Did you know that the great movie Sarafina! was based on the happenings of 16th June 1976 exactly 44 years ago today?
Known as the Soweto Uprising, the morning of the 16th saw between 10,000 to 20,000 students from around South Africa hold a series of demonstrations to reject the introduction of Afrikaans and English as the method of teaching in schools. They demonstrated the poor quality of education and demanded to be taught in their own language.
As the students protested, they were met with extreme police force and 176 students were killed, although there are estimates that state that over 700 students were actually killed in a span of 2 weeks. In honor of their courage and resilience, Africa celebrates the lives lost as ‘The day of the African Child’ every 16th June since the year 1991. South Africa marks a holiday known as ‘Youth day’ on the same day.
As we commemorate the day of the African child today, let us also remember all the young lives lost in the search for justice, equality and freedom. This year’s theme is ‘Access to a child-friendly justice system in Africa’. This day calls for serious introspection and dialogue to handle justice issues facing the African child.
This year’s commemoration by the African Union and member states will aim to examine the elements of a child-friendly justice system, including the application of a child rights-based approach and use the four principles of children’s rights as a tool for realizing access to a child-friendly justice system in Africa.
It will also aim at creating a platform for dialogue among children, policymakers, organizations working on children’s rights, and the academics on the major challenges in ensuring equal access to child-friendly justice to all groups of children in Africa. It will further serve as an experience sharing forum where positive trends, mechanisms, and structures in member states will be discussed.
In Kenya, as the country still struggles with corruption, tribalism, nepotism, police brutality, etc. the country’s youth have a long way to go to have their voices heard. We need to take a deeper look into laws and rights of the child. We need to safeguard and uphold the lives of our children as they are inevitably, the leaders of tomorrow.
Our children need food to eat, a clean and warm place to sleep and clothes on their backs. They need a good education and great resources to aid their future lives. They need to be able to walk the streets without fear, be able to speak up and have the freedom to enjoy living in their own country. They need to be nurtured, cared for and be protected from any kind of abuse, violence and injustice.
No child deserves to be married off at a tender age. No child deserves to undergo female genital mutilation. No child deserves to drop out of school due to one reason or the other. No child deserves to be a child soldier or militia. No child deserves to see the evils of the world meted out by adults and most importantly, no child deserves to lose their lives in the search for justice.
A child needs a fair trial if arrested, with the proper legislative measures followed. They need the right kind of juvenile systems that will be fair and sensitive and consider the wellbeing and future of the child. This is a fundamental right for all children and a necessity for the protection of human rights.
In Kenya, 20% of cases involving children are those that need protection from the police while 60% are related to sexual offences. Furthermore, almost 80% of the children in statutory children’s institutions have never committed an offence.
What is a child-friendly justice system?
- A child-friendly justice system is one that is designed to accommodate issues that children face when they come into contact with laws or courts.
- It is one that allows them to be treated in a child-sensitive manner when faced with charges or if they are victims of a crime.
- It is a system that should cater for free legal aid e.g. police officers and defense lawyers
- It is where a country identifies and offers support to children who might be found in the wrong by the law. They are required to offer psychosocial and psychological support
- It is where a child is first considered as a victim before anything else and ensures that no discrimination is meted against them.
Thus, the system offers a platform where the best interests of the child are first considered. For example, a child on trial should have access to information, legal aid, a right to be heard and a right to non-discrimination. A space where children can and will be prepared for reunification with their families and promote frequent contact with them in case a child is put in statutory children institutions.
Not one child needs to suffer while we have a government which promised to serve and protect. May we make sound decisions that will impact positively on the lives of our children. May we ensure that our leaders and those in positions of power are held accountable when harm comes to our children.
Let us stand tall for the rights of our children and fight for their legal rights to justice.
And let us, if not anything else, do right by them.
“History will judge us by the difference in the everyday lives of our children” Nelson Mandela
Happy Day of the African Child!