A Child’s Right to Play in Africa

As the rain came down here in Santa Cruz this weekend, and most of us took cover in our houses or work places, small children could still be found running and laughing on playgrounds and neighborhood sidewalks. Play time is undoubtedly any child's favorite activity come rain or shine. It's also one of their fundamental rights as a young person. At first glance, children playing might seem to be a trivial everyday occurrence, but the outcome of play proves to be imperative in children’s later capacity as adults. Play time is one of a child's first ways of engaging with the world around them and their place within it. They develop mental and physical competencies and positive self-perceptions. Through play, a child also develops essentials social skills such as sharing, following rules, fairness and cooperation.

Playing establishes social relations between peers and adults and is also a key to learning life lessons about respect, inclusion and leadership. In all, a child’s right to play is essential for a healthy and well balanced quality of life.

Play is an important issue in children’s rights, particularly in the parts of Africa where leisure time for playing can be scarce. Children may be denied the right to play when their family is in need for extra helping hands with household chores such as fetching water or collecting firewood. Luckily, there are some grassroots organizations that realize the great need for the support of a child’s right to play.

One such organization, and Firelight grantee partner, is South African based Dlalanathi, which in isiZulu means, “Play With Us.” Dlalanathi’s goal is to engage children who have lost a parent to HIV or AIDS with extended and organized versions of “play time” as a method of therapy. According to Dlalanathi’s philosophy, playing is a child’s most natural way to deal with healing and recovery when they are emotionally distressed, hurt or traumatized. Dlanalathi’s ultimate mission is “to bring hope and healing to children, their caregivers, families and other caring community members using play for communication in communities affected by HIV, poverty and loss.” Protecting the right to play for children supports a child’s well being, but it will also give strength to the child’s community and their goal to end the cycle of poverty.

So when I see children at play in schoolyards or sidewalks, I give thanks to the communities and families who support this right. I hope their play time helps them flourish into strong and caring adults who will build upon their personal foundations for a successful future in their own communities, as we did before them. Play on.