Siphofaneni school debate championship
August 2011 - Fresh from hosting a successful Day of The African Child event in June, six schools from schools in the Siphofaneni area, in the eastern Lubombo region of Swaziland, this week hosted an enlightening debate on child abuse, crime and HIV.
The debate was held at Siphofaneni Inkhundla Centre, and was organised by the local office of the Royal Swaziland Police and the Ministry of Education and Training, with support from local businesses and UNICEF. Under the theme “Fight crime, Stop AIDS”, the day-long debate pitted pupils from neighbouring schools on how to prevent crime. The competing schools, with five speakers in each team, debated vigorously, showing a capacity to analyse complex issues.
The right to education and protection featured prominently in the debate, with competing camps fiercely arguing their case, amid cheers of support from peers on the floor. The first debate on the day pitted Siphofaneni High School and Othandweni Secondary School on the topic: should pupils who drop out of school due to pregnancy be allowed back to school.
“Education should be open to all children, and should have no limits,” cried a debater from Siphofaneni, who supported the re-admission of child mothers. It is a right, not a special privilege, her colleague agreed. “They should be given a chance enjoy this right regardless of the mistake they may have committed,” he added.
The opposing team argued that this would set a bad precedence that children may engage in unprotected sex, fall pregnant and still return to school. “Learners should just stay away from sexual relations,” he said.
“I say no, because they will be a bad influence to other children,” emphasized another.
“If these pupils are allowed to return to class, they will be subjected to ridicule by other pupils,” another pointed out.
The pupils also shared their knowledge on abuse, taking each other on under the topic: Does money play a role in perpetuating child abuse? Poverty and violence featured prominently in this session, with one team feeling that lack of money created an environment that perpetuated abuse. A debater argued that children who come from poor families may be exposed to sexual abuse. A child may, in her quest to get money to pay school fees, be sexual abused, a member from the team supporting the motion, argued.
Discipline was also a contested concept in the dialogue. “You find a 10-year old child being forced to walk a long distance to collect water in a 20-litre container. That is abuse, how can you expect me to carry such a heavy load at this age?” The opposing team was not to be outdone on this topic, arguing that domestic responsibilities and discipline should not be misunderstood. Children have responsibilities, which they must undertake in preparation for their own future and as a way to discipline them. “If I’m the only child at home, who am I expecting to collect the water? And if there is enough money at home, there would be no need to fetch water from the stream because the family would afford to install a tap at home,” he said.
Chief Maphilingo Shongwe, who represented chiefs from the Siphofaneni constituency congratulated the children for using the platform productively to develop their minds. He had parental advice for them: “we do not want to hear later in life that you’ve adopted wayward ways”. Lubombo Deputy Regional Commander Tholakele Gina said the police had taken a position to align themselves with the children in the communities they served. This, she said, was targeted at eradicating crime and abuse against children. Child abuse was rampant in the communities, she said, adding that abusers were now found in schools and within the police force. “We also know that there are people who hide in the bushes and attack girls in particular, on their way home or to school, and as the police we want to caution you, our children, to be wary of all forms of abusers,” she said.
UNICEF Representative Dr Jama Gulaid commended the organizers of the debate – the teachers, Siphofaneni Police Station Commander, elders and judges of the debate - for allowing the children to discuss issues affecting their life. He also praised the debating teams for their resourcefulness and creativity.
Stage performances, including music, dance, drama and poetry, spiced up the eventful day. Children used these media to convey messages and caution their peers against drug use, to be wary of abusers and to stay away from practices that could expose them to HIV.