As I walk near our neighbourhood schools, the sound of giggling and song fills the air. He’s got the Whole World in His Hands … they sing along. The happiness in their voices is so evident you can feel it. This particular song reminds me of a day when I was 9 years old, as we marched to the city stadium to mark the first African Child’s Day ever on June 16th 1991. Back then I understood so little about the meaning of this day. Perhaps I enjoyed the singing bit and making new friends too much to know that this day was about more than song and dance? As I grew older, I came to realise and appreciate the importance of this day.
The Day of the African Child (DAC) is a day set forth to commemorate the Soweto Uprising on 16th of June 1976 when 10-20,000 South African students marched to demonstrate against apartheid inspired education in their schools. While protesting, they were shot at by the police and several students died, the most well-known being 13-year-old Hector Pieterson; later, more than a hundred people were killed and injured as they protested the opening of fire on children.
The day has been taken by many organisations as a day to fight for the rights of children. When I was a child marching to the city stadium, I did not realise how fortunate I was to have been in school and to have parents who cared enough for me to take me to school, to hospital when I got sick, and even for recreation activities. I did not understand that there were children who were being forced into early marriages in many parts of Africa so that the parents can enrich themselves with dowry money, children as young as nine years old. I did not understand that there were children whose parents did not take them to school because they were girls, or who were forced to take care of their younger siblings and do hard chores like fetching water from the stream with jerrycans twice their weight and almost their height. I did not understand that just because I had my meals, not every child in Africa could get a meal a day; that to some, clothing was a luxury they could not afford.
This Year’s Theme
The DAC 2013 presents an opportunity for organisations, NGOs, governments and individuals to take part in the solutions to the obstacles of African child development. In 2013, the general objective of the DAC will be to draw attention to the need of eliminating harmful social and cultural practices affecting children today. Everyone is welcome to participate, from children, teachers, parents, international bodies, governments, and the NGO community. This is a step in the right direction of eliminating oppression on the African child. The African child has also come a long way. The situation is not as it was in 1991.
Not Left Behind
At MYC4, we also help fight these injustices to the children. MYC4 is committed to the Ten UN Global Compact Principles in which principle number five is on effective abolition of child labour. One way of doing this is by empowering businesses. These businesses are owned by widows, single parents, even married people. Once these people (parents) are empowered by loans, they are able to expand their businesses, buy stock, and grow. These enable them earn an income, hence these parents are able to take their children to school, feed and clothe them. The children are not forced to work so as to supplement their parents’ income; they are allowed to be children. Some of these businesses have employed people hence also empowering others in the process. MYC4 empowers to empower.
When I hear a child’s laughter, so rich and full of happiness, see them play on the play grounds, their beautiful young eyes full of dreams and hope, I am touched. I know there is hope after all. When I see them sing happily or run outside on a Christmas day to show their friends their new “Christmas dresses”, my heart is filled with joy. There is still a long way to winning the fight, but the African child has come a long way. Let us keep on fighting and not tire. When a child smiles, the earth smiles.