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The World Day of Cultural Diversity: Children's role as carriers of culture

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On May 21 every year, the world marks the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. It’s a day to celebrate the richness of the world’s cultures and the essential role of intercultural dialogue in achieving peace and sustainable development.

The year 2022 marks the end of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures, which seeks to promote mutual understanding and reciprocal knowledge of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

As we mark this year’s World Day for Cultural Diversity and Dialogue, we must think of children as participants in, and carriers of our culture, as they are a critical part of our population -the future of our societies. Culture broadly refers to a group’s shared attitudes, traditions, beliefs and practices that are transmitted across generations.

Whilst culture shapes experiences and influences children’s development, cultural background gives them a sense of who they are. The unique cultural influences children respond to from birth, including customs and beliefs around food, artistic expression, language, and religion, affect the way they develop emotionally, socially, physically, and linguistically.

Therefore, culture is a powerful indicator of a child’s future well-being, and those who work with children, including social workers, and advocates of child rights, need to understand the influences on child development and how they impact the way people grow and learn.

The social cues a young child takes in from others about cultural background can help or hamper development because they readily internalise what they see and hear. In schools, religious places and at home, children must be taught to appreciate unity in diversity.

The other perspective of this conversation has to do with the role of parents and guardians in promoting positive African culture in the children, whilst protecting them from harmful, outdated and backward practices.

Examples of these practices are corporal punishment, female genital mutilation, early marriage and discrimination of the girl child which have serious negative effects on child development. The Constitution seeks to protect children who are considered marginalized groups.

Article 53 (1) d provides the right of every child to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment and punishment. Article 44 posits that every person has the right to enjoy their language, and culture though no one should be compelled to perform, observe or undergo any cultural practice or rites. 

-The writer is CEO of the East African Centre for Human Rights