Today, and every June 16, we celebrate International Day of the African Child.
But just why do we celebrate this day? What does it commemorate?
On this day in 1976, approximately 10,000 school children in Soweto, South Africa, marched in protest of their poor education and demanded to be taught in their own language. Afrikaans and English were to be taught in secondary schools regardless of the students mother tongue. Students found this mandate unfair, as it would severely compromise the quality of education received by those who spoke neither language.
What began as a peaceful protest soon became violent. Police arrived to control the students, and the students began throwing stones. Eventually, this turned into outright rioting, and the police saw fit to use force to regain control.
Protests continued for 2 weeks following this incident, during which time over 100 people were killed, many of them students. Many other student organizations staged their own protests in the months and weeks that followed, both in solidarity and to protest the killing of innocent children. On an international level, South African products were boycotted as people and governments chose to stand with the students.
The Soweto Uprising is credited as being one of the major driving forces for the end of apartheid in South Africa. The courage and determination demonstrated by the students that day will forever be remembered as a brave act of protest: protest of their second class status, protest of the status quo.
The Day of the African Child honors all those who were lost at the Soweto Uprising, all those who participated, and all those whose lives were ultimately changed by the events of that day.
Today, the Day of the African Child is recognized by governments, NGOs, and others to discuss the challenges African students face in receiving a quality education.
If you'd like to learn more about the Soweto Uprising, check out the links below.