Should Children Be Involved In Political Demonstrations?

Recently the opposition leaders in Kenya announced nationwide weekly demonstrations against the rising cost of living and electoral injustice. The move comes after opposition main leader, Raila Odinga gave the government a 14-day ultimatum to reduce the cost of living and address their concerns and demands on the 2022 presidential elections.

The protests started on 20 th March 2023, the same day that opposition leaders in South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal were also making global headlines by taking to the streets. Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Nairobi and other locations across the country. Immediately after the Monday protests the opposition leaders declared that there would be two days of protest- Monday and Thursday, until the government heeds to their calls.

This week, the protests entered its second week. However, one incident caught the eyes of the people. There was a man and child who joined the other demonstrators in Kisumu. Most of the Kenyans online called out the man for endangering the life of the child even others demanding for his arrest.

Others including renown human rights activist Bonface Mwangi defended the act by sharing and we quote “Martin Luther King Jnr marched with children. The apartheid government of South Africa fell because school children played a role. In Palestine, it’s the children paying the price to end the illegal occupation of their land by Israel. Educate yourselves on the history of protests”

So, should children be involved in political demonstrations and protests? From our engagements with different communities and especially children, we see a great need for children to understand the things happening around them and also participate in problem solving. Whenever conflict erupts in communities it is the children that get affected most and those events stay with them till adulthood. Helping them to understand the positive and negatives impacts of such events, may reduce the overall impact on them.

It is important to note that political demonstrations and protests may have both positive and negative effects on children.
What are the positive effects?
1. By children joining the protests, they have an opportunity to learn about democracy, civic engagement, and social justice.
2. Involvement of the children in political protest helps them develop critical thinking skills, as they learn to analyze political issues and develop their own opinions and perspectives.
3. Their involvement in the political protests may also foster a sense of empowerment as they see and feel that their voices and actions can make a difference in society.

What are the negative effects?
1. Because of its nature and antagonism, political demonstrations and protests can be stressful and
potentially traumatic for children, especially if they witness violence or are exposed to disturbing images or messages.

2. Children may also be exposed to hateful or discriminatory language or behavior, which can be
harmful to their emotional wellbeing and sense of self-worth.
3. The protests can disrupt daily routines, such as school schedules and transportation, which can
cause stress and inconvenience for families as we have witnessed during this period.

Therefore, it’s up to the parents and caregiver to put into consideration these potential effects when
deciding whether or not to involve their children in the marches.

Importantly, children need to be taught, supported and informed about civic engagement and their level
of engagement in such processes as they are the next generation of leaders.