By Phares Mutembei
Children from all over Africa are celebrating the Day of the African Child today. This is a day celebrated every year on June 16 in respect of hundreds of school children who were killed by police in South Africa. On one fateful morning of the same date, way back in 1976, about 20,000 children poured onto the streets to protest against the low quality education they were receiving.
To add to their grievances, they also protested being taught in the Afrikaans language, instead preferring English, a language they understood and liked. A peaceful demonstration to demand the above was what they envisioned. Unfortunately, the police chose to break up the peaceful demonstration. Inhumanly, they let loose their dogs which tore into the crowd biting at the screaming children.
Some of the brave children retaliated by the pelting their attackers with stones but this only served to provoke the police. Without warning, the police started to shoot. 13-year-old Hector Pieterson being one of the first children to be gunned down.
Every year beginning 1991, the Day of the African Child is marked in memory of the lives of children lost in 1976 as well as offer present day African children an opportunity to express the dreams, views and needs. Closer home, children used this day to demand a stop to child labour. In droves, they converged at Kenyatta International Conference Centre in the capital last Saturday where they expressed their views on child labour through drawings and paintings.
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These were displayed to educate the public on dangers of employing children. The event was organised by International Labour Organisation and Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children Rights among others organisations.
“A lot of children are made to work in farms, homes and markets. Some are hawkers, selling groundnuts, biscuits and other small items. This is bad, because they should be in school. After school, children should only do their homework or help a little in the house,” said Sharon Adhiambo, a Class Six pupil at Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation Centre, Kiambu.
“Many children are employed in Nairobi and other towns. They clean houses, carry and feed babies and wash clothes. They are given a lot of work and paid very little. They are suffering. People who employ children should be punished heavily,” said Adhiambo.
Charity Shiunza, said, “Children should never be employed, because they are supposed to be in school. Adults who do that should think twice. If they had been employed as children, they would not have grown up to be successful. Children should be given a chance to finish school.”
Simon Peter from Ruthimitu School in Nairobi felt that even at home, parents should take care not to overwork children. “It is alright for children to do house chores, but they should not be made to do a lot of the hard work. It is disappointing that there are children who are forced to work all day. They get up very early and sleep very late because of work. Children should be allowed to go to school and play.