Resource of the week: international day of the african child, 16 June - The ultimate sacrifice

7th June 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 young people 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. Invite them to consider the nature of children's rights in their own countries, as well as in Africa. The British Medical Association said recently that work to tackle child poverty in the UK was "in danger of being eroded by government welfare policies".

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