MONROVIA, Liberia, 16 June 2005 - The National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), through the Ministry of Gender and Development and in collaboration with UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, and other child protection stakeholders held a national program today in Tubmanburg, Bomi County in observance of this year's Day of the African Child (DAC).
The program culminated a weeklong celebration of DAC in Liberia, which began Saturday, 11 June. This year's DAC is being observed under the global theme of "African Orphans: Our Collective Responsibility" and a national theme, "Our Children: Our Responsibility." The themes provide excellent opportunities both for social mobilization of communities as well as advocacy on child protection, HIV/AIDS, and partnership for child rights promotion. DAC also draws attention to the lives of African children today.
Activities marking this year's DAC in Liberia were designed to promote and create awareness about the shared responsibility for the care and protection of the children of Liberia, especially those who have become orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. Work was also completed to expand the partnership for child rights and protection in Liberia, and to lobby for the ratification by the Liberian legislature of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the two Optional Protocols on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
DAC 2005 activities began on 11 June at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia, where the Wasa youth football team and the Addo Mills youth kickball team, both from Gardnersville, won the 2005 UNICEF DAC Champions trophies. Five 13 and under youth football teams from Central Monrovia, Bushrod Island, Sinkor, Gardnersville, and Firestone (Harbel) in Margibi County and five youth kickball teams from Firestone (Harbel), Better Future (Sinkor) Addo Mills (Gardnersville), St Simon Baptist (Central Monrovia) and Tomorrow Children International (Bushrod Island) took part in the competition.
"Peace is very, very sweet," said the thirteen-year-old captain of the winning football team, Stanley Varfley, of the Wasa Football Club. "In five years, I'd love to see more development in Liberia, both in sport and in the government."
UNICEF Liberia Representative Angela Kearney said, "While we whole heartedly support every child's right to play, what's really special about the sporting events is that children received HIV/AIDS education and prevention messages, both through talking points that we've prepared for the coaches and team presidents and through Day of the African Child public service announcements that UNICEF Liberia has produced with our NGO partner, Talking Drum.
"Liberian families across the country are caring for HIV/AIDS orphans, and welcoming them into their families, but we need to work with our partners in building effective community responses to the needs and rights of children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS," Kearney said. "During the Day of the African Child, it's a time to call for more gentleness, love, and caring for kids in Liberia, and across the continent."
A DAC sports festival was also held today in Tubmanburg and Harbel in Bomi and Margibi counties, respectively. In Tubmanburg, Shooting Star Football Club, Young Survivor Football Club, Tubmanburg Defenders, and CCF Strikers participated in the football and kickball tournament, while in Harbel the Firestone School System, St Pius X Catholic School, the Assemblies of God Mission School, and Jacob's Private School competed in both kickball and football.
NTGL Gender and Development Minister Varbah Gayflor urged Liberians to use this year's DAC celebrations to reflect on the difficulties facing the country's children and to take actions that will help young people dream of a brighter future.
"We want to thank Firestone and other partners for their support to the DAC celebrations but we think it's also time that we all begin to take a positive action to assure our children of the joyful future they deserve," Minister Gayflor said. The Firestone Plantations Company is one of the many NTGL partners that sponsored this year's DAC Youth Sports Days.
DAC marks a June 16, 1976 march in Soweto, South Africa, when thousands of schoolchildren took to the streets to protest the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own languages. Scores of young boys and girls were shot down; and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and at least a thousand were injured.
To honour the memory of those killed and the courage of all who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity. The Day also draws attention to the lives and needs of African children today.
Since OAU Resolution 1240, the observance of DAC has taken on a wider child protection focus. DAC is now observed not only to remember the children of Soweto, but to call attention to the plight of African children all over the continent. The observance of DAC is therefore to constantly remind African leaders, national and international stakeholders, parents, communities, and children themselves about the appalling conditions of children and the need to take concrete actions to alleviate their plight
For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world's leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF works to advance the Millennium Development Goals by supporting child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, access to clean water and sanitation, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of governments, businesses, foundations and individuals. UNICEF is a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
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