11 JULY 1931, Page 12



(To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.1

Sin,—For four days last week there met in Geneva a Conference of some significance as a gesture and, it may be, of no little importance for the influence which it may well exert upon the course of international and inter-racial relations in regard to Africa. As Lord Noel-Buxton, its president, remarked, this International Conference on African Children was a unique event even for Geneva, with its varied experience of international gatherings, for never before had missionaries of all the Western churches, anthropologists, administrative officials, doctors, educationists and sociological experts met on a common platform. It was, he said, such a Conference as the League of Nations might have called and perhaps would call in the future.

The purpose of the Conference, which was organized by the Save the Children International Union, was to consider various aspects of child life in Afriea, and the discussions were grouped under four heads in each of the five main geographical divisions of the continent, as follows : (1) Still- birth and infant mortality from the pathological point of view, (2) still-birth and infant mortality from the social and economic point of view, (3) education in regard to the preparation of children for life, and (4) general conditions of work for children and adolescents and the protection of children at work. The papers submitted were based on the personal observation and experience of the rapport curs, supplemented by information derived from the questionnaire which the Save the Children International Union had circulated very widely in Africa during the preceding two years.

All told, nine different nationalities, white and coloured, were represented in the Conference. The Colonial Office sent nine official delegates, and the Belgian Government also sent a representative, while the Governments of Italy and Portugal sent observers. The French Government was not represented, but French missionaries took a prominent part in • the Conference. The League of Nations Mandates, Health and Social Sections were represented, and so was the International Labour Office. The diversity of voluntary organizations which sent delegates has an interest of its own. To name but a few—there were the Royal Anthropological Institute, the African Society, the International Council of Nurses, the International Women's Suffrage Alliance, the century-old Anti-slavery and Aborigines Protection Society and the newly formed League of Coloured Peoples, and, of course, many missionary societies and orders. The Conference derived much encouragement from the messages of support which were received from the Secretaries of State for the Dominions and the Colonies, from the Secretary-General of the League of Nations, the Director of the International Labour Office, and others.

Lord Passlield's commendation was not limited to verbal expressions of good will. From the first moment that the Government heard that the Conference was contemplated they determined to do all they could to make it effective. They arranged to send out the questionnaires to all the African colonies, they collected the replies and examined them before transmitting them to the organ- king committee. It was therefore with the full con- currence of the Government that the replies were given,

and they accepted full responsibility for them. More- over, if a permanent organization for information and propa- ganda were set up as the result of the Conference—Lord Noel-Buxton had thrown out a suggestion to this effect in his presidential address—Mr. Vernon said he could quite definitely and authoritatively promise the assistance of the Government. • It is difficult to sum up briefly the effect of four crowded days of discussion, but it may fairly be said that the following points stood out : The necessity of increased action to stem the tide of infant mortality, the importance of avoiding in Africa any repetition of the evils of exploitation which

characterized the industrial revolution in Europe, and the need for greater knowledge of the African himself, of respect for his point of view, and of assuring that he is himself asso- ciated with every activity for the good of his race. The need for greater knowledge was pointedly stated by one of the African delegates, Miss Olutunu -Tuboku-Metzger, from Sierra Leone, who said that no group of people could do anything effective to improve conditions in Africa unless they had true information as to what those conditions were : and she warned her hearers that, since the continent presented a multiplicity of peoples and traditions, and civilizations of every, stage from the most primitive to the most modern" . . . the adventurer is certain to find whatever he is looking for."- Another important point was made by Bishop Gresford Jones in the sermon which he preached at the English Church on the morrow of the Conference. Speaking from his own experience in Uganda, the Bishop said he was impressed by the aspirations of the people to be "taken in hand and lifted up into the great brotherhood of civilized man." "Don't be afraid to educate these children of Africa," urged the Bishop, "so it be to educate them to be better Africans, not indifferent Europeans."

The Conference was fortunate in having the presence; among the official British delegates, of the Rev. A. G. Fraser, whose work at the Prince of Wales's College, Achimota, is so well known to readers of the Spectator. Above all men, he is striving to develop a race of "better Africans—not indifferent Europeans." In one of his speeches, he referred to the fine character and inherent potentialities of the African as he knew him • he condemned, too, the degradation which had been imposed on him by the white man. The evils of infant mortality in Africa," he said, "are largely the result of our economic system," for they arise from the land hunger which "has done more harm than the drink traffic." Per- sonally," said Mr. Fraser, "I would rather be responsible for shipping a cargo of gin to Africa every day of the year, than for shipping a man who had a genius for economic exploitation": : strong words but spoken from the heart of one who has a profound sense of our responsibility to the African peoples.

One other point may be noted, for it indicates a significant idea. It was introduced by Cant. Rattray, who represented the Royal Anthropological Institute, and has been working in the Gold Coast as an anthropologist in the Government service. He urged the importance of anthropological study as a guide to understanding the African and working for Ins welfare. The Gold Coast Colony, he said, was the first to send an anthropologist to Africa, and the first to send an African home to be trained in anthropology. He suggested that all the Governments in Africa should send Africans to Europe to be so trained and then "let them loose" among their own peoples.

The Conference passed no formal resolutions, but embodied its findings in a series of " conclusions" which expressed the desire to see the Declaration of Geneva—the League of Nations "Charter of Child Welfare "—applied throughout Africa, paid tribute to the work which Governments, voluntary organizations and individuals have been and are accomplish- ing for the betterment of the conditions of the African popula- tions, and set forth a series of specific suggestions as to the development of work in and for Africa under the heads indi- cated in the papers submitted. Among these may be noted the necessity of increasing the number of suitably trained men and women, both African and European, as doctors, health visitors, and midwives for service in Africa, the adaptation of school curricula to the aptitude and to the moral, intellectual and physical needs of the African child, the appointment of Africans to all bodies giving direction to educational policy, the increase of the number of schools for girls, and the prepara- tion of the African peoples for the increasing industrialization of Africa.

Finally, the Save the Children International Union was charged with the duty of establishing a permanent unofficial centre for documentary research, for the exchange of informa- tion and experience, and for the promotion of relations be- tween voluntary societies which are assisting the Governments and Colonial services. It was also requested to take steps for the summoning of further conferences.—I am, Sir, &c., Youn SPECIAL CORPXSPONDENT.