June 16, 1976 in Soweto, South Africa, approximately ten thousand black school children marched for more than half a mile, protesting the poor quality of their education and demanding the right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of them were shot with more being killed and injured in the uproar that followed. This day was to be remembered decades later and acknowledged as a day symbolizing the importance of the African Child, worthy of being commemorated internationally every year in memory of the brave group that advocated for their own rights so long ago.
Sadly in today’s modern world consisting of more liberties, exposure and access to knowledge, the African Child is seemingly under threat day by day.The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) identified this year’s theme for the Day of the African Child as, “Eliminating Harmful Social and Cultural Practices Affecting Children: Our Collective Responsibility.” Such themes hint at the potential threats that today’s African Child faces. Constantly cases are reported in the media of child pledging, genital mutilation, early marriages, child sexual abuse etc. As much as advocators of child rights may protest against such practices and the government may authorise legislation such as that found in the new and rectified constitution of Zimbabwe which bars harmful cultural practices against the girl child and women, the African child is still being subjected to various forms of abuse and vulnerability.
Culture and religionhave been known to be used as means of justification for many abusive practices. More often than not, children are disempowered to advocate for their own protection by lack of knowledge of their rights, how to access them and possibly ignorance as today’s child is lured by many more worldly activities such as social networks, technology and other forms of entertainment.One wonders if today’s youth are able to display the same kind of unity and sheer determination as that which was displayed by the youth of Soweto 37 years ago, in today’s world which is divided by segregation and individual interests.
Other contributing factors that threaten the African Child from achieving a brighter and more productive future arefor instance the prevalence of the HIV and AIDS pandemic which has left millions of children orphaned in Sub Saharan Africa and vulnerable to situations of poverty, hunger, desperation which may render them voiceless and seemingly powerless. Technology which can be viewed as a weapon of empowerment has also had a seemingly negative influence on today’s child in that they are often exposed to a Pandora’s Box of worldly evils such as pornography, cults and other dangerous social networks. Children can be lured by exciting and modern gadgets into situations of abuse or even human trafficking.
However, the biggest threat to the African Child is the African Child themselves. The Sunday News dated 23 June carried a story with the headline “Student gets 13 years for raping Grade Two girl.” Another report was made by the Manica Post earlier this year of a 12 year old Dangamvura girl who was raped by several men marketed by a young lady who would collect payment of $20 per each encounter and reward the child with a dollar. Children are becoming perpetrators of abuse towards each other or subjecting themselves to abuse for payment and meagre rewards. Also there are not enough child advocates standing up for their own rights or taking action to prevent the violation of their wellbeing. One wonders how many youths take the time to read the local newspapers and see the many cases reported daily of the injustices that affect them, instead of other activities for instance social network sites.
Simukai Child Protection Programme’s Advocacy Unit serves to empower and equip the youth with information that will help them become advocators of their own interests. Through awareness campaigns in schools, churches, the community and social platforms, issues affecting African Children are highlighted and discussed with appeals being made to protect the youth. Simukai seeks to sensitize guardians, relatives, teachers, chiefs, religious leaders and the public on their roles in child protection and ensuring that child rights are observed.However, it is the collective responsibility of everyone to ensure that not only your child but every child is protected. This can be done through the instilling of positive values and guidance to children, desisting from negligence, inflicting abuse or ignorance. We all need to join hands to protect today’s African Child so as to empower tomorrow’s African Adult.
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