CELEBRATING THE #SWAZI CHILD
The 16th of June marks an important day for children in Africa. Countries celebrate the African child by commemorating the courage of the youths of South Africa that lost their lives in the streets of Soweto in 1976. In a march more than half a mile long, they protested the inferior quality of their education and demanded their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young boys and girls were shot down by security forces. In the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand were injured. To honour the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched, the Day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union).
The theme for this year's event is Eliminating Harmful Social and Cultural Practices Affecting Children: Our Collective Responsibility. I’m very much inspired by the last part of the theme which charges the nation with the collective responsibility of protecting children. The idea of collectivity is embedded in the African and Swazi way of life through the concept of buntfu or the respect for the humanity of every human being. The day of the African child comes at a time when the lives of some of our children are threatened. I refer to the children who are victims of the impending evictions at Malkerns, Madonsa and KaShali. I must point however that there is nothing sinister about the recent Supreme Court judgment where the eviction of four homesteads was ordered.
I must emphasize that the government has done well in formulating laws and policies to protect children. These include the promulgation of the Child Welfare Protection Act, the provision of free primary education and the establishment of child friendly court systems. Despite the significant progress that has been made in addressing the rights and needs of children, including the progressive legislative frameworks and programmes that have been put in place, Swazi children are still faced with formidable challenges.
This I say because notwithstanding the country being signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child(CRC-ratified 7 September 1995) which obliges states parties to ensure that in every transaction involving children, the best interest of the child take precedence, children threatened with evictions continue to be neglected. This principle (best interest of the child) must be integrated in all legislative frameworks, programmes, projects, services and decision-making processes affecting children. Therefore in matters of evictions, the best interest of the child should be considered and such children must be treated with dignity and protection. Evictions are not only a threat to the education and social development of children but also pose a danger to the lives of such children. The traumatic experiences that the children go through has a potential to destroy them for the rest of their lives, hence the need for intervention cannot be overemphasized. These children also stand the risk of losing their education as they would have to relocate with their parents at times to places remote from their schools as a consequence of the evictions. Furthermore the risks of sexual violence and child trafficking are more likely for such children as they become more vulnerable in the transition stage where their parents go through depression. The CRC and the Constitution protects children against any form of discrimination in the application and the enjoyment of their basic freedoms hence the state should provide equal protection to children threatened with evictions.
As the country celebrates the day of the Swazi child it is necessary to take positive action towards ensuring that children threatened with evictions are protected. Accordingly, government should ensure that eviction judgments are not executed in a way that will have a negative impact on children and formulate land reform policies that will foster equal access to land by all citizens. The land question has been avoided far too long amid the rampant evictions that are taking place in the country. One of the reasons could be that perhaps the majority of Swazis who are living on communal land (Swazi Nation Land) believe they are safe from eviction as they are protected by chiefs. However, the rise of chieftaincy disputes and concealed demarcations could result to many Swazis facing evictions and the lives of many children will be put at risk as a consequence. Hence the eradication of harmful social practices for the development of children cannot be isolated from the broader national development plan that would be achieved through the collaboration of grassroots structures (including families) and the government. The realisation of children’s rights is not only fundamental for their development and well-being; it is also pivotal to creating a world of peace, equity, security, freedom, respect for the environment and shared responsibility. Umntfwana ngumliba loya embili – children are the future and the vehicle to development therefore we have the collective responsibility to protect them.