South Africa is a world leader in terms of the rights that have been established in our laws and constitution to protect children – but the reality is that there’s a vast gap between the laws of our country and the implementation on the ground.

Nationwide children are subjected to violence and strife stemming from poverty and lack of education.

Play Africa: Children’s Voices

Gretchen Wilson-Prangley is the Founder and CEO of Play Africa. She explains that through their programme, Children’s Voices, they explore children’s rights and democracy through dialogue and play.

“The nature of children’s rights is such that children have human rights but by virtue of their age they are not as powerful as we are, as adults, to advocate for those rights. It’s our responsibility to hear the voices of children and ensure that children’s rights are not only valued but championed in this country.”

Boipelo Lekwane, the programme designer and co-ordinator for Children’s Voices says the project is designed in a way to help give children a voice to be afforded an opportunity to express themselves.

“It’s important for us to constantly remind children of their rights because there’s a lot of neglect happening out there. With children, you can never know which child is experiencing what – so it’s always better to reinforce that message.  Even the parents and the adults around them need to know their rights so that we can better be equipped to protect those rights and our children.”

Kids protest, go to court and vote

Play Africa Volunteer, Siyabonga Mkhungo, explains that they break the play into different stations.

First, they teach them about protesting. Children in South Africa are continuously subjected to violent protests where bloodshed is often a result. A harsh reality that has become a norm nationwide. Children in rural and informal areas carry the brunt of it, due to the desperation stemming from poverty and slow delivery of services.

Mkhungo:” We help them understand the consequences and take them to a mock court and teach them about it. We need to help them understand and build the foundations from a young age. Most children know the violent side of strikes and we’re trying to get rid of that horrible side by showing them that there is a peaceful way to protest.”

Watch the video report below:

There were smiles all around at Streetlight Schools in Jeppestown, a suburb of Johannesburg, as the halls filled with laughter with children casting their vote. The votes were tallied up and the results of their favourite animal were announced. The lion won hands down.

Lekwane explains the importance of exposing children to these experiences. It gives them a feel of what happens in those spaces and an allowance for them to learn through play.

“They are the generation who are going to take over from the legacy that we as adults have been building. It’s very important to educate children, to take care of them and to ensure that they grow up in environments which are safe. If they are socialised in a way that is very positive it will safeguard them and they will ultimately become better adults in the future.”

Streetlight Schools: Jeppe Park

From humble beginning in 2013, the school started off in a small store-room in Bjala Square. Fast forward to January 2016 and their flagship primary school was launched and caters for children rooting from an impoverished community.

Tatenda Mafodya, the Principle of the school and a teacher, describes the vital role that the school plays in helping develop healthy children.

“Looking at the community from where our kids are from, we really need to create a safe space for them. We build an environment where our kids feel and know that they are loved, where they feel that they are the most special people on earth, where they can feel secure at all time.”

After the protest, the children then went to court to learn about the consequences and rights they have in the judicial system.

Teacher Pfano Ramunenywa, says that the school is special due to it being based on the children needs and learning style.

“Their home background could involve violence or something else is happening to them that we actually don’t know about – but because we care about them and we show them love and attention, they will be able to tell us what is actually going on.”

“We create that safe space for them to feel comfortable enough to tell the teachers what’s going on, so that we can help them. We have created a small safe haven for them where they can come and cry out their problems and at the end of the day, be happy kids.”

Mphole Bona, Inclusion Co-ordinator for Play Africa says that they take special care to ensure that all children feel included.

“If you want a child to participate in something but they don’t feel comfortable, you’ve completely lost the child. They are not going to learn anything from what you are trying to teach because they feel that they are not being heard. When a child feels included, you get to know the child better and the child gets to express themselves. You’ll learn more by letting them express who they are.”

Time to vote! Play Africa exposes children to democracy by play and dialogue.

Tutor for Streetlight Schools, Zanele Hlophe, stresses the importance children having access to quality education. She says that the teachers opt to guide the children to help them see the greatness within themselves.

“It’s very important especially in a community like this because they are exposed to many experiences that show no consideration for their rights. For example, sometimes these kids don’t have enough food to eat but we provide snacks for them to eat during the day. It is one of the violations that unfortunately these kids face daily with no access to basic nutrition. For them to know their rights are crucial so that they are able to express the things that they need and for them to be heard to get these basic necessities.”

The Bill of Rights is at the cornerstone of our constitution and the law of this country. Those rights are there to protect the quality, freedom and human dignity of all people and children as equal citizens.

Hlophe: “We need to ensure that they get to learn as much as they can to be able to survive out there on their own as they grow up. I’m inspired every day, this is why I’m a teacher at Streetlight Schools and I just love working with the kids and I learn so much from the kids. In as much as we have a lot to teach them they have so much to teach us.”