By Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
The Day of the African Child was established by the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in memory of the 16th June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa.
On this day, students marched in protest against the poor quality of education they were receiving under the apartheid regime and they wanted to defend their right to be taught in their own languages.
The Day of the African Child is also meant to serve as an opportunity to celebrate African children and reflect upon the steps that can be taken in order address the problems that they face.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated the challenges that plague African children. In Zimbabwe, the number of child marriages that occurred during the national lockdown imposed by
government to curtail the spread of COVID-19 increased at an alarming rate as confirmed by government early this year.
The harsh economic impact of the lockdown left many parents desperate, which led them to
marry off their children in exchange for money or other goods
Unfortunately, some parents also opted to marry off their children to reduce the strain on the household income. Children remain the worst-affected parties in the illegal practice of child marriages in Zimbabwe.
In addition, the practice disproportionately affects the girl child and this makes the goal of gender equality difficult to achieve.
Children are often saddled with enormous responsibilities in the marriages and these responsibilities limit their ability to fully develop to their full potential, like other children who do not shoulder such burdens.
Moreover, children in child marriages are often subject to abuse in the marriages and teen pregnancies which are potentially detrimental to their health or even lethal in some cases.
Apart from the scourge of child marriages, African children have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 impact on education. In general, African children lack basic resources that are present in many schools
across the globe but they particularly lack access to information, communication and technology (ICT) resources that are essential to continue educational activities due to restrictions imposed by the
The increased reliance on virtual learning during national lockdowns across the globe excluded many African children who could not afford to purchase the devices and internet access that was required to access the virtual resources.
This led to the exclusion of many children from the benefit of advancing their education. The lack of access to these virtual resources by African children also threatens to widen the inequality gap between African states and the rest of the world. Policy makers are urged to prioritise the education of African children by ensuring that they have greater access to ICT services.
On this Day of the African Child ZLHR calls upon:
• All members of the public to celebrate African children;
• Community leaders and civil society to foster dialogue with children in order to effectively address the challenges they face;
• Policymakers to accelerate programmes that are meant to uplift the welfare of African children.