Young Africans have always been great advocates, standing and raising their voices for their right to education. On the streets of Soweto in June 16, 1976, hundreds of unarmed students were shot dead by South African police during a protest. The exact number of victims is unknown, but estimates range from 176 to 700.The Day of the African Child has been celebrated every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organisation of African Unity.
Why did this children protest?
Education injustice and inequality in Apartheid South Africa. The level of education was already very poor as natives were not to receive an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn’t be allowed to hold in society.
To compile the issue, the Deputy Minister of Bantu Education, Punt Janson then enforced a decree that mathematics and social studies were to be taught in Afrikaans, with general science and practical subjects in English, while indigenous languages would only be used for religion and music and physical culture.
Students did not agree with this introduction as many teachers could not speak the new language but now had to teach with it. As a result, the students encountered several difficulties when studying subjects taught with the language.
“We shall reject the whole system of Bantu Education whose aim is to reduce us, mentally and physically, into ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’.” – Soweto Students Representative Council, 1976.
It began with a peaceful march towards the Orlando Stadium in Soweto by about 10,000 – 20,000 gallantly dressed students led by the Soweto Students’ Representative Council’s (SSRC) Action Committee. The police tried to stop the students from reaching the stadium by barricading it and when they took to another route, a police officer fired a shot in the air to intimidate them and others threw tear gas.
The peaceful protest became chaotic and the students reacted by hurling stones at the police, who opened fire on unarmed students. This led to the death of Hector Pieterson, 13, one of the first schoolchildren shot by the police; the young boy became the symbol of the protest. This protest became a landmark in the history of Africa and the African Union (then Organization of African Unity) designated the day “Day of the African Child” in 1991. Every year on June 16, events are organised around the continent to promote children’s rights.
The Day of the African Child 2015:
This year the African Union chose child marriage as its theme: 25 Years after the Adoption of the African Children’s Charter: Accelerating our Collective Efforts to End Child Marriage in Africa.
Child Marriage in Africa/Nigeria
Every year, millions of girls under the age of 18 become brides and majority drop out of school. Lack of educational attainment is not only the greatest predictor of the likelihood of child marriage; ensuring girls stay in school is one of the most effective ways of preventing child marriage. In sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of women with no education were married before age 18 compared to only 13% of those with secondary education.
The prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria is also high as 43% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday and 17% before they turn 15. This prevalence varies widely from one region to another, with figures as high as 76% in the North West region. Importantly, education is a strong indicator of whether a girl will marry as a child. Eighty-two percent of women aged 20-24 with no education were married by the age of 18, as opposed to 13% of women who have at least finished secondary education.
This is what statistics tells us and yet, little or nothing is being done to end child marriage in Nigeria. If education is one of the most effective ways of preventing child marriage, why do we have about 10.5 million out-of-school children?
Early marriage makes girls vulnerable to multiple negative social and health outcomes. Young girls need to be protected from the society by the society. We all have a role to play in ending child marriage in Nigeria and Africa; and this can be through advocacy, enactment of laws, enforcement of these laws and continued access to quality and affordable education which is critical to protecting girls from the consequences of child marriage.
Children of Africa’s 54 countries are all unique and diverse, nonetheless they share the same struggle for daily survival, as disease often run rampant, child labor and the use of child soldiers impacts most of the continent. Their diversity aside the children of Africa are more often displaced by force or urbanization than another continent, they suffer more than any other nations from HIV/AIDS, education is a right all too often missed, while child labor and trafficking often surpass it in demand. The Day of the African Child leaves one to reflect on the often dire needs of children across Africa, and give focus on the need to increase equal access to suitable education, health, and the protection against abuses such as physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, the recruitment of child soldiers, child labor and child marriages.
While children across the vast expanses of the Africa continent have received an international day of recognition, the true day of recognition has yet to be seen. Recognition and value for the true worth of the African child will come only when their voices are truly heard and an investment in their collective future is seen; when one sees and end to gender inequality, when their little bodies are no longer seen as disposable and an end to demand is seen for their use as tools of the sex trade, labor and weapons of war. Until that day children across the continent of Africa continue to suffer unjustly, their abusers receive little recourse for their actions, and the majority of the governments sit idly by. Therefore take a moment today to share their stories of suffering and hope, for then tomorrow may be a better day for children around the globe.