This week Botswana joined the continent in celebrating the Day of the African Child – June 16. The day festivities and commemorations took place under the theme “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting all Children’s Rights.” Indeed this year celebrations came on the backdrop of worsening circumstances for the African child. More of our children are born into war situations, state where terrorism has taken root, where poverty levels are shocking, where child abuse and negligence is rife, where children are seen by some as a market for drugs as users and pushers; their abuse has simply never been to this scale. UNICEF Resident Representative, Julianna Lindsey, had this to say in a speech to Botswana Editors: “Botswana is blessed not to have any active conflict or war. I’ve worked in war torn countries and seen the horrific impact on children’s lives. It is truly a joy to be in a country like Botswana that is peaceful and calm.
This is a tremendous testament to the character and values of the citizens of this country”. This seemingly peaceful dispensation however does not mean children in Botswana are protected and well cared for. Some still go to bed hungry; some are sexually abused; raped and denied all their rights as enshrined in the Children’s Act. Teenage pregnancy remains a scourge that is refusing to go away with mostly those behind such pregnancies being elderly men who should show care and love for the children they are instead inducting in early sex. The girl child remains the most vulnerable and abused. Botswana is currently reeling from a case where a councillor is alleged to have impregnated a high school going teenager with suspicions that she could have conceived when still underage. Pressure groups, in particular the #Ishallnotforget movement and political parties have clubbed together to seek action against the ruling party councillor and the assistant minister that he allegedly discussed the pregnancy with.
As Lindsey recognises: “Adolescent pregnancy is a huge global problem, especially in developing countries, where every year 7.3 million girls under 18 give birth. Adolescent mothers often suffer the gravest long-term health and social consequences from pregnancy, including high rates of maternal deaths. In Botswana teenage pregnancy was high at a level of 9.7 percent in 2013. 453 students dropped out of secondary schools due to pregnancy in 2011 and 39 dropped of primary school the same year – and these are just officially reported statistics.” Yet this is not the only scourge Botswana children face. Child labour is rife in the farms, and with little effort placed in investigating and exposing such, these incidents go unpunished. School going boys and girls are often seen as drug lords as potential pushers and consumers of their deadly products.
The drug lords know that the earlier they get these children into their web the longer they will have pushers and would easily transform neighbourhoods into thriving markets of their drugs. Children need to be recognised as such and be protected with all that can be secured. They need to be kept in class and educated and be made to adopt right live building attitudes from an early stage. As the future of any country, they need all the right nurturing possible to safeguard the nation. Failure in this regard, will render nations completely vulnerable and incapable of functioning properly in the future. Botswana Government, parents, teachers and all stakeholders should raise the bar in taking care of children and availing all amenities to develop them into responsible children. They should also take responsibility and do all to ensure that they do not throw their chances away. They should learn and take responsibility from an early age – and say NO to early sex and all forms of abuse!