By Cuma Pantshwa

  • Today marks the first International Day of Play, established by a United Nations resolution to promote the importance of play for children’s development.
  • Play is enshrined as a fundamental right under international agreements, and South Africa is committed to enhancing child play opportunities as part of its Child Protection initiatives.
  • The day calls for communities to create safe play spaces and for adults to actively engage in supporting children’s right to play.

Today marks the first-ever International Day of Play, a significant milestone in efforts to preserve, promote, and prioritise play so that all people, especially children, can reap the rewards and thrive to their full potential.

This day is recognised during June, a month known as Youth Month in South Africa, coinciding with recent initiatives across the country as part of the Child Protection Month Campaign and the 365 Days Child Protection Programme of Action. Adopted by a United Nations resolution passed in March this year, the now annual commemoration creates a unifying moment to elevate the importance of play while also spotlighting barriers such as harmful practices, disabilities, gender discrimination, and conflict.

South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 and subsequently the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 2000. Play is enshrined as a fundamental right of every child under Article 31. Under these instruments, alongside the country’s Constitution, children have the right to play, have fun, engage in sporting activities, and relax.

Following a successful effort by Save the Children, the LEGO Group, the LEGO Foundation, and other partners to recognise play as a crucial developmental activity for children, the United Nations included the Day of Play on 11 June in its list of global yearly observances. Despite its holistic benefits, many young children are deprived of play, stimulation, and interaction with their parents and caregivers, and are sadly exposed to violence. It is estimated that 160 million children around the world are working instead of playing or learning. Seventy-one percent of children say play is important because it makes them happy, and 58% say it helps them make friends and have a good time with others. Only one in four children play outside regularly compared to their grandparents’ generation, where almost three-quarters played outside a few times a week.

“As a country, we need to heighten advocacy on this important provision of the UN Convention where children should be afforded time to play. The Department of Social Development is working closely with Save the Children South Africa on programmes like Child Participation. We will ensure that we strengthen our collaboration on this important aspect to ensure that the children’s rights in South Africa are secured,” said Mr David Chabalala, Director, Child Rights Advocacy at DSD.

“Play is especially crucial for kids who have gone through traumatic experiences like violence or losing a loved one. Children can explore their feelings and experiences via play and reclaim some sense of normalcy. It’s our duty as adults to make time and space for kids to play, whether that’s in the neighbourhood, at home, or at school. We call upon all communities to begin creating safe spaces for children to play. The Department of Social Development also works with Save the Children to popularise the Child-Friendly Communities Framework. It is planned to have all municipalities create safe spaces for children,” added Mr Chabalala.

This day will serve as an annual reminder of the urgency to ensure and promote play across all ages. Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative, said, “The holistic progress of a nation relies on a commitment to ensure its children not only survive but thrive. The country is rich with creative, inspiring, and energetic children and young people, and we need to do all we can to nurture them and transform their lives and futures.”

The International Day of Play creates a unifying moment at global, national, and local levels to elevate the importance of play. It signals a call for policies, training, and funding to integrate play into education and community settings worldwide. In conclusion, Mr Chabalala called on elders and parents to play their part, saying, “The International Day of Play serves as a reminder that playing with kids doesn’t make us less of adults; rather, it shows that we genuinely care about their healthy development and that we are interested in learning about their world.”


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