunities.

“Africa doesn’t exist”, was how a long-standing correspondent once summed up his experiences on our neighbouring continent. The closer and more intensive one gets to Africa’s diverse reality, the more useless are the widespread terms and images that circulate about it.

Nevertheless – if you come from a country like Germany, the first thing you notice is that you are not a German: Africa is young. Almost half of the inhabitants today are children and young people – according to the new UNICEF report “Generation 2030 – Africa 2.0”. Their energy and strength represent enormous potential – and a challenge for politicians.

Africa’s young generation with great potential

Schooling in a school in Somalia supported by UNICEF. © UNICEF/UN060477/Knowles-Coursin

While we do not know how to maintain our (compared to Africa extremely high) standard of living in view of our aging population, there a young population holds the chance for growth and development if they invest in their future in time. Just as in the industrialized countries the pension systems, in Africa the education and health systems must finally be made “future-proof”. By 2030, the number of children and young people between Cape Town and Cairo will increase by 170 million. For them and their home countries it is of crucial importance whether they can grow up healthy and develop their abilities.

Education for girls and women is one of the best ways to reduce poverty. Women who have no education have an average of 6.7 babies. Women attending secondary school have only 3.9 children, about half as many.

Children are often the only wealth in Africa

Today we know Educated children are more self-confident, less easily exploited and better able to protect themselves from disease. © UNICEF/UN061099/Knowles-Coursin

Many people ask themselves – why do poor families actually have so many children? The answer is as simple as it is complicated. Especially in the poorest countries and regions of Africa, where many children do not survive, most children are born. They are the only life insurance for their parents, because they cannot rely on anyone else when they are sick or old. Their only wealth is their children.

According to the UNICEF report, there is also the opportunity for a “demographic dividend”: the prerequisite for this is a policy that is serious about educational opportunities and jobs – together with investment in economic development.

The course must be set by the African countries themselves – international development cooperation has the responsibility to support them in this. The EU-Africa Summit is a platform to discuss this at the highest level.

We are at a critical point, according to Leila Pakkala, head of UNICEF for Eastern and Southern Africa. If the right course is set, millions of people could be freed from extreme poverty, steps will be taken towards growth, stability and peace.

Development in Africa begins with children

In concrete terms, this means that in the next few years 4.2 million health workers and 5.8 million teachers will have to be trained in Africa. Girls must be protected from violence, exploitation and early marriages.

According to the UNICEF report, development in Africa begins with children. A simple message. Whether we hear them before hopelessness and instability prevail has far-reaching consequences.

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