Harare – Africa marked the 30th anniversary of the International Day of the African Child on June 16 with the continent grappling with issues related to poverty and education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme for this year’s Day of the African Child was “30 years after the adoption of the Charter: Accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children”.
This is in reference to Articles 32 and 33 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
In June 1990, African Union Heads of State and Government adopted the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The Charter seeks to, among other things, protect the rights of young people in Africa as well as provide quality healthcare and education for children.
“Under the Children’s Charter, children are no longer viewed as objects of concern and sympathy, but are accepted as autonomous rights holders. This understanding of the child, particularly the girl child, has been resisted by forces of patriarchy and those holding deep-seated traditional views about the child’s subservient position in society,” says the AU.
“While some conceptual contestation continues, the Charter has set the continent on a constant course of growing acceptance of the independent personhood of children.
“Together with the shift in the discourse towards accepting children as rights holders came the recognition that states bear the duty to uphold these rights. Accountability of the state – in the form of the current government – is based on the synergy between rights holders and duty bearers.
“The Children’s Charter has given us a continental basis for state accountability to uphold the independent personhood of our children.”
To date, 47 of the AU’s 55 member states have either ratified or acceded to the Charter.
Much focus has been placed on the rights of children within the context of education, health, nutrition and personal security/safety vis-à-vis physical and sexual abuse.
All of these are very important focus areas and require continued and increased attention going forward.
However, there is little discussion around the related issues of racism and access to opportunities in an African continent in which colonial legacies place many children at a disadvantage from the start.
On June 14, South Africa was rocked by ugly scenes of racism at Witbank Technical High School in Mpumalanga. Parents of black and white learners at the school clashed after a black child was allegedly racially abused at the institution.
Classes have been suspended for a week to give learners and parents “so there can be that cooling-off period” said Education official Bonakele Majuba.
Investigations into the allegations of racism are ongoing.
Also ongoing is probe into an Afrikaans teacher at Northriding Secondary School in Gauteng, South Africa, after she was suspended for allegedly beating a pupil and calling others “kaffirs”.
“It is alleged that the teacher followed and started to engage violently with the pupil, further spraying him with sanitiser all over his body and allegedly calling him a ‘kaffir’. The violence stopped only after the intervention of (another) teacher,” said Gauteng Education official Steve Mabona.
The teacher is alleged to have called several blacks students “baboons, drug dealers and kaffirs”.
These are just the reported incidences, or the ones that got social media attention. There is cause to believe that such things are happening in schools at a rate more frequent than is reported.
In March this year, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio said, “Today, apartheid lies dead. But, sadly, racism lives on – in all regions and all societies.”
His remarks were made in the context of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Pointedly, the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21 to commemorate the 1960 fatal shooting of 69 peaceful protestors in South Africa by apartheid police in Sharpeville.
“Racism manifests in many forms – conscious and unconscious,” the UN Secretary-General said. “Combatting it demands action every day, at every level. Supremacy is an evil lie. Racism kills…let us work together to rid the world of the pernicious evil of racism so all may live in a world of peace, dignity and opportunity.”
And it is not just white-on-black racism that Africans have to contend with.
With increasing frequency the world is seeing videos of how Chinese business owners harshly treat African employees.
According to Chinese researcher Yaqiu Wangu – as cited by Human Rights Watch on February 18, 2021 – the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened racism.
“Last April, authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou, which has China’s largest African community, launched a campaign to forcibly test Africans in the city for the coronavirus, and ordered them to self-isolate or quarantine in designated hotels. Landlords evicted African residents, forcing many to sleep on the street, in hotels or in shops. Some restaurants refused to serve Black customers.
“But the Chinese government denied that the authorities’ conduct was discriminatory, and blamed ‘Western media’ for provoking ‘the problems between China and African countries.”
This is the kind of world African children are growing up in.