On June 16, 1976, an estimated 20,000 South African students took to the streets of Soweto to protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. The riots were met with police brutality and by the time they ended, several hundred people lay dead and a lot of property had been destroyed. What began as an opposition to a retrogressive policy had evolved into a countrywide youth uprising against the apartheid regime.
The iconic photograph of fatally wounded Hector Pieterson was beamed across the world making him the poster child of the uprising that would indirectly lead to South Africa's first free and fair elections in 1994.Images of the riots shocked the world and brought international condemnation on the Apartheid government. History had been made-children were no longer innocent bystanders in world events.
The Soweto uprising opened a new era in the history of South Africa-it politicised a whole generation of youths and announced their determination to end one of the most barbaric regimes in modern history. The uprising also established the leading role of ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle and gave much needed oomph to the push for a democratic South Africa. To commemorate Soweto Uprising, the government of South Africa later declared June 16 Youth Day.
In 1991, the now defunct OAU (now AU) declared June 16 the Day of the African Child to honor those that participated in the Soweto Uprising. The day also raises awareness on the continuing need for the improvement of education provided to African children. Since 1991, the DAC has been used to celebrate children in Africa as well as to inspire sober reflection and action towards addressing the challenges that the children of Africa face daily.
This year's theme-"Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for children in Africa by 2030″ gives countries, governments and stakeholders an opportunity to mainstream child protection and empowerment in their national development agenda. With the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and the ushering in of Sustainable Development Goals, states are tasked to accelerate the mainstreaming of child protection into all 17 Sustainable Development Goals ranging from gender equality to protection from economic exploitation.
Wars and conflicts put children in situations where their rights are violated. Armed groups in Somalia and Nigeria indoctrinate and manipulate children in order to coerce them to participate in hostilities. Wars also make orphans out of children and leave them with both physical and psychological scars.
From the foregoing, it's evident that peace is a prerequisite for the safeguarding of the best in interests of children in Africa. Traditionally, the challenge of eliminating conflict in Africa centres around social, economic and political factors. There is urgent need to place the best interests of children as a primary consideration when addressing these challenges. Rapid urbanisation and development in Africa has come with a challenge; emergence of inequalities and tensions which may lead to social unrest and inevitably have negative outcomes on children.
Africa has been hailed as one major absorber of newest technologies and ICT. Governments should take ICT and social media as opportunities to bring its children together and in calculate into them the dangers of conflict. It's worth noting that technology has ushered in a new plethora of challenges in child protection. New threats like cyber bullying, internet addiction, exposure to pornography and many others have emerged.
A case in point is a recent case in Kenyan media where a child allegedly committed suicide after taking part in a game called the 'Blue Whale Challenge' which coerces children to torture themselves and eventually kill themselves.
The forgotten child
Khali Gibran, the celebrated poet wrote thus about children: "We may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow. Our children live in the house of tomorrow of digital apps and Xaxa-speak, jeans and loud music. Human progress goes forward, not backwards and as such, we cannot stop the digital march to the future. However, we are obligated to lead our children in this digital journey to secure their best interests.
There is also an urgent need to mainstream the needs of the 'forgotten children' into national development agendas. Concrete steps must be taken to ensure no child is left behind. As we mark 41 years since the Soweto Uprising, Africa needs to address the twin challenges of inequality and poverty; the precursors of conflict.
There is also need to religiously guard the institution of the family, which is the child's first line of protection. Finally, as a continent, we need to address the root causes of conflict in Africa with a view to getting lasting solutions for peace in the continent. By doing so, we will have also solved the many problems that affect our children.
Mr Mwangi is a Social Policy post-graduate student at Maseno University
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