The 16th of June is set aside and commemorated annually as the Day of the African Child (DAC). It is a day which is entrenched in a rich history of young people's struggles, not just for the right to be taught in their mother language but a struggle for attainment of freedom, peace and justice for all in the continent.
The setting would have been Soweto, South Africa where thousands of high school students marched on the fateful day with nothing but their resolve to end injustice and for that they were mowed down by a cowardly and relentless regime hellbent on subterfuge. The spirit and selflessness they exhibited reverberated throughout continent.
L2S+Zimbabwe takes this opportunity to remember and join the rest of the world in commemorating the heroic actions of the Hector Petersons and many others who lost their lives during the student uprising in Soweto for daring to protest against apartheid-inspired education system. L2S+Zimbabwe Chapter fully endorses the running theme
"Access to Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa" as adopted by the African Union Executive Council, during its 34th Ordinary Session, held in 2019.
It is not far fetched that today, the children of Africa face the same if not worse challenges that Hector Peterson and peers faced then, years after all African countries attained political independence. Surely their demise cannot be in vain.
Thus, L2S+Zimbabwe, takes this important day as a time to reflect and introspect deeply and calling for serious commitment from our national governments and nonstate actors towards addressing the numerous challenges that face the millions of in Africa.
Access to Justice is one of the critical elements required for a society to maintain peace and equilibrium necessary for sustainable development. The absence of justice is a proven recipe for disaster. The situation being obtained in Zimbabwe and Africa unfortunately is that access to justice by children and society in general is difficult as it is expensive, elitist and corrupt. This applies to both the formal and traditional justice systems which generally are perceived as aloof, child unfriendly, partisan, and patriarchal. The girl child is languishing right at the bottom and L2S+Zimbabwe takes this opportunity to send a special message to duty bearers to escalate the protection of girls by making sure there are special courts that deal with abuse of young girls such as rape and child marriages.
We take note that as the continent commemorates this historic day, most African countries are performing badly on the human development index. This flies in the face of the sacrifices made by heroes such as Hector Peterson, and thousands others across Africa and the world who have given everything to fight and eliminate injustice from the face of earth. It is disheartening that African children face numerous barriers that negatively impact on their mental, physical, and environmental well being.
We reiterate the call for our governments to refocus the development agenda which for long has been an exclusive enclave for the few and corrupt. It is ironic that such a rich continent has majority of its population wallowing in extreme poverty with a quarter of African countries being recorded as having some of the most unhappy people in world.
The 2020 "happiness index" says Zimbabweans are among the world's saddest people with the recent annual United Nations world happiness report ranking the country in the top five of the world's unhappiest countries. Ten other African countries are fighting it out at the bottom of the unhappiness league. A sad people is a clear signal that there is a deficit in accessing justice. Where there is injustice, there is sadness.
Without peace, there will be no justice and there is no justice without peace. Many African children are born and bred in an environment that is inimical to their mental and physical development. In Zimbabwe for example, reports say that 85% of the population both adults and youths suffer from mild to severe mental problems due to various forms of injustices perpetrated upon them where the abnormal has become the new normal. L2S+Zimbabwe would recommend that a holistic social system premised on the attainment of social justice for all is critical. Access to justice does not start and end with courts of law but depends on other factors such as inclusion in decision-making, education, health, a clean and safe environment, protection, dignity, access to information and free will among others so that they reach their utmost potential.
Africa's children cannot "breathe" - they are being suffocated and subdued by poverty, bad governance, corruption, exclusion, poor economies, lack of investment in social services and infrastructure. It is time to invest in Africa's children, its people and not on guns, teargas and patronage. Let the children play. Let the children breathe. Access to justice is a right, not a privilege for the few.
Justice for the African Child in our lifetime. It is possible.
This is a guest post written by the Letters to Strangers Chapter in Mutare, Zimbabwe. To support their on-the-ground efforts and workshops, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Letters to Strangers.