Reflecting on African Children: Giving Hope

By Susan Maina

  “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela

As we commemorate the World Day Against Child Labour – 12 June and the Day of the African Child on 16thJune, this quote by one of Africa’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela, is one that we should all constantly reflect on. The future of Africa lies with the well-being of its children and youth who represent more than half of the continent’s population. And thus, today’s investment in our children is tomorrow’s peace, stability, security, democracy and sustainable development.

The World Day against Child Labour was launched in 2002 by the International Labour Organization (ILO). It is a day aimed at focusing attention on the global extent of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. This year the Day will provide a spotlight on the right of all children to be protected from child labour and from other violations of fundamental human rights. In 2010, the international community adopted a road map for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016, which stressed that child labour is an impediment to children’s rights and a barrier to their development. Under the theme “human rights and social justice…let’s end child labour” , World Day 2012 will highlight the work that needs to be done to make the road map a reality.

Child labour is one of the worst forms of mistreatment that a child can be made to go through. It’s very saddening to even think of ‘using’ a child who is supposed to go to school, play, and have proper nutrition and care for cheap labour. Children should not be denied a chance to be children. On this World Day, civil rights activists, governments, employers, workers organizations as well as millions of people from around the world are called upon to come together to highlight the plight of the child laborers so as to save the over 215 million children worldwide who are forced into cheap labour.

The girl child is the most affected in this vice since according to some African traditions/ taboos, girls are believed to be housekeepers (performing house chores, cooking and taking care of their young siblings) and when it comes to deciding who between a girl and boy should go to school, a boy is mostly preferred and hence girls are not given a chance to attain education and live normally like other children.

Education empowers, strengthens and protects children in multiple ways. It is perhaps the single most effective solution and is therefore a cornerstone of preventing child labour. Each and every undertaking, whether big or small, to support action against child labour is important. We can all take action to eliminate child labour.

The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16th every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the organization of African unity(now African Union). It honors those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 when a protest by school children in South Africa against apartheid-inspired education resulted in the public killing of these unarmed young protesters by police officials. The Day is marked to raise awareness and call attention and accountability to the duties of African Governments to defend, honour and advance the rights of children. The theme for the 2012 Day is “the rights of children with disabilities:  the duty to protect, respect, promote and fulfill”

We all know that “disability is not inability” and as we mark this Day with a special focus on the children with disabilities, we should come together and think about those children who are physically challenged and come up with a way either individually or in a group to visit them in homes, schools where they study so as to encourage and support them so that they can also feel appreciated and be hopeful that they also have a chance to fulfill their dreams and ambitions just like any other child.

Street children, the orphaned, homeless children should also not be forgotten on this Day as they also need help and support. They are at risk from neglect, abuse, exploitation and violence. It’s the responsibility of each one of us to make sure we participate in one way or another to bring a transformation in their lives. Africa’s young voices must not be ignored, they must be heard!

On this Day, let us participate in discussions and collaborations on strategies to respond to different issues affecting children living with disabilities and promote their rights so that they can be protected and respected.

Let’s remember the over thousand children who marched with conviction and courage in Soweto in 1976 and invoke a powerful reminder of their decisive role in being a catalyst for change.

Be a part of it!! Protect our children…

Susan Maina is currently an Intern at the Gender & Development Resource Centre, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

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