Tuesday, 20 January 2015 14:52

In the line of fire Featured

Written by Jane Godia

Senseless act of impunity as police tear-gas school children

Guns, dogs, tear gas, marked the scene of a primary school where children were protesting against the grabbing of their playground. Television screens depicted scenes similar to the Soweto Massacre in 1976 in South Africa during the apartheid regime.

 Hector Peterson

Wailing and crying marked the huge smoke of tear gas as children ran helter-skelter with their eyes burning from the gas lobbied on them. While the police were fully armed with AK-47 rifles, and dressed in bullet proof vests, the children had nothing in their hands other than the placards calling on those who had grabbed their playing field to give them back. Using their bare hands, the children were able to bring down the perimeter wall that had been constructed to block their access to the play ground.

The human rights defenders who had gone to the school to give them support were not spared either as some of them were arrested.

Even as there were running battles ensued on Lang’ata Road, on the other side of town, the battles of the grabbing of the playground of Our Lady of Mercy Primary School hardly got the same attention.

Vulnerable

Focus seemed to have been concentrated on Lang’ata Road Primary School where a majority of the pupils are from the poor families who inhabit the sprawling Kibera slum. These children from the slum do not have anywhere else that they can exercise their right to play as children except in the playing ground of their schools. The shameless greed to grab a schools playfield speaks of nothing beyond how low we have stooped as a country. The grabbers are parents of children yes, but their children go to high cost schools which have acres and acres of ground including where they can ride horses and go- karts; play rugby, football; basketball and any other game that would help a growing child. These are people whose children have been taken to the great schools of South Africa, Britain and the United States of America where no one would dare dream of grabbing any land leave alone public land and especially one that has been allocated to children to use.

Injustice

The public schools in Nairobi are already too squeezed with hardly enough room for the children to use fully.

This was a case of Cry My Beloved Country as the placards carried by the children called on the president to come to their rescue. Five of the children were injured and taken to hospital.

In a way that tells how dirty the country has gone, it was even not easy to determine who had actually hived off this playing ground from the school. Greed to be rich and richer has made Kenyans to forget that children are the next generation and they must grow up in an environment that will see them ensure sustainable development.

The Minister for Internal Security Retired Major Joseph Nkaissery called on the person who grabbed the playing grounds to the school to bring down the wall within the next 24 hours. Giving his personal apologies to the schoolchildren injured in the discordance, Nkaissery said: “This land is a school property and I’m giving the private developer up to 24 hours to bring down the remaining wall.”

The land in question is adjacent to Weston Hotel and documents from the lands ministry shows that it belongs to the school.

Ownership

According to chair of the National Land Commission Mohammed Swazuri, the grabbed land belongs to the school.

Speaking in Mombasa, Land Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu said that the land was public, reiterating that there was no shortcut to the matter and the land must be reverted to the school.

The police who tear-gassed the children failed on their obligation of Utumishi Kwa Wote (Service to all), clearly indicating that they are only out to protect the high and mighty. The police even forgot, or is it that they were not aware that in 1989, governments worldwide promised all children the same rights by adopting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, also known as the CRC or UNCRC. The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated — in other words, as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity. These rights describe what a child needs to survive, grow, and live up to their potential in the world. They apply equally to every child, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Publicity

The events received international media coverage with media house across the world running the story. The Day of the African Child which is marked on June 16, was started in honour of children who were killed in the Soweto attack of 1976. The Day of the African Child has been celebrated every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organisation of African Unity. It honours those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 on that day. It also raises awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children.  In Soweto, South Africa, on June 16, 1976, about ten thousand black school children marched in a column more than half a mile long, protesting the poor quality of their education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of young students were shot, the most famous of which being Hector Peterson. More than a hundred people were killed in the protests of the following two weeks, and more than a thousand were injured. 

The scene clearly replicated on Lang’ata will live in our memories forever.

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