Children’s Day – Brazil

October 12.

It began with a two-foot tall sculpture. Headless at that.

Three fishermen were casting their nets in the Paraiba River in Brazil. The year was 1717. Their nets were turning up empty until one of the fishermen pulled up a dark brown headless statue of a woman. Intrigued the fisherman cast his net again and pulled up the head. After finding the statue, the men’s net grew heavy with fish. They called the idol Nossa Senhora da Aparecida–Our Lady Who Appeared.

For the first 15 years, the small black Madonna was housed in one of the fishermen’s homes. Legends grew around the doll and the miracles it performed, including one legend about a slave who visited the shrine, whose chains broke when he came in contact with the idol. It became a symbol of hope for the oppressed in Portuguese-controlled Brazil. By the 1760s, due to its popularity a basilica was built to house the shrine, and the town itself became known as Aparecida.

The basilica was renovated in the 19th century. In the 1950s a new, larger basilica was begun to accommodate the overwhelming amount of visitors.

The Pope declared Our Lady of Aparecida the patron saint of Brazil in 1928, and today the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida is widely considered the second largest church in the world after St. Peter’s. It can accommodate 45,000 people and receives almost 7 million visitors a year.

October 12th is the national saint’s feast day, but these days the holiday is also celebrated as Children’s Day. Children throughout Brazil look forward to this day all year, for it’s the day they unwrap gifts from their parents. In many places in Brazil, Children’s Day is even bigger than Christmas.

The Black Madonna and the Limits of Light

Children’s Day – Paraguay

August 16


Children’s Day in Paraguay has its roots in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), the most devastating war ever fought in South America. It was fought between Paraguay (on one side) and Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (on the other).

Needless to say, Paraguay didn’t win. In fact, it lost half its population during the war—including nearly all its fighting-age men—as well as 60,000 square miles of territory to Brazil and Argentina. (Latin America’s Wars: the Age of the Caudillo (1791-1899) Robert Scheina)

Children’s Day recalls the anniversary of the one of the last battles of the war in 1869, the Battle of Acosta Nu. Having already lost most of his army, Paraguayan dictator Francisco Lopez used younger and younger recruits. The 6,000 strong force in August of that year was largely made out of children. On August 16, the small retreating army was overtaken by a force of 20,000 men from Brazil and Argentina. Within eight hours, over 2000 Paraguayans lay dead.

Paraguayans say the additional tragedy was that the war was already over at that point, but that the Brazilian government refused to stop until Lopez was captured.

The War of the Triple Alliance remains one of the darkest chapters in South American history.

Paraguay in green
Paraguay in green

Children’s Day – Nigeria

May 27

Today is Children’s Day in Nigeria. Why May 27? No clue. Some Nigerian sites purport that May 27 is International Children’s and Youth Day as declared by UNICEF, but Nigeria appears to be the only country to do so. The UN celebrates Universal Children’s Day on November 20. Dozens of other countries, including almost all former Soviet Republics, celebrate on June 1.

May 27 is coincidently the anniversary of the death of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose birthday (November 14) is observed as Children’s Day in India.

May 27 is also the day in 1967 that General Gowon split Nigeria from four provinces into twelve, three days before the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War.

In terms of population, Nigeria is even larger than Russia. About half of its 150 million people are 18 or younger. The average age women get married is 17. So you see, kids grow up fast in Nigeria.

Growing up fast is a sadly a necessity, as the average life expectancy in Nigeria is only 47, according to the World Factbook, despite the fact that Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil-exporters. In fact, oil accounts for 80% of the national budget. Oil revenues come at a devastating price though. Nigeria experiences the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill every year.

“Indeed, a half century of oil exploration — and, experts say, exploitation — has earned the Niger Delta a dubious distinction: Environmentalists call it the most polluted ecosystem on Earth.”

Nigerian Oil Spills Make Exxon Valdez Look Like Drop in the Bucket

On the bright side, the International Monetary Fund ranks Nigeria as the third fasting growing economy in the world, behind China and India. Others disagree. [Lying With Statistics: Nigeria as 3rd Largest Economy]

One thing people tend to agree on. Nigerians—both children and adults—have a reputation for being among the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth. Nigerians believe in large extended families that form the foundation for a nurturing support system for children.

The extended support system and ancestral traditions may be what has helped Nigerian communities survive everything from colonization to coups and corruption. Whether Nigeria’s latest purported economic boom will translate to better health conditions for the its children remains to be seen.

Children’s Day is celebrated across the country by primary and secondary school students with parades and presentations. However, considering the dire situation of children in Nigeria…

“…Children’s Day celebrations must become occasions for serious soul searching, articulation of blueprints or assessment of the process of implementation of child-friendly programmes of governments, not necessarily only occasions for the celebration and showcasing of a few privileged children.”

— Nigeria – Children’s Day (editorial)

Oil Spills in Nigeria Lack Legal Accountability

UNICEF Commends Joint Action to Protect Women & Children