Resource of the week - International Day of the African Child, 16 June - The ultimate sacrifice

31st May 2013 at 01:00
Explore children's rights in the context of the Soweto uprising

How would your students feel if someone decided that they only deserved to attend a "poor school", to work in the fields and to be taught in a language that was not their own?

For Hector Pieterson, a black 13-year-old living in Soweto, South Africa, who wanted the same educational rights as white children, there was only one response: joining thousands of other young "rebels" to protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as the main teaching language in schools. In the apartheid era, many black people saw Afrikaans as the language of the "oppressor".

It was 16 June 1976, and within hours Soweto was burning. As police officers opened fire, and desperate youngsters ran for cover, Hector was shot dead.

The number of people killed in the uprising and its aftermath has been estimated to be up to 700. Many of those who died were children. But their sacrifice was not in vain: a resistance movement ultimately helped to bring an end to the apartheid regime. Their courage is remembered every year on the International Day of the African Child.

Much has changed in South Africa. Poor schools now receive more funding, an inclusive curriculum has been introduced and exam passes continue to rise. Lives have also improved elsewhere in Africa. In Kenya, for example, 7.2 million children aged 7-14 now attend primary schools.

But the Day of the African Child also addresses the obstacles that many children in Africa still face, with a focus this year on the rights of children with disabilities, who are often marginalised. Your students could find inspiration in the words of young people in Africa, such as this poem by Jane Njeere Wanjiru, 16, from Kenya:

We never knew that

Atapim had rights like ours.

He should learn like us.

He should eat like us and with us.

He should travel like us.

He should crack jokes like us.

He should be given shelter just like us.

He should be loved like us.

Oh my Atapim,

Disability was everything to him and he was everything to disability in him.

Look back on the Soweto uprising and ask your students what they would change to make life better for children today. Then encourage them to consider the nature of children's rights and welfare in their own countries, as well as in Africa. The British Medical Association claimed recently that work to tackle child poverty in the UK was "in danger of being eroded by government welfare policies".

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today