Aspiring journalist Augustine Conteh, aka “Big Chief”, reports from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Day of the African Child

The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). It honours those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976. It also raises awareness for the continuing need for improvement in education for the children of Sierra Leone.

In Soweto, South Africa, in 1976, thousands of black school children marched in a column more than half a mile long, protesting against the poor quality of education and demanding to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young students were shot, the most famous of which was South African schoolboy Hector Pieterson. More than a hundred people were killed during the protests that took place over two weeks, and over a thousand were injured.

Every year on June 16, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, NGOs, international organisations and other stakeholders in Sierra Leone gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities involved in the realisation of the rights of children in Sierra Leone. In 2014, for example, the theme returned to the roots of the movement: a child-friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Sierra Leone.

This day also highlights and addresses the needs and challenges of girls in Sierra Leone, while promoting empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. This day invokes great sadness in Sierra Leoneans and all West Africans and has special meaning, especially for girls who have fallen victim to abuse.

For me personally, this day also represents great change in my life. It was the day I was first brought to the orphanage. I will never forget that day: June 16, 2007. I have bottled up my sad memories of that day, when tears of grief were running down my face. But that was a turning point in my life, and history has taught us that people who have suffered in life can turn their painful experiences into something positive and can help to change the world for the better. It is all about empowerment.

This is why the Day of the African Child is so important to Sierra Leoneans and children across Africa. It aims to secure the future of children, to provide a sound education, to focus on our wellbeing, and to include us in decision-making.

I faithfully submit these words.

Augustine Conteh (Big Chief)