An innocent demonstration in the winter of South Africa in the mid 70’s, turned into an ugly incident resulting in the massacre of hundreds of students. Their only ‘crime’ , protesting the poor quality of their education and the apartheid regimes decision to use Afrikaans as a lingua franca in their education system. Hundreds of innocent student were shot by security forces with thousands injured. This despicable chapter in South Africa’s history became known as the Soweto Uprising.
This above mentioned atrocity transpired on the 16th of June 1976, and eventually the date was marked as the day to celebrate the African Child. Botswana joined other African Union Member States to commemorate the Day of the African Child. The African Union (AU) member states commemorate June 16 to reflect on pertinent matters that impact on children in the continent. The Day of the African Child commemoration provides a platform for Member States to reflect on progress made and brainstorm as well as dialogue on challenges in relation to facilitation of children’s rights and their well being throughout the continent.
This year’s commemoration is themed “Leave No Child Behind For Africa’s Development” In light of this backdrop, an analysis of the current plight of the African Child is essential so as to address areas the celebration of Day of the African Child is lagging behind. The African Chapter on the Rights and welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (C.R.C) recognize the importance of promoting goals pivotal to the development of children.
Looking at the current plight of the African Child, the agenda’s outlined in the ACRWC and CRC Especially in Botswana, is not totally in alignment with the ideals outlined by the commemoration . Firstly in relation to educating the African Child, the fact that children drop out of the education system in their teens, if they do not pass their Form five exams forcing them to be faced with the trauma of being excluded from an institution that shapes one’s character and provides them with survival tools for their future. This is a deprivation of an essential children’s right. Because many are unable to enter a tertiary institution, where they may have an opportunity to pursue an academic discipline that will one day allow them to live the life of their dreams, having a future generation of responsible ,confident future leaders is a challenge with such a poor education system.
The fact that teenage pregnancy is so rife for todays ‘girl child’ , frustrates and betrays the agenda of the Day of the African Child. The girl child to some extent is engaging in sexual relations with their peers ,but older men are also culprits in compromising the ‘girl child’ by luring them with material goods, and engaging them in coitus, resulting in a high chance of unwanted pregnancies or even worse HIV transmission. The African Child further falls ‘prey’ to another threat, that of the sexual predator.
With these challenges facing the African Child, the most problematic would have to be the current drug epidemic. There has been a strong pattern of late that has seen young children as young as high school age being influenced by social pressures and engaging in abuse of illicit drugs. The use of alcohol and illicit drugs by the young ,especially school going children is a serious issue. The sad reality is that the brain is especially susceptible to change during adolescence ,and teenagers who abuse drugs disrupt their brains development. Several teachers in Francistown reported that drug and alcohol use was prevalent in their students, making them highly difficult and aggressive to the extent that some teachers reported fearing their pupils. Substance abuse affects the students academics in a negative way ,greatly compromising their chances of going to university and increasing their chances of ending up in prison, for either possession of narcotic substances or a crime committed in order to sponsor their drug habit.
In light of the plight of the African Child the government through its various departments such as social welfare, guidance and counseling and the police inter-alia , has attempted to develop programs that will enhance the welfare of the African Child. Ms.M. Bokole , District Coordinator Ministry of the Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development ,North, when interviewed ,acknowledged the current African Child was facing challenges . However she reiterated that government through the Ministry of Youth had set in places structures and mechanisms that would minimize and hopefully offset the grim plight of the African Child. “Part of the M.Y.S.C program was to shape the youth, groom them as well as inspire the young person”, Ms Bokole said.
The ministry also had grants that allowed for youth to engage in business , empowering themselves and employing their fellow peers. Ms. Bokole emphasized programs to substitute idleness and substance abuse by the youth were being counteracted by the youth programs offered by M.Y.S.C. Ms. Bokole made a clarification that although the youth of Botswana did not go through the violent , social upheaval as those in apartheid South Africa, the ‘struggle’ in Botswana was getting programs offered by the ministry ‘out there’ and encouraging the youth to take advantage of them, as they were tailor made to uplift and empower them.