Just yesterday, we were back celebrating – or is it commemorating - the Day of the African Child. I was born right about the massacre that accentuated this day, and have celebrated it, throughout all my youth. At primary, and secondary school, it was all standard.
The image of “an African child”, as distinct to an, “Asian” or “European” child, was engraved in my mind, early on. I came to learn that as an African child, I was somewhat uniquely vulnerable, compared to other children elsewhere.
Truth be told, that was only partially, true. I do not think that I was ever as vulnerable as Yemeni, Syrian, or Palestinian children, even if some children, elsewhere in Africa, could well have been similarly circumstanced.
The socio economic and geo-political conditions that attend to children’s upbringing, affect them in different and unique ways. When South African children were being shot in the streets, and denied an education because they were black, Vietnamese children were being annihilated with napalm.
As I write, some child is sweating in a sweatshop in East Asia, as someone’s slave.
And there is nothing wrong really, with calling attention to the plight of the African child, even if there could be other children suffering in unique ways elsewhere. In Botswana, we are yet to have a fully functional institution for special needs children as an integral part of the education system, 100% bankrolled by the government.
Children are vulnerable in their unique ways, depending on their geopolitics and socio-economic circumstances they are born, or are subjected to. I do not think that I was ever as vulnerable as some children I have read about or whose pictures I have seen, when training on human trafficking, or those I have seen at our Dukwi Refugee camp, once.
And I was, a child, all the same. When the refugee children of the Caprivi were cruelly and satanically uprooted from schools by my government, to consummate the bromance between my President, and his Namibian counterpart, I squealed in pain. As I write, a 10-year-old Mosarwa child is in a bush, somewhere, in my country heading goats, for a rich Tswana or white family, whose children are in the city getting an education. These privileged children, will inherit this caste system, and the cycle will, if unbroken, go on, and on. There is a need to look at the African child in a context sensitive manner. Whilst they are all equal at birth, the world they are born into almost immediately annuls any equality between them.
The formal and substantive notions of equality touted much in human rights literature must be brought to bear upon children. The boy-child versus the girl-child narrative, and the quest to erase societal prejudices that afflict the latter, must only be part of a broader
The searchlight must shine brighter, on children’s rights and welfare, discourse. Socio-economic inequalities exist at children’s level. It is there, that the most urgent attention is required. Even at economic policy levels, simply empowering families – a welcome development by the way- without accepting that that benefit won’t invariably trickle down to children, is naivety, at the very least, and a crime against humanity, at the worst. In my line of work, the courts have appointed themselves, the upper guardians of all minors. Governments must be upper guardians of all children, with NGOs playing only a facilitative, complementary, or supportive role.
For the avoidance of doubt I do not wish to subtract from the primary responsibility of parents and society, as primary care givers for children. I am simply saying that legislative protection, public investment, and the social security net on children, must be complete, and tight. Government must be the ultimate equaliser, where equality has failed. Otherwise, what is the use of government, anyway?
True, there are anomalies and threats that affect the African children in a rather generic way, without reference to context. One such threat is the African leader. The African leader is generally a glorified highwayman. I hasten to admit that there would be exceptions to the general rule. Politicians, in whose hands is entrusted the national purse, steal from the African child more than all natural calamities combined. The Arab spring resulted from this sad state of affairs, and all Africa deserves an “Arab spring”. Nothing has, over the decades come to depict the suffering of the African child, as the iconic Hector Peterson picture. You would think, that the South African government, with that indelible reminder in its mind, would be acutely conscious of the need to ensure that children take centre-stage in the development agenda.
Lo, and behold, the same government that politically liberated the black child, is looting its future with impunity. Billions, which could be properly invested in child welfare, are lining the pockets of State captors. I highlight the South African example, not because it is the worst, but because it is the most notorious, thanks to the Zondo Commission. The situation is no better, here at home. There is just as much looting. Any difference is merely relative.