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On 17th and 18th February 2022, Heads of State and governments from the European Union and African Union met in Brussels for the 6th EU-AU Summit to discuss and agree on a “joint vision for 2030”. Despite warm words of 'partnership', respect and transparency, the shocking inequality and ongoing discrimination between the regions and a failure to implement previous agreements is causing a child and youth rights catastrophe.

In 2020 the EU announced a new strategy for the EU-AU partnership that promised to move away from a ‘donor-recipient-relationship’ and, in May 2021, over 30 EU and AU leaders wrote a joint op-ed calling for a New Deal for Africa’.

However, in less than a year since that article was published the discrepancy between its warm words and the reality of a deeply unequal partnership continues.

This inequality has heavily contributed to multiple injustices facing the most marginalised children in Africa. There are 30 million more child labourers in Africa than when the EU/AU last met in Brussels in 2014 - for the first time a majority of the child labourers in the world are in Africa. There are now more children labourers in Africa than there are children in the European Union, and child mortality rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are twice as high as in Europe 60 years ago. As COVID-19 forced tens of millions more children into extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe’s billionaires became $1 trillion richer during the pandemic.


This injustices led youth activists and student leaders across the two regions to ask an important question: is the EU-AU Partnership one-sided?

Ahead of the Summit, on Thursday, 10th February, over 400 African and European young people registered for an online caucus to answer these questions themselves. The discussion focused on three key areas, ending extreme poverty, supporting refugee and internally displaced children and achieving universal access to education.

Participants explored the promises that had been made in previous EU-AU Summits for each of these key challenges, and whether these had been delivered in reality. Unfortunately, yet predictably, the overwhelming majority of previous commitments proved to be empty statements with no action.

For example, since the EU-AU partnership’s commitment to realise Universal Primary Education in 2007, the number of children out of primary school in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased not decreased. Despite being promised multiple times in previous EU-AU declarations, no additional EU countries have achieved the target of 0.7% GNI to Overseas Development Aid since the first summit in 2000. EU-AU leaders also stated in their Summit in 2014 that they were “appalled by the loss of life” in irregular migration between the regions and committed to ensuring the “human rights of all migrants”. Yet one migrant child has died per day since 2014, the vast majority in the Mediterranean, and the EU continues to obstruct rescue missions and forcibly return vulnerable migrants and refugees to Libya.

Participants shared the impact of this failure on the most vulnerable children in their countries and/or communities and their perspectives on the relationship between the EU and AU.

“The gap between the poor and rich is not addressed and no mention is made of imperialism... which contributes to extreme poverty. African countries therefore should be part of the engagements and they should not be sidelined so that they can easily catch up with other developed countries.- Gladys, Kenya

“Little or no fair share of the world's resources with the vulnerable communities increases the vulnerability and displacement of millions of young children and their families into different parts of the world due to bad government, bad policies amongst others, it’s therefore right to assert that the AU-EU agreement in Africa has over the years increased the vulnerability of the African population” - Witney, Cameroon

“One of the main things important in the partnership is trust. When they agree on certain things, they must step up and actually do them” - Wesley, Zimbabwe

“If you look even at the intervention in education emergencies, it demonstrates power dynamics. There is an inequality between AU/EU, especially in finances. It forces the AU to accept EU policies. Sometimes we have no homegrown solutions to the issues that we face” - Kennedy, Kenya

At the end of the meeting, youth activists and student leaders agreed on a set of key messages to target leaders attending the EU-AU Summit through social media. Highlighting the discrepancy between their previous words and actions and urging that their 2022 declaration must not be yet another set of empty promises.


As shown in the powerful interventions and discussions during the youth activist caucus, young people and students have important insight and experience to contribute in high-level forums such as the EU-AU Summit.

(Picture: from left to right, Winnie Nyandiga - VP of the Commonwealth Students Association, Martina Darmanin - President of the European Students Union, Peter Kwasi Kodjie - Secretary General of the All-Africa Students Union, Carmen Romero - Steering Committee Member of the Global Student Forum)

Yet time and time again young people, students and, most critically, their self-led, representative organisations are excluded from the decision-making table. On the rare occasions they are invited to participate, this engagement is almost always tokenistic, as an optional side-event or panel, with individuals accountable only to themselves or INGOs, not elected by their peers.

In direct opposition to this, and to demonstrate how a partnership genuinely based on values of fairness, equality and respect between African and European regions is possible, the elected leaders of the All-Africa Students Union, the European Students Union, the Commonwealth Students Association and the Global Student Forum held a meeting outside the European Parliament.

Together they have been working tirelessly to defend and deliver justice and the human rights of some of the world's most vulnerable children and young people and reminded EU and AU governments of their political responsibility to do the same.


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