Making children’s rights a fact

Misheck Marava lawyer

 

Today’s environment is growing inimical to children`s existence. The world is full of potential abusers and children prone to abuse coupled with a horde of individuals lacking knowledge on children’s rights. Society must come together and find ways to effectively implement and enforce children’s rights.

To understand fully the concept of children’s rights, one has to fully appreciate the definition of a child. In terms of the supreme law of the land, that is the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act.2013, a child is anyone below the age of 18. The Children’s Act (Chapter 05:06) provides that a child is anyone under 16 but the position has since been altered by the coming of the 2013 Constitution.

Our society has been characterised by inhuman and degrading labelling of children. Disabled children, children born out of wedlock and destitute children have been exposed to abuse, neglect and ill-treatment. Children living on the streets have been labelled as street kids and left to suffer. Children born out of wedlock have been labelled bastards or mwana wemusango/umntwana wegangeni and suffer exclusion and isolation. Disabled children and the girl child have been neglected with most failing to access basic education. It is high time society treated children equally to cultivate tolerance and fairness.

Children’s rights are broadly provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. However, society has to appreciate that the law is not exhaustive, hence the need for due care and good conscience towards children. Children’s rights are aptly and specifically provided for in terms of section 81 of the Constitution as read with many other provisions. Section 81 provides for the equal treatment of children before the law, the right to education, to be heard, to a family name and to appropriate care and protection from economic, political and sexual exploitation.

The Constitution further provides for the right to citizenship as per section 36 and the right to equality and non-discrimination as per section 56(3) particularly on the grounds of sex and on whether a child was born in or out of wedlock. Further, section 19 of the Constitution provides that in all matters relating to children, the best interests of the child are of paramount importance. As an enforcement mechanism, the High Court is tasked in terms of section 81(3) of the Constitution to act as the upper guardian of children and is empowered to competently determine all child related matters.

Once one has defied any right ascribed to children, they are in violation. These acts of violation include denying children rights to education, proper care, food and shelter among others. These abuses can be classified into sexual, physical, emotional, verbal and economic violations.

Amongst all forms of child abuse, sexual abuse has been escalating with Childline statistics revealing that in 2019 more than 4 239 children were sexually abused. Sexual abuse relates to rape, attempted rape, statutory rape, indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault and exposing children to pornography. It pains to learn that most cases of sexual abuse are perpetrated by close relatives and family friends who should be protecting these children. Sexual abuse has exposed children to sexually transmitted diseases and child pregnancies and most victims suffer in silence.

Other forms of abuse have been prevalent to a substantial extent. Physical abuse comprises of assault, unreasonable chastisement, child labour among other things. Physical abuse exposes children to health complications and threatens the right to education. Emotional abuse is chiefly due to exposing children to violence, abusive utterances (verbal abuse) and ill-treating children and this has resulted in many children being susceptible to mental illnesses, depression, drug abuse, fleeing to the streets and in worst cases suicide. Economic exploitation has been due to rampant poverty and an increase in child headed families. Unsuspecting children have been exposed to prostitution, pornography, child labour and trafficking only in search of means to survive.

The major causes of child abuse are poor parenting, poverty, increase in child headed families, gender-based violence, poor and ill resourced social services system, abusive religious and cultural beliefs and alcohol and drug abuse.

The first and best solution is to educate people on children’s rights. Children’s rights should be incorporated in school curricula at every level so that the children themselves have an appreciation of their rights. “Forewarned is forearmed”, it is my understanding that rights are less violated if they are made known. Society should take advantage of the availability of the Constitution in all official languages to understand children’s rights. On a national scale, there is a need for training of all professionals including social workers, police, education and health officers in contact with children, on child protection laws. Children should be encouraged to report any cases of abuse to the Victim Friendly Unit at the police and also utilise platforms like Childline for initial and continuous assistance.

Other solutions to child abuse include enforcing strict penalties on violators of children`s rights. This will have a deterrent effect on potential offenders and resultantly reduce children’s rights violations. Legal Scholars have called for the adoption of a national register of child rights offenders so that these individuals are never hired, involved or employed in institutions where they closely interact with children, such as schools; and to keep them under surveillance so as to prevent them from re-offending and at the same time protecting the children.

There is a need to harmonise the different government bodies engaged in children’s welfare. Implementation processes of Children’s Rights in Zimbabwe is marked with delays due to the haphazard manner of responsibility among government ministries. In Zimbabwe the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Ministry of Youth, Sports , Arts and Recreation, the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, and the Ministry of Home Affairs are directly involved in child-related issues. This makes it difficult to locate the right office to deal with an issue as it arises. As a gesture of good governance as per section 3(2) (i) of the Constitution, it is incumbent upon the State to consolidate responsibility into a central body empowered and well-resourced to handle children`s concerns.

Other solutions include poverty alleviation, improved communication skills and mechanisms to detect signs of abuse.

Therefore, the society must come together as a united force made up of the civic society, churches, government agencies, private players, corporations and individuals to ensure that children’s rights are developed, protected and respected.

On the whole, violations of children’s rights are still on the rise and there is a need to ensure that these rights are everyone’s language. It is high time we all appreciated that children are the same and are also human beings with rights. Children need care, they need to be heard and educated. Society has to come together in making sure that children`s rights are known, respected, protected and enforced. Even though we have comprehensive children’s rights laws, more still needs to be done in terms of implementation and protection of those rights. Let’s all unite, as a collective force and make children’s rights a fact!!!

Misheck Marava ia a registered legal practitioner, human rights and commercial hawyer. He can be contacted on +263782454888/mishmaravagmail.com. These weekly New Perspective articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore

Kadenge, an independent consultant and past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. – kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile +263 772 382 852.