International Day of the African Child

The world collectively honours the plight of the African child each June 16th, but what history underpins the proclamation of this international event?

Background to History

On the 16th June 1976, Soweto, a small township in the south west of Johannesburg, South Africa, witnessed history being made, as black school children took to the streets in what should have been a peaceful protest against the dwindling standards of the education system in South Africa under the weight of apartheid. White students were taught in their native languages, whilst black students were forced to learn in Afrikaans, a language spoken by few in the area which was considered by many blacks to be the “language of the oppressor”.

In a dignified act of rebellion, between 10- and 20,000 black students from multiple schools in the area marched in a chain spanning half a mile towards nearby Orlando Stadium, where a rally was scheduled to take place later that day. However, police officers assembled along the planned route and tried to disperse the crowd by setting their dog on them, which the protestors killed, before resorting to firing canisters of tear gas at them. With a thick haze of chemicals hanging in the air, the situation rapidly devolved into panicked chaos, and the police ultimately opened fire on the unarmed school children.

23 children were confirmed to have been murdered on that first day, but the uprising it led to, which seethed on throughout Soweto and the neighbouring towns in the days afterwards, claimed 176 victims in all (although some estimates put the number as being closer to 700), with over 1,000 others being injured. Amongst the dead was Dr. Melville Edelstein, a sociologist who was known for his work assisting poor and marginalized communities in Soweto. He was one of two white men who were stoned to death by a mob of school children.

June 1976 Hector Petersen.
Photograph by Sam Nzima/South Photographs.

Above is an iconic photograph from the scene, showing the body of Hector Pieterson, the first victim to be identified, being carried to a hospital by Mbuyisa Makhubo, a fellow Soweto resident, after he was shot by the police. The photograph, taken by Sam Nzima, has become synonymous with the massacre. Although Pieterson was the first child victim to be officially named, the actual first child to be shot dead was Hastings Ndlovu, but there is no photographic evidence of him falling and he was not identified until much later. Pieterson and Ndlovu are both interred at Avalon Cemetery, a large graveyard in South Africa exclusively for black people.

The horrific events ignited renewed opposition to apartheid in South Africa. In 1991, in recognition of the victims of the day, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) designated the day as a public holiday in South Africa; it is commemorated internationally as the Day of the African Child.

What Problems Are Still Faced by Students in Ghana?

Whilst apartheid-imposed language constraints are no longer an obstacle to receiving a quality education in Ghana, rampant poverty is.

Pre-primary education (for children between the ages of four and five years) has been highlighted as being a critical opportunity for children to get the best possible start in their education, with many of the building blocks for mathematical and scientific learning in later adolescence stemming from foundations established during this formative period. Surveys have shown that children who receive at least one year of pre-primary education are significantly less likely to drop out of school or to have to repeat grades later on.

In 2008, Ghana added two years of pre-primary education to its constitutional commitment to Free and Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE). Despite this, it is estimated that over 400,000 pre-primary-aged children, that’s approximately one in four, are not enrolled in schools. Financial poverty exacerbates these statistics, with children from the poorest families being nine times less likely to attend school. Currently, just under 6% of Ghana’s education budget is devoted to pre-primary education, which is still considerably higher than the 2.5% average in Central and Western Africa.

UNICEF estimates that nearly 623,500 children of primary school age in Ghana are still not enrolled in a primary school, with poverty, inordinate travelling distances and a lack of provisions for disabled children being contributing factors.

However, poor conditions within many schools mean that even children who are able to attend school regularly still aren’t receiving a high-quality education. Substandard sanitation, lack of access to water and overcrowding in classrooms are not conducive to an optimal learning environment, and trained teachers and basic school supplies, like books, are in short supply. These challenges are reflected in the students’ results.

The situation is further complicated for adolescent girls; although Ghana has made much progress in reducing the gender gap in primary education completion, a significant number of girls are denied the opportunity to complete secondary school due to gender inequality, the preeminent reason being teenage pregnancy.

How Sovereign House GH is Helping to Improve Education in Ghana

Sovereign House GH has dedicated its focus over recent years towards building a one-of-its-kind children’s home in Ghana, that will not only house and nurture up to 200 homeless orphaned and disadvantaged children at a time, rescuing them from the bitterness of life on the streets, but it will also provide them with access to a stellar education via a boarding school set-up.

The building will be fully equipped with brand-new designated study areas, incorporating a state-of-the-art IT suite equipped with computers and WiFi, and a well-stocked library, meaning the children will have immediate access to all the tools they need to study effectively without having to travel miles every day. It also has a sustainable and reliable supply of clean drinking water, and a fully-fitted kitchen, as well as an adequate number of high-quality sanitary bathroom facilities for each gender, so they can live and learn in comfort. And teenage mothers/women who have been disadvantaged due to life’s challenges will be offered all the support they need to be able to return to and complete their education to a secondary level. For those with a less academic inclination, an apprenticeship will be offered, where they will learn different crafts to empower them to live independent lives.

In order to tackle the shortage of qualified teachers in the country, Sovereign House GH has also built a Mission House on the same plot of land, which will function as a hub to accommodate teachers and other visiting professionals from all over the world, who will tutor and support the children in a wide range of skills, opening the doors to a diversity of career paths.

The emphasis of the children’s home is to embrace the orphans and nourish them with everything they need to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. They will know safety and stability, the warmth of love and deep emotional connections with care-givers and other children, and they will grow up with dignity, confidence, discipline, and the skillsets necessary to achieve their full potential. This will, in turn, enrich and enhance the communities these children go on to live and work in, offering them a better future too.

Further details about the children’s home can be found here, and there is more information about the mission house here. If you would like to contribute towards the realisation and sustenance of Sovereign House GH’s vision of a better life for orphaned and disadvantaged Ghanaian children, this page contains all the links you need. We truly appreciate everything our sponsors have donated; every single donation can literally save and change a child’s life. Thank you.