June 16th is Day of the African Child. There are hundreds of ‘special’ days. What makes this one worth marking?
On this very day forty years ago, thousands of students took to the streets in Soweto, South Africa, marching in a column more than half a mile long, protesting the poor quality of their education and white minority rule. They demanded, among other things, the simple right to be taught in their own language.
Schools reserved for the country’s white children were of western standards, but black students were crammed into schools that were congested, under-supplied, lacking in electricity and running water. One of the main motives for the march was against the introduction of tuition in Afrikaans as a result of the Bantu Education act (a segregation law). Hendrick Verwoerd, Minister of Native Affairs at that time, said:
“There is no place for [the African] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour… What is the use in teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practise?”
Nice guy huh?
The police response to this peaceful protest was brutal beyond words. Hundreds of students were shot and in the continuing protests of the following two weeks more than a hundred were killed, with over a thousand injured. Official figures put the number killed at 176, but estimates of up to 700 have been made. At least 134 of those who lost their lives were under the age of 18.
This unforgettable moment in history changed the socio-political landscape of the country and was a huge milestone in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The day is now an annual moment to raise awareness, not only of the right to education, but to equality of access to education.
Forty years on, apartheid is no more, but thirty million of the world’s 57 million children out of school are in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s why we need a Day of the African Child.
At African Initiatives, part of our work is to push for equality of access to education in the countries we work in. In Tanzania for example, primary education is in Swahili but secondary schools teach in English.
One of our projects focuses on the transition, helping girls in deprived areas, who are at risk of early forced marriage at that point, to continue to secondary school and live fulfilling lives. Not only does this help girls to dream of a future for themselves, but when they do become mothers, for every additional year of education , child mortality is decreased by 9.5%! Children of African women with at least five years of schooling have a 40 percent higher chance of survival.
For more information on our projects on education rights, with a particular for girls who are otherwise denied an education click here.