The heart-wrenching bloodbath on June 16, 1976 of students marching down Commissioner Street vigorously protesting to a life of undue restrictions, unexplained impositions, general unfairness of their existence and gunned down mercilessly for their efforts, resulted in that day being set aside annually to commemorate the day of the African child.
Bravery, strength of character, fierce determination are some of the phases that come to mind when remembering the fearless youths who marched to their bloody and tragic death in South Africa, advocating for their rights and freedom.A statement aspowerful as the one made on that day will forever be remembered, not only for the huge contribution it made in bringing about positive change and the end of apartheid but resembles the resilience of the African child.
Looking at our current existence, what words can be used to describe the contemporary African child? We often read of the vulnerability of youths so much so that organisations in the development sector have coined the term “OVC” meaning orphans and vulnerable children to refer to the helplessness of children living or exposed to unfortunate circumstances or situations of distress.
Many nongovernmental organisations have sought to alleviate this vulnerability by providing mechanisms of support in the form of various interventions. However, there appears to still be a high rate of vulnerability prevalent amongst African children largely due to HIV and AIDS as well as poverty.Often images of the African child seen are of haggard, unkempt and dishevelled little beings clearly depicting a miserable picture of raw poverty and malnutrition. Yet there are equally powerful pictures of children showing their abilities and resilience which are shelved as they may not attract enough attention in international circles.
A typical scenario in the rural areas is that of a lorry laden with goods belonging to a nongovernmental organisation pulling up at a rural growth point. The community rushes to prepare to display their vulnerability so as to be eligible for a share of the spoils. Half dressed and unkempt children are pushed forward in the lines, coached with colourful stories of extreme poverty and vulnerability. As Africans we tend to display our children as symbols of our need wanting to appear as vulnerable as possible so that we are included in the list of those receiving assistance. Yet what message or lesson does this send to the children? Is this a way of instilling values of resilience, determination, self belief and self reliance or are we teaching our children dependency and helplessness?
Granted, the economic situation is not at its best in our country but neither was the situation in South Africa all those years ago yet the youth of that time took a stand to advocate for their rights. What is the contribution being made by today’s youth for the betterment of humanity? Of course adults should play a part in ensuring the care and protection of children but ultimately it is the children themselves who should rise up and take responsibility for their own lives.
Simukai Child Protection Programme, a local nongovernmental organisation working with children has over the years evolved to realising the need to empower children with knowledge and skills rather than merely providing for the needs in order to ensure a more sustainable future for them.The future of the African child lies mainly in the African child’s hands. However as adults we play a role in moulding today’s child and instilling virtues and lessons that will provide a foundation for them to become responsible citizens who are able to realise their full potential. For comments and feedback, let us continue this debate by firstname.lastname@example.org visit ourfacebook page: Simukai Child Protection Programme