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China and Africa first ladies provide hope for children on the continent

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By Talibeh Hydara

There are more than 400 million children in Africa, according to the United Nations, with the population of the continent expected to double to 2.4 billion by 2050. That’s one quarter of the world’s population.  

Strikingly, at least 40 percent of all children under the age of five would live in Africa in the middle of the 21st century, the estimates indicate.

Synergising support to improve the lives of children on the continent, Prof. Peng Liyuan, the First Lady of China together with the Organization of African First Ladies for Development, have jointly initiated a healthcare campaign to create conducive environments for kids in Africa.  

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Dubbed Warm Children’s Hearts: a China-Africa Joint Action, the initiative simultaneously held touching child-caring activities across Africa on International Children’s Day, observed on Thursday, June 1.

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Celebrating the initiative, Chinese embassies and medical teams in Africa visited children in local orphanages, offering free medical check-ups and donating care bags.

Speaking on the occasion, Professor Peng Liyuan expressed “hope that the health care campaign for African orphans could pass on warmth and care to children, improve the health and well-being of African children, and contribute to building a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era.”

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The joint initiative has been widely commended on the continent as an inspiring step in the drive to ensure children attain the best care, especially orphans.    

What it means for Gambian children

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There are more than two million people in The Gambia, with half of them below the age of 15.

Co-hosting the Warm Children’s Hearts launching in The Gambia with the First Lady, the Chinese Ambassador to The Gambia, H.E Liu Jin, said President Xi Jinping and his wife place high premium on children of Africa and believes the initiative will engender love and compassion for children on the continent.

“As we know, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Prof. Peng Liyuan pay high attention to African health and children affairs. It can be recalled that in 2020, under Prof. Peng Liyuan’s initiative, Chinese government has donated medical supplies to help The Gambia to combat the pandemic. Recently, Prof. Peng Liyuan, together with the Organization of African First Ladies (OAFLAD), proposed to hold this child-caring events across Africa on the occasion of International Children’s Day.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to your Excellency First Lady Barrow, who has been very supportive to this initiative. As we all know, First Lady Barrow has been both domestically and internationally dedicated to improve the welfare and health of children and women. Great contribution of Her Excellency has been well appreciated by international community,” the Ambassador said at a children’s shelter in Bakoteh.

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“Today we will together donate medicines, foods, school bags, stationery to the children, and Chinese medical aid team in The Gambia will give all children a free health examination. We hope that through this, we can help bring the love from Prof. Peng Liyuan and Her Excellency First Lady Barrow to Gambian children, help them grow up happily.”

In June 1975, only seven months after the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, President Sir Dawda Jawara visited China. Two years later, China sent its medical team to The Gambia, which continued to strengthen the country’s health sector for nearly two decades.  

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of Chinese government sending medical team to Africa. From 1977 to 1995, China sent more than 200 doctors to The Gambia. Numerous Gambians still remember the warm experience of being treated by Chinese doctors when they were kids. Since the resumption of China-Gambia diplomatic relations in 2016, China has sent five batches of permanent medical teams and one batch of short-term anti-epidemic medical team to The Gambia,” Ambassador Jin said. “Today I would like to introduce you our dedicated 5th batch of Chinese medical aid team. Highly skilled and experienced, they have treated many difficult cases. For example, at the end of last year, they completed the first pacemaker implantation in The Gambia, making history in the field of heart disease treatment. In the future, China will continuously strengthen public health cooperation with The Gambia, in particular through Medical Aid Team, making greater contributions to the building of a global community of health for all.”

Ambassador Jin was in the company of First Lady Bah-Barrow at the shelter, who has been an incredible supporter of children in The Gambia, evidenced in the work of her foundation.  

She called for concerted efforts to protect children from abuse and deprivation as she joined over 50 first ladies on the continent to launch the care campaign.  

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“Children are the most vulnerable members of society, and yet, millions of children continue to be severely abused, oppressed and deprived of basic human rights. They are often used, exploited and manipulated in indecent activities that include trafficking, sexual exploitation, abuse, labour and armed conflict often leading to the lack of education, malnutrition, diseases and immoral ways of life, just to name a few,” she said.

“Greater efforts therefore need to be made to end child abuse and the deprivation of children’s rights. It is important to recognize that children also have dignity, which needs to be safeguarded and restored by all means. The conditions for children and their development is a collective responsibility, which is why activities like these need to be reinforced to advocate and highlight the importance of children all over, the need for their protection and children’s rights including access to education and proper healthcare.”

Madam Barrow expressed joy in collaborating with the Chinese First Lady, Prof. Peng Liyuan, to give love and care to children.

“As part of my efforts in ensuring their good health, I have happily partnered with my sister, the wife of the president of the People’s Republic of China, Her Excellency Professor Peng Liyuan on this initiative to improve and prioritise children’s welfare.

Children ought to be given affection, love, food, education, medical care and protection against all forms of abuse in all areas of society. Their innocence must be preserved and their path to development secured, as children are our future,” she said.

Out of the 400 million children in Africa, at least 52 million are orphans, more than a quarter of all orphans in the world. Majority of these orphans struggle on a daily basis to fend for themselves with little or no support.

In The Gambia, like in many other countries especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the story is one and the same.

According to the 2020 demographic survey, at least 41% of households in The Gambia include children who are orphans or not living with either biological parent.

Speaking at the same event on Thursday, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, said the grim statistics shows children become orphans at crucial stages of their lives when they need parental care.

“This affects children from all age groups but is more prevalent among those in middle- childhood (5-9 years) at 6.4%; early adolescence (10-14) at 13.3%; and adolescence (15-17) at 19.6%. According to the above data, the percentage of single or double orphaned children increases with age and reaches the highest proportion among children aged 15-17 years.

This situation is alarming because children become orphans at a period of life when they most need their parents for their development, emotional stability, and growth and future adventures,” Saikou K Sanyang said.

He noted in order to reverse the trend and offer stable environment for children, the continuous support of the Chinese Embassy and the First Lady is crucial in the campaign.

“The DHS (2019/20) has highlighted a general trend in the national prevalence; underlying a slight increase from (15% in 2013 to 18% in 2019-20) in the percentage of children under age 18 who do not live with a biological parent. The disaggregation of the above data and the analysis of the different types of children without parental care, confirm this trend and provide an overview of the various vulnerabilities in which these children may found themselves.

Against this backdrop, the support from the Office of the First Lady and the Chinese Embassy in The Gambia is apt in looking into child-friendly interventions to address recent child protection concerns in the county, especially the support to the Shelter for Children and Home of the Elderly, orphanages in the country, especially the free medical assistance to the 40 orphans and vulnerable families in the country.

This support will go a long way in restoring their health conditions, well-being and create an environment of love, care and protection in their lives.

We gathered here today as partners to renew our commitment and encouraged each other to step up and explore homegrown solutions to protect children. We should commit more as partners in Child protection to raise awareness, mobilize leadership, galvanize actions, and establish national standards for the protection of children in the country,” Mr Sanyang posited.

African children struggle for the most basic amenities in their lives. However, it is hoped that this joint initiative will go beyond providing healthcare so that these kids can enjoy the same services as other kids in the world. It is also expected to strength the brotherly ties between The Gambia and China.

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