This weekend saw the celebration of the Day of the African Child which is celebrated every year on the 16th June. In 1976, thousands of black children marched down the street in Soweto, South Africa, protesting against the poor quality of their education. During this protest over 100 people were killed and thousands more injured. The Day of the African child was founded by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) in 1991 as a tribute to those killed during the protests and is used as a day to fight for children’s rights.
“A focus on disabilities”
The theme for the 2012 Day of the African Child was “The rights of children with disabilities: Protect, Respect, Promote, fulfil”.
The most important objectives of the day were:
- To raise awareness about the rights, capabilities and potential of children with disabilities.
- To address discrimination against children with disabilities and to ensure the effective inclusion of these children in all areas of society.
- To consider effective strategies for prevention of disability in childhood.
At the S.A.L.V.E. drop in Centre, we currently have two boys who are deaf that attend regularly. Both boys are full time street children. Having worked with them for some time, it has become apparent that neither of them have had any form of education and neither of the boys know any sign language. We believe that in both cases, the families were unable to communicate with the boys and most likely disowned them, leading the boys to run to the street.
Children with a disability in Uganda face many difficulties. Stigma towards disabilities is still present to a large extent, which affects not only people with a disability, but also their family and community. Because of the stigma, family members often see the child as a curse. They may neglect them or abandon them. Often they simply do not know how to take care of them, even though they are loved. This has extensive consequences: children with disabilities do not get education or health care and do not participate in the community. This may lead to isolation, no opportunities of a job later in life or even to death.
Around 2.5 million Ugandans have a disability, yet most are unemployed. This week, a member of parliament has called for all organizations to “recruit people with disabilities to avoid the associated stigma”. You can read more here.
A day of Celebrations
This year, the national event for the ‘Day of the African Child’ was held in Jinja. The day began with a march through town to inform the public about the purpose of the day. This led us to the venue where the celebrations continued. There were speeches from many top government officials as well as from well known development organisations such as UNICEF.
Following this, a number of disabled children presented a petition to the government demanding that children with disabilities have equal rights and access to the same opportunities as children without disabilities, particularly with regard to education.
Later, there were performances from children from many different organisations and schools. These performances were used as a way of the children passing on their messages to the government and to all that attended the celebrations. There were drama performances, poems, dances and a very emotional speech from one young disabled girl who had been abandoned by her parents and was unable to attend school because of her disability. Each performance emphasised one resounding message … “disability is not inability”.