INNOCENT DAKA, Rufunsa
IT IS past 09:00 hours in the hilly community of Chief Mumpansha of the Soli people in Rufunsa district. The Manenekela Mountains impose their permanent natural stature, but below
their height, human life is undaunted.
The day is June 16 and the community is bustling with activity. It is for the first time that people here have an opportunity to join the rest of the country in celebrating the Day of the African Child since its inception in 1991.
From across the foot of the mountains, men, women and children have left their homes and converged at St Luke Mission Hospital, which is the venue for the event.
Pupils wearing green T-shirts branded “Child Fund Zambia” and others in white T-shirts handed out by Expanded Churches Response are in joyous mood as they file up for the procession on the tarmac. Dignitaries from Lusaka provincial administration office and local district officials, led by Japhet Lombe acting as permanent secretary, have also arrived to join the procession.
The event starts as a street fair, with a brass band playing saxophones, trumpets and drums while the majorette and pupils entertain the guests with dances.
Then follows a procession with a school boy and girl, carrying a huge green banner emblazoned with words, “2017 Day of the African Child Celebrations,” and heading the troupe.
The words on the banner were a constant reminder to the community about the big day they were witnessing. Not only that, the theme to mark the occasion ‘Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for the children in Zambia by 2030 through child participation’, printed in bold on the banner, was also pervasive and an apt clarion call to Government, dignitaries and partners present to give children space in decision-making.
Messages in poetry, plays, traditional songs and speeches were crafted around the theme.
A school girl from Mumpansha Secondary School, Esther Zulu, delivered a message on behalf of the children in the area, reminding dignitaries to invest in children.
Esther said posterity was going to judge society harshly if it defaulted on investing in the future of the children and neglected their participation.
“Zambia can only become a middle-income country it wishes to be by 2030 if it invests in children; to harness their skills and energy for technological and social progress,” she said.
And in a speech read for him by Mr Lombe, Lusaka Province Minister Japhen Mwakalombe underscored Government’s commitment to protecting children and increasing their opportunities to participate in decision-making on issues affecting them.
“Zambia remains committed to the protection, empowerment and acquisition of opportunities for children through their participation in order to guarantee their growth, survival and development,” Mr Mwakalombe said.
The minister said Government has the resolve through using various legal frameworks to ensure that all children are provided the best possible start in life so that they grow up into responsible adults capable of contributing to the development of the nation.
Speaking at the same occasion, Child-Fund Zambia sponsor relations coordinator Chola Chifukushi urged for more action by partners in promoting children rights and ending early marriages.
Mr Chifukushi said Child-Fund was concerned with the growing problem of child marriages that continue to rob the girl-child of her education and deny her opportunities to realise her full potential.
He said that Child-Fund will continue to ensure every child is accorded chance to complete school and realise their full potential in their chosen career path or ascendance to big positions in government.
He urged all actors involved in promoting children rights to turn their words into action.
“Our humble appeal is for children to be children and all of us must play our part as the problem of early marriages cannot be resolved by one institution alone.”
Expanded Churches Response Zambian Family Provincial Coordinator Choolwe Chanyula said her organisation was reaching out to 39,000 children linking them to service providers in health and education scholarships.
Ms Choolwe also urged legislators in the country to pass laws that will stiffen penalties for perpetrators of child abuse and called for harmonisation of statutory and customary laws on the marriage age.
In the meantime, Rufunsa district commissioner Judith Chama was delighted that Child-Fund Zambia organised and hosted the Day of the African Child in Mumpansha community.
Ms Chama said the African Union (AU), then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), declared June 16 as Day of the African Child in 1991 to remember and honour South African children who were massacred by the apartheid regime for standing up to demand for their right to be taught in their local language and protest poor quality education.
She said Zambia has been hosting the Day of the African Child for some time now to advocate children’s participation in decision-making, but it was the first time that the event was being hosted in Mumpansha area.
The DC said celebrating the event in an area like Mumpansha was significant as it offered the children in the area a platform to deliberate with government officials the challenges and opportunities concerning their rights.