June 16 as defined by the African child:
A day of triumph over the long-standing regime of oppression over a people... Back in the day the likes of Hector Peterson, Steven Biko, Dr Mamphele Ramphele, Sol Plaatjie, Walter Sisulu fought for today. Today, a day of freedom of choice, fair opportunities for all and the right to basic health care and living standards we chant for.
This year’s theme of The Day of The African Child as designated by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) is Eliminating Harmful Cultural and Social Practices affecting Children: Our Collective Responsibility. At the core of this theme holds the principle of child care and protection.
As volunteers at Touching Tiny Lives who were born and raised in Lesotho, we know that social and cultural practices are the pride of many African countries including Lesotho yet a number of them are harmful. Lesotho is no stranger to some of the cultural and social practices common to many African countries that are both important by tradition and injurious to children. Men’s initiation school, one of the most significant traditional practices in Lesotho, is held with honour and dignity by families as their boys become men poised to become breadwinners and marry when initiation is complete. Unfortunately the boys go through very unhygienic cutting of their foreskins, after which they sometimes develop serious infections that take some lives. While there is a lot to be learned from traditional practices like initiation schools, awareness of the detriment of some of their routines should be spread so that they are aborted.
Most Basotho children have had, at least at one point in their lives, first-hand or second-hand experience with child abuse. This experience has often ranged from corporal punishment, child labour, forced initiation, child molestation, forced marriages, female gender mutilation, statutory rape and being deprived of education. “My first-hand personal experience with social injustice to children has been in the form of corporal punishment during primary and high school years. I trust that children need to be spanked from time to time but the intense beatings I have observed as a student in Lesotho can traumatize children and leave scars behind.” says Jason. “My personal experiences having spent some of my childhood in the highlands on vacation at my grandparents have brought me to the realisation that most herd boys do not attend school. For the average Mosotho boy, years of toiling looking after domestic animals replace attending formal school which puts the child’s future at a disadvantage.” says Maseeng.
We firmly believe that it is our duty to filter some of the impeding cultural and social practices to build upon the progress of past generations. The law does play a part but it is more the responsibility of individuals because it is they who are personally challenged. On this Day of the African Child, take time to appreciate how far Africa has come to eradicate harmful practices and imagine how far it can go. What are you doing to bring social injustice to children in your community to a halt?
By Maseeng J F Masitha and Jason Saroni
Maseeng, from Maseru, Lesotho, and Jason, a University of Notre Dame Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar also from Maseru, Lesotho are spending two months at TTL to research the impact of traditional healers and medicines on HIV and AIDS.