No joy for children on their day

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Wearing oversized soiled clothes, 13-year-old Tariro rummages through the bin along a popular food outlet in the city centre.
For the past three years she has eked a living on the streets following the loss of her parents and the subsequent rejection by relatives. Eating out of bins, sleeping under cardboard boxes and gratifying the sexual whims of older men who take advantage of her are the sordid tales of her life. This is just the tip of an iceberg.
Tariro is one of the many children in Zimbabwe and across Africa whose circumstances have robbed them of their childhood dreams and hope for the future. Yesterday, Zimbabwe joined hands with the rest of Africa in commemorating the Day of the African Child at a time when the continent’s children like Tariro have little to celebrate, if at all they even know about the day. While privileged children in schools and families get an opportunity to learn about this day, understand its history and appreciate that they are recognised; for the less fortunate – living in the streets, conscripted in endless wars as soldiers, sold into child slavery and trafficking – the life of suffering will continue. Samson Makomo, a University of Zimbabwe student, said while he appreciated government efforts in organising commemorations of the day, year-after-year, the important thing was to ensure that real efforts are made to improve the lives of disadvantaged children.
He observed that society had failed children who have been elbowed to the margins of society by circumstances beyond their control.
“I would love to see a situation where children from all walks of life, including those from far-flung rural areas and those in the streets, also given an opportunity to participate in the events lined up to commemorate this day,” he said.
The Day of the African Child is set aside in honour of black South African students gunned down in 1976 by the apartheid police force for demonstrating in protest against the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. 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 June 16 every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the then Organisation of African Unity –now African Union (AU).
The day also draws attention to the lives of African children today.
Henry Madziva of Glen View said the celebrations were of little benefit to the children as it was just a one-off event in a year, and after the commemoration, there would be no events until the following year.
An official with a Harare-based children’s home said she would want to see a situation where children in orphanages feature more on national programmes on the Day of the African Child. She said such a development would give the children a sense of value and understanding that they are valued regardless of the otherwise bleak circumstances of their life.
Social worker Samuel Mutandwa says there has been a big letdown in as far as child rights are concerned. He said there was a tendency by governments across the world to be overwhelmed by “the bigger responsibilities” of governing nations such that issues to do with children were regarded as trivial.
“But we can’t run away from the fact that these children are tomorrow’s leaders,” he said, adding that it was important to establish a strong foundation for them.
As the debate rages on, for Tariro and many other children in her situation, the grind of life has to continue, rummaging in bins, sleeping in the cold and hoping for a better future.